Miami Beach is missing a chance to think outside the box, and is at risk of underplaying some of their most valuable cards.
This past year, North Beach approved a Master Plan that set forth a bold upzoning that is a boon for developers and will kickstart development in what is seen as the last frontier of Miami Beach. As part of that plan, Dover, Kohl & Partners suggested various programs for a series of lots the city owns called the West Lots on the West side of Collins Ave. along the North Shore Open Space Park, from 79th to 87th ST.
These lots are owned by the city and currently feature limited parking and unprogrammed green space. They also sit directly across from the North Shore Open Space park, which has a master plan of its own, designed by West 8. The adjacent neighborhood is seen as a working class enclave filled with a large inventory of older buildings that keep rents at relatively low levels. These older buildings densely pack the neighborhood with limited parking, forcing a lot of the residents to rely on public transit and local entertainment options, however the area is underserved in terms of food and retail options. The waterfront here also has a number of luxury buildings along the water, including the under-construction Eighty-Seven Park and L’Atelier, boasting high sales in an area previously thought of not to command extravagant prices.
Dover, Kohl & Partners released a tentative plan that appears to be a mixed bag of disconnected uses. The plan did not appear to be creative in scope nor attempt to connect to the open space park across the street. From South to North they proposed a parking garage, a recreation park, North Beach Yard, a “water square”, an Eco-Hotel with a market, a playground with gardens, a “bohemian village”, and an Eco-Tech and Teen center. Without unpacking what all of those things mean, I believe and hope this is simply a framework for moving forward and not a proposal.
Miami Beach should develop a new process for the development of these prime assets. In 2015, Paris had a number of post-industrial pieces of land and instead of bidding and selling them in a normal “highest bidder” process, they created an international competition called Reinventer Paris. Its ambition it was to create teams of developers and designers that would propose uses of the land that would provide both public benefit and economic return. As part of the proposal, they would also propose a price at which to purchase the land. The city then formed a jury and choose the winners based on these proposals. While the execution showed a little cronyism and poor taste, the ambition was good, and can possibly be replicated here. North Beach’s public needs could be anything from water management, to parking, to affordable housing, to public gathering space. The proposal for North Beach Yard is already an example of a private idea creating its own proposal and leasing public land. If the other lots are openened up to the city for proposals, we could see other creative ideas taking shape. After the lots are sold or leased, the revenue can be used for maintenance and water management around the entire neighborhood.
A more “public space” approach would be to create a true master plan that acknowledges these lots as an extension of the North Shore Open Space Park. This type of project can focus on water managment and gathering space, creating functional and aesthetic approaches to the problems of North Beach. They can also perhaps have an educational and cultural component.
When the process is rehought and new ideas are in the mix, North Beach has an opportunity to shape its neighborhood for decades to come with this important stretch of land. What they must realize though is in governement, the process matters sometimes just as much as the outcome, and can in many cases create better ones.