Code Changes and the Battle for the Grove

Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCD), and the battles between density and preservation in Coconut Grove get to the heart of Miami’s growth problems.

From 2010-2016, about half of a million people moved to South Florida, bringing the overall population up to 6 million. This migration, primarily from outside the country, has exacerbated the affordable housing problem and the rapid rise in residential costs. These factors have triggered some of the more historic and vulnerable neighborhoods to use provisions of the NCD Zoning code to protect the characters of their densifying neighborhoods. These include Coconut Grove, Coral Gate, and Charles Ave.

An NCD is a special zoning district that redefines existing zoning definitions, usually making them stricter, in order to preserve the quality of a particular neighborhood. While helpful in preservation, these can sometimes stand in the way of affordability, smart development, and helpful densification.

For example, in Coconut Grove, neighborhood associations are fighting legal densification in the building of new townhomes. While they say they are fighting their contemporary style and disregard for greenery, these homes create 2 where there was only 1 before, helping to split rising land costs. For example, this would take what would theoretically be a $1.5 million renovated home, and create 2 new $1 million homes. This moderate drop, multiplied throughout the neighborhood can have real effects on the ability to afford to buy or rent in the area.

Many new homes in the Grove have adapted a simple “white box” look

Local officials see the issue and are working to use the NCD provisions to both preserve older homes, while also allowing for select density to keep prices affordable. The full proposed changes to the NCD can be found here. The changes keep the stricter provisions made on single-family homes, trees, and lot coverage. However, for duplex units, the changes allow for a reduction in the amount of green space from 50% to 35%, creating more opportunity for onsite parking and outdoor terraces. The changes also lower the required parking amounts on major transects, freeing up lot space for more units.

Furthermore, the proposal tests out a density bonus for affordable housing, similar to the one being considered by the City Commission. This bonus will allow for 5x the number of units in medium density zones if 50% of the units are for affordable housing. This keeps the volume and height restrictions imposed, but allows for more units within them. This will help to make affordable housing feasible while keeping the existing character of the neighborhood.

Leafy Way Street, South Coconut Grove

Finally, the changes allow for a larger footprint on the second story in the Single Family and Duplex zones if a mature tree is planted in the front of the house. This is an attempt to incentivize tree planting in the right of way, honoring the Grove’s history as a dense canopy, and providing shade to pedestrians. Second story space does not hurt the green space or permeable surface ratio, so this tactic is a smart one.

Coconut Grove is beginning to accept that its neighborhoods have many different sides with this proposed rewrite of the NCD ordinance. Whether it be the string of high rises along the marina, the blocks of apartments down Grand Avenue, the grandiose homes along the bay, or the pockets of dense single-family historic homes in the East Grove, its neighborhoods have always co-existed in harmony. To pretend the Grove is homogeneous is to ignore it completely, and the code must reflect this diversity if it is to remain a vibrant Miami community.

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Flagler Street Fail

After spending $14.24 million and hurting hundreds of businesses, FDOT left Flagler St. in the past, squandering a major opportunity on a historic corridor.

In March of 2016, the Florida Department of Transportation began a roadway improvement project on Flagler Street, from Second to 27th Ave. This included new sidewalks, stormwater management, street lights, and curb improvements. This project was set to cripple businesses along it for 2+ years but was supposed to create a better experience for shop goers and owners. Finally, after years of construction, the first blocks of this project are finally opening, and the verdict is not good.

The design outcome looks like a project that could have been built in 1960: three parallel lanes pushing cars downtown at high speeds with a thin bike lane exposed to the street. The bus stops share space with the parallel parking, causing the buses to constantly move in and out of the bike lane, sometimes sticking out into the adjacent lane. The project does not follow any modern conventions about street design or transit and ignores the importance of this corridor in the city as a place of transportation, commerce, and density.


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The bus lines on the Flagler corridor are some of the most used in the city.


The No. 11 Miami Dade Transit Bus that goes from FIU to Government Center along Flagler Street is one of the most used buses in the system, with over 10,000 average weekday boardings (12,500 before construction began). The Flagler Corridor has been marked as a high transit corridor, and this has changed the parking requirements for multi-family and commercial buildings built within a 1/2 mile of it in the City of Miami Zoning Code. In order to supplement this change in zoning, and to make riding the bus a more attractive option, a dedicated lane should have been built to match the incredible foot traffic the bus receives. [See below for a potential layout of the project]

Flagler Street Road Change-03

Within the same parameters, this would have helped to alleviate traffic in the long term, protect bikers, create a better sidewalk experience, and add more parking or green space in lieu of the bus stops.

