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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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:

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.

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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The 9 Most Significant Miami Buildings

Here are, in my opinion, Miami’s most important buildings and the stories behind them.


Villa Vizcaya  (1922)

Built as the Estate for Gilded Age businessman, Jon Deering, Vizcaya is a 180-acre property that represents one of the many estates of early businesspeople in South Florida. These include the Merrick House, Deering Estate, and Flagler’s Palm Beach. This is the most lavish of those and included 180 acres of land and manicured grounds around it. Today it stands as a memento of early wealth and pioneers of Miami, selling sunshine and real estate while looking for their own escape.


The Freedom Tower  (1925)

Once the tallest building in Miami, this Spanish inspired tower was originally built for the Miami News Company as their Headquarters. Designed by Schultze and Weaver, it was inspired by the Giralda tower of the Cathedral of Seville. When the company moved to a new HQ on the Miami River, the federal government used the building to process refugees arriving from Cuba to Miami during the Castro Regime. It was during this period (from 1962-1974) where the building became known as the Freedom Tower. After this, the building was bought by Miami Dade College and became part of its downtown campus. Today it serves as a museum with some office space for the university; But of course, it mainly stands as a reminder of the tyranny of the Cuban revolution that forced so many to leave everything they had and find a new life in the United States.


The Biltmore Hotel  (1926)

Built by Coral Gables developer, George Merrick, the Biltmore Hotel once housed celebrities, large golf tournaments, and swim shows in what was once the largest pool in the world. Designed also by Schultze and Weaver, it was reminiscent of Northern Spanish architecture and boasted large, lush grounds and attentive staff. During WWII, the hotel was converted by the Federal Government into a Military Hospital. After the war, it remained a Veterans Hospital and shared the property with the University of Miami. In 1968, it stopped being used as a hospital and the University moved out. It became an abandoned building until 1987 when the city of Coral Gables poured $55 million into renovating and reopening the property as a hotel. Today it hosts many events and sits as a successful hotel and beautiful marker of Miami’s history. This storied building has had many lives and will continue to be an important piece of Miami’s past and present.


The Delano Hotel  (1947)

Pronounced Del-uh-no Hotel, it remains a hot spot on South Beach and a prime example of Art Deco building. Named after Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Hotel was built in 1947 as the tallest building in Miami and was first used as military housing before its intended use as a Hotel. While it sits within the bounds of Art Deco, many argue that it begins to reference Miami Modern style, creating a crossover project that helped inspire many other buildings in South Beach. Art Deco’s rule of three is prominently displayed on the undulating facade, reinventing this type as it is commonly used in elevation, not plan as in this hotel. In elevation, the Delano has a distinctive crown that adorns the top and creates a recognizable profile from all over the beach. In the 90s, Philippe Starck redesigned the interiors, keeping it both fresh and luxurious. It remains a recognizable property that created a model for South Beach Hotels.


Miami Marine Stadium  (1963)

Built originally for powerboat races, the Miami Marine Stadium has a long and storied history. It has been used for concerts of artists like Sammy Davis Jr., speeches by President Nixon, and the annual Miami International Regatta. It has even been used as a boxing arena. The stadium is entirely cast in concrete, with a dramatic folded plane ceiling and breathtaking views of Downtown Miami. New Cuban Immigrant, Hilario Candela, designed the stadium when he was 28 years old, and it has stood as an example of concrete functionality and beauty since. In 1992, the building was condemned after Hurricane Andrew and has sat vacant since, becoming a haven for graffiti artists and photographers who trespass onto the property. The stadium has $45 million earmarked for its revitalization, including shoring up the structure and building a floating stage. Hopefully, this exciting event space can gain a second life in a city experiencing a Rennaissance of events and an influx of people.

Atlantis Condo  (1982)

In the early 1980s, when Arquitectonica was a bold young design firm looking to get a name for itself, the Atlantis Condo was built in South Brickell on Biscayne Bay. It was immediately awarded a Progressive Architecture award and signified a blending of the facade of the banal skyscraper with the geometric elements of postmodernism and the primary colors of Bauhaus design. It showed the world that Miami could play in the international discussion of Architecture beyond Art Deco, and helped the city move past the typology. Arquitectonica would later move on to design Miami staples such as the Omni Development, 500 Brickell, and the American Airlines Arena, as well as buildings all over the world.

Miami Tower  (1987)

The Miami Tower is one of the most prominent buildings in the skyline, and a remnant of the economic boom of the 1980s. This IM Pei designed building was optimistic in its design and use. Formerly called the Centrust Bank Building, it featured the country’s first elevated metro stop in a building, allowing the metro mover to pass through it. It also featured a sky lobby adjacent to a 10,000 sqft outdoor terrace. The tower is also adorned with a $1.5 million LED light system that caters its colors to special events, local sports teams, and holidays. The Miami Tower is an icon of the 80s, and still remains one of the most important buildings in the skyline. An interesting profile, memorable lighting design, and sky metro stop ensure its future as a Class A Miami Office building that is here to stay.


1111 Lincoln Rd.  (2010)

Designed by Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron, it is one of the most iconic parking garages in the world. In the car-obsessed metropolis of Miami, it sits like a beacon on the corner of Lincoln Rd., lit in multi-colored LEDs, welcoming all to rethink these garages as they know them. The structure is formed of V-shaped columns and poured slabs with well-detailed knife edges. It has been described as a house of cards like structure, borrowing from Brazilian brutalism, and the tropical typology of a deep facade. The building also has ground floor retail, a retail shop on the 5th floor, and luxury residential on the top floor, with 300 parking spots on its many levels.

