Miami Dade County Community Forum

Monday, July 6, 2009

Simple but Enduring Contribution to Miami’s Sustainable Future By John Van Leer Sc.D.

Mayor Diaz wants the City of Miami to be known globally as an example of Sustainable Green living. Therefore Virginia Key needs to be developed around its natural and historic assets. The park design must encourage exercise, use solar powered water craft and solar tram systems for energy efficiency and quit operation. A strong emphasis on public transit is needed to break Miami’s twin cycles of obesity and automobile dependence. Such a park will not need parking garages.

Existing Recession Stressed Miami Lessees - Don’t Deserve City Subsidized Competition

Miami already has Bayside Marketplace & Marina along with the predictable shops and restaurants located conveniently near underutilized Hotels in Downtown Miami and Miami Beach. Ample Dry Stacks for “Thunder Boats” plus the Dinner Key Marina already exist in Coconut Grove as well as the Marina near the Rusty Pelican with more dry stacks. As soon as the recession is over, fuel prices will resume their inevitable steep upward march so that Thunder Boats and SUVs will continue to be even less sustainable and will continue to loose market appeal on economic and health grounds. Virginia Key should not compete with the existing high intensity tourist venues, which could undermine the existing City of Miami leases at Bayside, in the Grove and at the Rusty Pelican Marina. Rather we should stress sustainable forms of ecotourism and wholesome exercise and eating for a sustainable Miami.

Respect Teddy Roosevelt’s “Preservation for Generations yet Unborn”

U. S. National Parks, which were the “brain child” of Theodore Roosevelt, draw millions of tourists from around the world and have been widely emulated worldwide. Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge was also designated by President Theodore Roosevelt on March 14, 1903 as the world’s first National Wildlife Refuge, when Miami was a 7 years old frontier town immersed in wilderness. Pelican Island was to be the first protected habitat in a “string of pearls” along this Atlantic Coast Flyway, to protect Pelicans and other nesting birds together with myriad migratory species. Virginia Key’s Nature Preserves draw nature lovers and birders, with its unique position directly astride the Atlantic Coast Flyway. This Flyway is followed by countless migratory birds from as far as the Canadian Arctic to South America and the Caribbean. Virginia Key is home to nesting Bald Eagles and visited daily by flocks of Roseate Spoonbills and Ibis who feed on the flats west of the Key. In addition, Nesting Turtles, Miami Dolphins and Calving West Indian Manatees are regularly seen. Many endangered species of native plants are found on Virginia Key, and nowhere else, along the shore, in the shallows and within the hardwood hammocks. These unique habitats will further thrive if they are maintained as connected habitats and can each be expanded.

History on Virginia Key must also be respected

The Virginia Key Beach Park Trust with its civil rights history, merry-go-round and train rides and special events will draw people nationally. Why not ask President Obama to dedicate its rebirth along with our new Green Central park? This excellent facility would put Miami on the map for something besides insurance fraud and mortgage malfeasance.

The Iconic MIMO Miami Marine Stadium with its floating stage can once again draw people for paddle sport recreation, concerts, sunrise services, rowing events, dragon boats spectacles, triathlons and other passive uses. An internal combustion free basin is compatible with a world class nature preserve are both fostered. Why not strive to create an Urban Paradise where the people of Miami can enjoy beauty and tranquility every day of the week? These are quality of life issues for everyday Miami residents and visitors, not just the wealthy go fast boaters. Miami is woefully lacking in these kinds of passive activities which will attract top line companies to our area from around the world. It is no accident the Microsoft and Boeing other high tech companies call Seattle home with its emphasis on natural beauty and physical fitness.

Walking, Biking, Rowing and Paddle Sports for Fitness not Fatness

It is far more sustainable to encourage fitness over fatness. Thousands now enjoy Miami’s increasingly popular bike path along the Rickenbacker Causeway, which ties into Mayor Diaz’s Bike Miami campaign in such a natural way. If there is a market, let it be an open air farmers market for locally grown organic food. If there is an eating venue, let it be an open air organic restaurant where Miamian’s can learn proper nutrition.

Historic Beginning of Miami tied to Biscayne Bay

Because Miami grew up around Biscayne Bay, before the Flagler’s Railroad arrived in 1896, it is entirely fitting and proper that Miami's Central Park should again be centered within the Bay on Virginia Key. Miami has always been a naturally water centric place. In the beginning, there was only the primitive Military Trail from Ft. Lauderdale to the Miami River for a road, with corduroy sections through the marshy spots and thick mangroves to cut off the breezes further inland. Thus it was much more pleasant to sail down the breezy bay rather than to bump down such a rough bug infested road.