A larger problem is a separation and lack of coordination between jurisdictions. While the state controls the Road, the county controls the Transit, and the city controls the zoning code. This split in decision making and communication causes failed projects like this to occur. The local officials are blamed without having any responsibility for the design, coordination, or effect on businesses and residents. The state plans far in advance without input or flexibility, and the county does not coordinate their transit system with long-term infrastructure improvements.


Construction on Flagler has hurt hundreds of businesses along it.


While stormwater prevention was the initiation for the project, this necessary infrastructure is, and will continue to be, an opportunity for our city to build better. Stormwater and sea level rise will be the impetus for a majority of our infrastructure projects moving forward. From Miami Beach’s street raising efforts on the west side; to Downtown Miami’s king tide problem; to Shore Acres’ low lying homes’ drainage. These projects will garner attention and deserved money, but small changes in the design that add little cost can help the future of these corridors and the neighborhoods they serve.


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Grading Metro Frequencies

In light of Metro Cuts, how does Miami’s estimated rail frequencies compare to other cities?

Miami’s SMART Plan proposes adding 6 mass-transit corridors to a city with only 1. These fan out across the county, and extend the current Metrorail lines. Despite this plan, Miami-Dade’s 2018 County budget cut $17 million from transit operations, forcing reductions in bus and rail service. Some of those cuts have already been implemented, including reducing the overall service hours and number of buses. In comparing this service to 7 other lines across the world, Miami ranks 6th at peak service, and ties with 4 others for 2nd place at off-peak hours. To illustrate this, I have created the chart below.

Note: These are estimated times given by each municipality, and do not reflect times when the train is running late or some trains are out of service.


While Miami’s ridership has been steadily decreasing over the last 5 years, the answer is not to cut service, but to treat Metro like a competitive option. In creating more unreliable service, Miami-Dade County is making public transit less desirable than other options. A market force approach would cause them to react to the lowered ridership through an increase in service and reliability. This would make public transit more desirable and increase overall ridership, getting people out of their cars and helping the city as a whole.


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Please see RAW Data and Weekend graph below.


Weekday Peak Weekday Base Weekend Peak Weekend Base
Kyoto Karasuma Line 4 10 6 12
Washington Metro 4 15 12 20
Houston Metrorail 6 15 12 15
Seattle Lightrail 6 15 10 15
LA Expo Line 6 20 12 20
Miami Metrorail 7.5 15 15 15
San Juan Tren Urbano 8 16 16 16
Atlanta MARTA 10 15 20 20






San Juan:




Washington DC:

Quick Take: Miami’s Water Rush

Miami’s proximity to water has been its boon, however, it is what threatens the city most today due to Sea Level Rise. Can this threat be turned into an opportunity for the city?

Miami is the city that stands to lose the most real estate value from Sea Level Rise in the world (The National Wildlife Federation estimates $3.5 trillion in assets by 2070). In order to combat this, the city will have to develop new policies, building codes, engineering services, building designs, and entire trades. We will be forced to innovate faster and more creatively than every other metropolitan city in the world, as our problems are bigger and require more immediate attention. These factors and more are part of why Miami could be in the position to leverage its predicament into a global economic opportunity. 

Cities across the globe will be feeling the effects of climate change by the end of the century. This will manifest in flooding, dramatic changes in weather, and unprecedented heat. Miami has been dealing with increased flooding and extreme weather for a century and has already been building the tools to combat these. In order to survive the next, Miami will have to adapt to rising seas, more extreme weather, and crisis management.


All of these new skills, policies, and knowledge can be exported around the world to help their escalating problems. Miami could be the hub of Sea Level Rise architects, engineers, contractors, think tanks, public policy groups, crisis management services, and manufactured smart products. The city can be the Silicon Valley of Climate Change, but it will require us to invest more in higher education, creative grant funding, and the testing of new public policies. If not, we will be forced to cede this important future hub to another global city and miss this important opportunity for our city.

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The 10 Most Important Miami Stories of 2017

My choices for the Top 10 Miami Stories in 2017.

1/ President Obama ended the Wet Foot, Dry Foot Policy that helped the population boom in the Magic City over its 20 years of existence. See my article on how this and other Cuban immigration policies affected Miami’s development: The Magic of Wet Foot, Dry Foot

2/ Moonlight won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, showing the world a different side to Miami than they are used to. See my article on Moonlight’s unconventional take on Miami’s landscape: Moonlight on Miami

3/ Frost Museum of Science opens its doors to record crowds, effectively completing Museum Park. This move completed a larger shift towards downtown as a center for culture and the arts.

