Trying to get Miamians to slow down is exactly what Wynwood’s new Woonerf is about, however, we should not stop there.
What sounds at first like a line from Dr. Seuss is a real proposal of Dutch origin to create a different type of street, unseen in Miami since the early part of the 20th century. The main concept of the street is antithetical to everything Miamians want from a street, yet it is exactly what is needed.
Currently, our concept of successful streets are ones that get us along them faster. This is what the county and the state, who are in charge of building and maintaining all of our roads, see as the goal. They believe that speed and ease of car travel is the priority, however, in certain neighborhoods, it is necessary to flip this and put pedestrian ease and safety first.
A “Woonerf” is a street with slow speeds, no curbs, and heavy planting in order to facilitate leisure in the form of walking and cycling. Its flatness blurs the line between pedestrian and vehicular space, causing all involved to be more conscious of one another and negotiate their diverse goals.
These can be seen all over Europe, from Lyon to Barcelona, to Sweden. These especially help in narrow streets where negotiating between these in a modern way is difficult, so different solutions must be tested. Before cars had a lot of speed, these types of streets could be seen in Manhattan, Boston, and even Miami. Crosswalks were not of importance, instead, the street was a negotiation and all parties had freer reign. Today, cities and neighborhoods are begging for a return to this type of street in order to foster commerce, incentivize walking, and enliven our back streets.
In Wynwood, this is proposed to be implemented on NW 3rd Ave, a road segment that goes from NW 29th St. to NW 25th St. The current street (seen above) is a parallel back street to the main drag of NW 2nd Ave, but its scale and dead ends make it a perfect candidate for redevelopment. It also helps to pull Wynwood away from an axial plan (overly focused on 2nd Ave) to a more distributed grid. While Wynwood begins accepting upzoning and large redevelopment plans, the streets that link these projects must also be rethought. The Mana Wynwood project is a large example of a project that looks inward to the block instead of considering its adjacent streets. Other projects will continue to do this as long as the streets are not seen as drivers of commerce.
In Barcelona, in the Eixample district, city planners are proposing a radical shift of their simple grid system. In creating 9-block “superblocks,” the neighborhoods can create their own internal streets for local traffic only. These can be shut down on certain days for events, be used for play, or encourage retail. This is something Miami’s grid can take advantage of in areas all over the city. This can be imagined in dense areas such as Little Havana, Lemon City, Little Haiti, and even parts of West Kendall. By separating speed from pedestrians, concepts like safety, commerce, and quality of life can begin to shine in ways we have not yet seen many areas of our city.