The Gateway visitor's center for Biscayne National Park must also be centrally located as the first stop in this Central Park so that the greatest range of visitors may access the beauty and serenity of both of these Miami and national treasures. How many cities have such a beautiful protected bay and two national parks with such rich history? Yet our local population and visitors hardly know anything about either the Biscayne Bay National Park or the Virginia Key parks much less enjoy them regularly.

The Central Park Visitor’s Center Based upon Local History

From the response of the attendees at all the Virginia Key planning meetings, it was clear that most folks want a refurbished Marine Stadium and to bring it back its special sense of place. It had long been a venue for evening concerts and rowing races in a passive lagoon setting. It was also clear that a visitor’s center was needed for both Virginia Key and Biscayne National Park. A natural idea is to build the visitors center under the existing Marine Stadium building seats so that the Historic and Iconic MIMO building may be preserved, enhanced and displayed while serving dual purposes.

Mayor Diaz has stated that he wants all future Miami Buildings to be LEED certified for sustainability and energy efficiency. He has required leaders in the City of Miami building department to attend LEED certification courses and to allow LEED buildings to go to the head of the line for permitting. A design gets extra LEED points if an existing building is used rather than being scrapped. More LEED points are earned for easy public transportation access. The roof design of the Marine Stadium is ideally designed for catching rainwater water, which will earn additional LEED points. The water collected could naturally irrigate a beautiful butterfly garden of native species which could surround the visitor’s centers for education while lessening the visual impact of the visitor’s centers, allowing the MIMO structure to stand out. In this way the built footprint on Virginia Key is not increased. Parking for the events at night can share the existing parking lot used by the park attendees during the daytime. The original architect of the Miami Marine Stadium is still alive. So Mr. Hilario Candela would be the logical one to do the combined design work.

Miami 21 attempts to reduce downtown parking by 30% while establishing mass transportation corridors. Neighborhood parks are envisioned with athletic fields, within easy walking distance in all neighborhoods, with sidewalks and bike paths for safety and fitness. These policies will increase walking and public transportation as we wean ourselves of auto addiction and oil addiction and epidemic obesity. Virginia Key’s development must reinforce these objectives rather than contradict them.

Transportation Connectivity

In addition to the existing large parking lot at the Miami Marine Stadium, where folks could safely leave a car for a day or two, when they visit the Biscayne National Park, people need to be able to gain access by public transportation. This would include bus shelters, with large Photovoltaic Panel covered waiting areas. These B busses stop on one side of the platform while solar powered trams load on the other side. Trams deliver passengers to all parts of Virginia Key without the need for massive parking structures. The other end of the B bus route will access the new Inter Modal Center by way of Metro-rail. From the Inter Modal Center, Tri-Rail trains can carry tourists to the airports of Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Bicycle rentals and sailboats are now available across the causeway from the future visitor’s center. Bikes are a healthful way to get around Virginia Key on a network of 2 meter wide bike paths, which would naturally connect to the enhanced Rickenbacker Bike Path along the causeway. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Nature Center and Cape Florida on Key Biscayne are on the same bike path. Tricycles for seniors or parents with young children and bicycles built for two should also be available. Anyone should be able to bring a bike, a tent and a knapsack or a canoe/kayak (or rent one) aboard a passive public boat into your magnificent parks from the visitor's centers. More LEED points earned.

Instant Immersion in Biscayne National Park

Most of Biscayne National Park’s area is shallow clear water, so the park’s boats should not only be transportation between land sites, but must allow park visitors to directly experience these unique habitats. Boat transportation should be available to all who come at a reasonable price and be whisper quiet electrically powered so the serenity of the bay is immediately felt. The naturalist and/or bird life should both be easily heard. What a thrill to hear a dolphin chirp with its sonar at close range.

The roof is a photovoltaic array providing both 10.5 Kilowatts of peak power and shade but is also open to bay breezes. The slender hulls and electric motors are about 90% efficient so that the vessel is completely self powered, consuming the power of a common toaster while cruising at 5 knots (top speed 9 knots). Internal batteries in each hull provide power for cloudy or night operation. There is no fossil fuel engine so no noise, no smoke and no vibration. In Switzerland similar boats download excess power to the grid at the end of each day of operation.

