Terror and Public Space

Should potential acts of terror and security be considered when designing public space in Miami, and how can this be done smarter?

For the purposes of this article, public space is defined as a space that is physically open to the public most of the time. This can include private residential promenades, shopping malls, pedestrian strip plazas, and public parks. In the security world, these between spaces have come to be known as “soft targets” as they are not large organized events, but a part of daily urban life. Every Miamian spends time at a location like those listed above, whether to enjoy evening dining in South Miami, bar hopping on Wynwood’s 2nd Ave, shopping at Lincoln Rd. Mall, or jogging around Margaret Pace Park. These “third spaces” help to make our lives in Miami better, but what happens when the public sees them as increasingly under threat of terrorism?

On Bastille Day in 2016, an Isis inspired terrorist drove a semi-trailer truck into large crowds of people celebrating the holiday on the Promenade d’Anglais in Nice, killing 80 people. In Paris, the November before that, the city’s sidewalk cafe’s and Bataclan Concert Hall were taken under siege by a group of 7 gunmen. This past August in Charlottesville, a white supremacist drove his sedan through a crowd of protesters, killing a young woman. Finally, on October 1st of this year, a lone shooter killed 58 and injured over 500 people at a music festival from his hotel window in Las Vegas.

safety1 barriers lnew cmg

Temporary barricades added to the ends of Lincoln Rd.

These are all considered “soft-target” attacks, and bring up difficult questions on the relationship between public space, security, and rights of assembly. While an attack of this kind has not occurred in Miami, security precautions and planning have already taken these world events into consideration. This past August, Miami Beach added concrete barricades to the ends of Lincoln Rd to prevent a potential vehicular attack after a terrorist event in Barcelona. Next weekend, NW 2nd Ave, in Wynwood will be closed to vehicular traffic during Art Basel by local law enforcement due to no specific threat, but as they said, due to “world events.”

While the effect on safety and security of these decisions can be argued, I believe that local governments and private actors are missing an opportunity to create utility in the necessary precautions of security. In the Coral Gables Miracle Mile Streetscape plan, the sidewalk is extended and there is an effort to create fewer barriers between pedestrians, shops, and the street. This is made safe through the use of elegant pre-fab concrete seating elements placed along all pedestrian areas to create a secure walking space without the ugly or imposing concrete barricades usually employed. This in combination with free-form benches around landscaped elements makes for an elegant response to terror threats. Open site lines and well-lit walking areas are also included in this design and will create a pleasant and safe walking experience when complete.

The Miracle Mile project is creating beauty out of a logistical necessity. Other examples of opportunities are easy to find. For example, when a street is closed for security reasons, adequate notice should be given to retailers and restaurants along it, allowing them to program that temporarily reclaimed public space. When bollards or barricades are needed, perhaps cities or private entities can commission local artists to paint them, creating an event and mural out of an eyesore. Finally, creative lighting design can help increase sight lines for law enforcement while being visually appealing to pedestrians. They can also include charging stations for those looking for a rest or to work on the go.


Public Space Pop-Up, Biscayne Green

The final more philosophical question is, Does the securitization of our shared space inhibit our rights to them? Does this create more fear in a fearful society, and in turn, play into the wants of those wanting to bring terror to our citizens? These questions create an opportunity to design, not a hindrance. Instead of creating large obvious barricades and public metal detectors, our security must become more passive in nature. Surveillance and smart infrastructure that serve multiple purposes can help to secure our public space while keeping our focus on the quality of life, and not simply the preservation of it.


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