New Projects claiming to be Urban Wonders are just glorified Malls.
Note: Miami Style Posts seek to define Architectural or Urban Trends used in Miami.
The Intra-Block project is usually a multi or single block urban project that seeks to create a new “promenade” within its boundaries, effectively ignoring the streets surrounding it. There are a series of suburban-sited and newer urban-sited projects that act in this manner. Developers enjoy the intra-block, as it gives them ultimate control as to trespassing, event hosting, and does not rely on municipalities to upkeep sidewalks and streets. However, these large-scale projects are missing an opportunity to redefine their communities and be part of engaging and ultimately activating the neighborhoods around them.
New projects such as the Mana Wynwood Plan fit this description. It creates a seemingly generous intra-block promenade while ignoring NW 22ND Lane and 22ND Street. This large pedestrian alley creates for an interesting site plan but does not allow for the street to flood into it. “Wynwood Park” is a particularly frustrating project, labeling itself a civic amenity, while simply being a block mall with a small protected green within. The Brickell City Center project is a playground within its borders but is almost opaque to the street. Its aluminum banding and lack of thoughtful street retail reinforce this point, creating a secluded promenade within. All of these projects call themselves “multi-use urban projects,” while they appear to all be borrowing ideas from the simple suburban open-air mall.
Miami has had open air malls for decades. Locations such as Sunset Place, Mary Brickell Village, Coco-Walk, and Bayside Marketplace act as “intra-block” promenades, like the new projects mentioned above. Sunset Place, Coco-Walk, and Bayside are all in the process of a renovation to make them more pedestrian friendly and mixed-use, to create more profitable and inviting centers. Mary Brickell ignores the street surrounding it and acts as a destination without activating the space around it until much later.
Not all new urban projects are acting in this way. The Miami World Center and Downtown Doral are embracing the street and using it as a major player in their urban plans. Both of these projects are larger in scale, and both use the street as a tool to move people through and into their projects. Perhaps this is simply a consequence of their scale and municipal connections, but I think they are a model of projects developed carefully and with municipal collaboration.
It is understandable why so many new projects choose to use the Intra-Block as a tool. It allows for control of people entering the property, it allows them to host events within their boundaries, and it is a tool of placemaking. However, there is a hybrid between these called the “Porous Block” where all sides can leak can into a central promenade. This is employed in the design district. While the project is missing targets in visitors and profits for retailers, the urban plan is intelligent, and acknowledges the streets and creates a new one at the same time. Hopefully, they can find stores that people want to visit and rents that will allow them to be profitable, but as of now, it seems to be a playground of facades and empty stores.
The Intra-Block will most likely continue to be a part of the urban design of Miami, but it is not too late for some projects to activate the streets around them. They may find it engaging and profitable.
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