Most importantly, it served as a marker of Miami’s readiness for a large influx of starchitect projects. Developer Robert Wennett, by wanting more from his parking garage, sent a signal to the architecture world that Miami was next. Since then, architects like Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Ghery, and Bjarke Ingels have designed and completed projects in Miami.



Brickell City Centre  (2016)

This project is simply programmed as a mall, but the project reinvents the typology in a way that will be copied and reimagined all over the country. A true collaboration between architect, Arquitectonica, and developer, Swire Group, the project acknowledges the new structure between disciplines. This is not just a shopping center. It includes a hotel, 2 condo towers, an office building, and a wellness building. This is a “ground floor” retail project which sits inside a plinth, hovering above active streets. It funnels air through its ceiling fins to create a cool micro-climate inside its walls without AC. It has added hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail in a world where retail is in decline but has filled almost all of its space. The project has successfully programmed 3 city blocks into a continuous and connected project that has enhanced Brickell and brought new life to its streets, creating a model for the greater region and beyond.


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What is the Miami Forever Bond?

On November 7th, The City of Miami votes on whether or not to approve a proposal called the “Miami Forever Bond.” Nomenclature aside, here is what that means.

Many city officials, including Mayor Regalado and city commissioner Ken Russell, are in favor of the proposed Miami Forever bond. The General Obligation (GO) Bond that made it onto the ballot with a council vote of 3-2, is the first proposal City of Miami residents will see when they got to the polls on Tuesday. The proposed $400 Million is broken down into the following categories:

  • Flood Prevention and Sea Level Rise Mitigation ($192 million)
  • Parks and Cultural Facilities ($78 million)
  • Roadway Improvements ($23 million)
  • Affordable Housing and Economic Development ($100 million)
  • Public Safety ($7 million)

Miami Forever Bond Breakdown

The bond issue states that no new taxes will be levied to pay off this debt, but is simply using the expiration of previous bond issues, and not decreasing the millage rate. Many have wondered what the specifics within each of the categories are in the bond, but the truth is there aren’t any. They have written a generally ambiguous bond issue on purpose. The city is unaware as to the scope and depth of the changes they are proposing, as they are not proposing any specific changes, only identifying problems and allocating money to solve them. They are proposing this amount simply because it is the amount they can get over the next few years without increasing taxes, and it is the order of importance that they think they can start to solve some of these issues. This is both politically expedient, and if executed correctly, highly beneficial to the future of Miami.

Morning Side park.jpeg
King Tide’s effects on Morningside Park last week

The bond is purposefully vague, as making a plan for the next 20 years regarding sea level rise, affordable housing, and culture would be disingenuous. In planning for flood prevention, a new stormwater master plan needs to be updated, as the last one done only 5 years ago did not take rising seas into account. This new plan must be commissioned, debated, and implemented slowly as to learn as it is being built. Our priorities will change, and we will learn from our experiments involving flooding in Miami and change course.

In terms of Sea Level Rise mitigation, this item requires both capital projects and policy changes that plan for the next 100 years. In this category, I am more skeptical as to the blank check given. It seems that the city is focusing more on flood prevention, than the longer term problem of mitigation. This is an area that we must demand answers on, and need to push the city on over time to create a long-term plan. We need a county-wide master plan that takes sea level rise into account using solutions in every department. From zoning to parks, from building code to life safety and power, all of these pieces matter in the larger puzzle, and it is unclear that we are looking at it from that level yet.

housing bond (3)
Affordable housing community in Liberty City

As for the affordable housing piece, it is being treated as a neighborhood by


block grant program. The money will be allocated based on a federal formula of need and density. This gives each neighborhood like Coconut Grove and Liberty City about $20 million each to enact programs to house and economically empower people in their communities. Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon has spoken eloquently on the many options he has been looking at. One includes giving credits in maintaining older buildings or helping refinance old properties to include renovation costs. A large reason why certain communities are becoming unaffordable is that the owners do not have the funds or knowledge in how to renovate old building stock. So as it gets old and in disrepair, they sell it to tear down developers. Once any building gets beyond disrepair, it must be torn down, and the new construction cost becomes prohibitive to rent at a low rate, driving the price up. This is being seen across the city and is a large piece that is driving out low-income residents.

While those 2 categories take up ~75% of the bond dollars, the next few items do carry hefty chunks as well. The $78 million for Parks and Culture is up for grabs, as those projects have not been described yet. Projects like the Underline, Coconut Grove Playhouse, and Miami River promenade are all being considered to receive funding. In terms of roadway improvements, drainage, sidewalks, median improvement, and updates in growing areas of Miami are all obvious choices.

Finally, dollars for public safety were added, mostly as an appeasement to the police and fire unions who are angry that their back pay deferment from the economic recession still has not been completed. This $7 million, however, will not go to that, but to new fire and police stations and improvements. Each of these budget items, when put together is a comment on the kind of city we are working to create. I am proud to say that this Bond reflects a good direction for Miami, and has adequately identified some of our biggest problems, and hopefully, can use smart solutions to begin solving them.

If you live in the City of Miami, be sure to vote on Nov 7th, and let’s try and make a better city together! If you need help finding your polling place or knowing what you need click here.

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