I personally glided on Sun21 up the Intracoastal Waterway for 3 inspiring days from Sebastian to St. Augustine Florida into a 20 knot headwind. We passed the Pelican Island National Wildlife Sanctuary with its nesting birds, which Roosevelt moved to protect 106 years ago. We got close to a number of other bird islands without disturbing the birds and could hear their sounds quite clearly.

In his proclamation, Mayor Diaz stated that “The solar-powered catamaran, using 10 kilowatts of solar modules and two 8-killowatt electric motors, represents the ideal and efficient vessel for clean and efficient water taxis to pilot Miami tourists and commuters”.

The subsequent Intracoastal trip culminated with receiving a similar proclamation in New York City from Mayor Blumberg on May 8, 2007 and the presentation of a Swiss drafted Ecological Constitution to the United Nations the next day. Go to to see trip photographs or for the underlying organization and trip information.

Adapting a Solar Cat for Central Park & Biscayne National Park

Instead of sleeping accommodations below decks, a long row of seats atop the batteries could provide comfortable viewing through underwater windows in the sides of the vessel. This is similar to Silver Spring’s long time use of electric glass bottomed boats, except more efficient and self powered.

Tourists will see the sun dappled sea-grass meadows, coral heads/reefs, brilliant fish, sponges or the mangrove fringe go by. Hydrophones mounted in each hull could provide the sounds made by the animals seen through the viewing ports and beyond. In windy weather the trip to Elliot’s Key will be in the Bay along the mangrove fringe. In calm weather the trip can be made outside by Hawks Channel and Cesar’s Creek. When parked at Elliott Key, the resident lobsters will be clearly seen and heard in the harbor. Water clarity changes will be clearly seen as we go southward in the Bay or out to Stiltsville raising public awareness about Biscayne Bay water quality issues. At night, showers of bioluminescence will be clearly seen below to go with the stars above. Alternatively, underwater lights could illuminate points of interest which contrast day and night behaviors of organisms. Special cruises could be scheduled to witness the underwater spawning event of corals, fishes or sponges on well known nights and protected locations.

Dockage near the Marine Stadium/Central Park

An inexpensive floating dock could be installed near the Seaquarium to receive passive boats for the Central Park headquarters. The pickup area would be exposed to full sun, to recharge the solar catamarans and offer sheltered dockage for other park related vessels.

Historic Passive Sailboat/Hybrid “Egret” Concept

Another type of passive boat with a Miami heritage would be the shallow draft “Egret” style sailboat like the one moored at the Barnacle. To make it more practical to operate on a daily basis, it could be fitted with an efficient electric motor, like the ones in Sun21. The bricks, used for internal ballast, could be replaced with lead acid batteries both to store energy for the motor as well as to act as ballast. This type of boat can regenerate electricity to charge the batteries while sailing. Since Commodore Munroe was the original designer, it would be fitting to use it for the run between the Barnacle State Historic Site and Central Park. Egret could easily electrically power its way out of the Barnacle mooring area straight into the prevailing ESE wind and then do a beam reach NE to Central Park regenerating all the way. There are a significant number of retired boat captains with active USCG licenses, who would love to dress up like the “Commodore” to operate such a vessel.

Water Transport from Miami-Circle, Bayside and Bicentennial Park

There is a sailing catamaran tour boat at Bayside, which could stop at Central park to pickup and discharge passengers at the Rusty Pelican. There is also a more traditional schooner which operates out of Bayside which could do the same service. If bollards can be installed at Bicentennial Park and now that the seawall has been repaired at the Miami-Circle, additional stops could be added. It would then be possible to travel to the Carnival Center, Art Museum and Science Museum by passive boat in the moon light. Or one could go from downtown to the Rusty Pelican or see Jimmy Buffet in concert again at the Marine Stadium. In addition, boat service to and from South Beach would be desirable.

Solar Trams Provide Tranquil Transportation

Each tram car would be shaded by a photovoltaic array which also provides propulsion power. The quiet electric towing vehicle is similar to electric vehicles in use at MIA to tow airplanes away from the gate and to provide starting power for jet engines. As the length of the train of tram cars increase, the power generated by the increasing number of PV panels would increase. Senior citizens who normally have trouble hearing the speaker over the roar of an engine would have an easy time listening. On week days when demand is low, the tram cars parked in storage would produce power for FPL and would create a credit towards the park’s electric bills.

John C. Van Leer Sc.D.
UEL/RSMAS/University of Miami

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