4/ David Beckham has dealt with all major issues and looks poised to bring a soccer team to Miami. After receiving special approval to buy the land, overcoming a lawsuit, and losing and finding new investors, Beckham looks like he is about to enter 2018 with all major hurdles behind him. See my piece on the stadium deal from earlier this year: The Beckham Deal is Good for Miami

5/ Mayor Gimenez redefined parts of his SMART Transit plan, leaving transit riders up in the air as to their future. By suggesting that different technology like buses and ride-share can replace mass transit in Miami, Gimenez seems faulty on his campaign promises of transit solutions. See my earlier article on Smart Buses: Are Buses SMART?

6/ Hurricane Irma shook Florida, but her damage was mostly limited to foliage and power lines. The storm was generally well managed by state authorities, despite the ever-changing prediction models. See my piece on its lasting effects here: Irma: A Storm 25-years in the Making

7/ FPL’s response to Hurricane Irma was widely criticized and became the party to a number of lawsuits. See my earlier article on changes that can be made and problems with the current status quo: FPL in a Post-Irma Florida

8/ Francis Suarez was elected Mayor of Miami at the young age of 40, representing a new wave of young leadership in the city. His top issues included affordable housing, transit, climate change, and income inequality.

9/ City of Miami residents voted in favor of the Miami Forever Bond, a bond of $400 million for use in climate change resiliency, affordable housing, and public safety. See my piece on the subject, advocating in favor of it: What is the Miami Forever Bond?

10/ University of Miami Hurricanes shocked Miamians going 10-2 before the bowl game, almost qualifying for the Bowl Championship Series. That record included a perfect 7-0 at home, creating fan hysteria.


See my piece on The Top 10 Most Important Miami Stories of 2016 as well, and have a Happy New Year!

The Many Hubs of Art Basel

Art Basel’s many “hubs” illustrate Miami’s multi-nodal urban structure and the transit woes that go along with it.

On Thursday I went to an event in Downtown, dinner in Wynwood, and a bar in Mid-Beach. On Saturday I was at the Basel Show in South Beach, then to pop-ups in Mid-Beach, and finished the night at an event in the arts district. That’s what this past weekend was for many locals and tourists alike: navigating through the many activated hubs of Miami Art Week while trying their hardest to avoid the unavoidable gridlock.


Lyft offered its annual “art hop” service, serving the above stops.


This weekend was an illustration of Miami’s multi-nodal layout. Miami is made up of a series of nodes around which the cities major commerce and gatherings occur. These nodes are developed over time, and usually, have a historical catalytic project that helped to start or revitalize each particular one. In the case of Wynwood, we can look to Wynwood Walls project. In Mid-Beach, the recent addition of the Faena Hotel and the renovation of the Fontainebleau Hotel. Beyond the Art Basel Hubs, in Brickell, the creation of Mary Brickell Village, and in South Miami, the development of Sunset Place had similar effects in those neighborhoods. Finally, the Doral City Place and the related residential and commercial boom in the West part of the county.

The biggest question, urbanistically, is how can we serve our transit needs in a city that is as multi-nodal as Miami. Other cities like Seattle, Houston, Denver, and LA are facing similar questions in their transit plans with their own specific solutions and pitfalls.

When moving around Downtown Miami, the MetroMover easily navigates between the tight buildings. In downtown Coral Gables, the trolley and freebee systems allow people to access the neighborhood without stepping into their cars. But what if one wants to go from Coral Gables to Brickell? We need a dedicated infrastructure to get people from node to node. From Brickell to Coral Gables. From Wynwood to South Beach. From Little River to Coconut Grove. Until we figure out how to move people nodally and then locally, Miami will not solve its traffic woes. Most traditional transit infrastructures move people linearly, along axes, however, this is not the right answer for Miami.

Basel’s growth and popularity as arguably the most important international Art fair in the world shows Miami’s potential to be a truly global city. However, the way that the local government is treating transit will continue to hold the city back. Robot cars and light rails are not coming to save us from our woes. We need truly innovative thinking that is specific to our city. We should look at these nodes as an opportunity to create a new system of transit perhaps unseen before. A system that borrows from others, but notes Miami’s distinct problems and works within them. That way, hopefully, we can all go to more Basel events next time around.


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How To Navigate The Traffic From Art Basel


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.

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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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