Miami Dade County Community Forum

Monday, July 26, 2010

American Institute of Architects on the Miami River. By Ernie Martin

The American Institute of Architects team called this waterway to be the Authentic Miami: Their major conclusion was that this incredible resource lacks public access.

One of the most prestigious urban environmental professional organizations in America recently convened their annual meeting in Miami: the American Institute of Architects (AIA). As is their practice, they precede their annual conference with a public service project, which focuses on both the profession and the host City. This year’s conference, held in June, focused the profession on the Miami River.

The AIA convened a panel of experts to take a long and detailed look at one of Miami’s least know resources, and they came away with a number of surprises. First, they recognized that the Miami River is the birthplace of this metropolis, with historic landmarks dating back 2000 years to Tequesta settlements; to the origin of Miami as a tourist venue at Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel at the River’s mouth; to the Miami River as one of the most vibrant economic engines of this region; and to the Miami River as home to a fast growing population in both historic neighborhoods and new high rise condos. The AIA team called this waterway to be the Authentic Miami.

Their major conclusion was that this incredible resource lacks public access. The Miami River is the waterfront for Overtown, Little Havana, and Allapattah. It is also the waterfront for thousands of new downtown rental and condo units along its edge. It is the waterfront for historic villages like the Miami River Inn, Spring Garden, Historic Overtown, Grove Park and Durham Park. It is the waterfront for a vibrant marine industry, from shipping terminals to boat repair and maintenance facilities. Further, it is the waterfront for a huge drainage basin, including Wagner Creek, one of the most polluted waterways in Florida that feeds into Biscayne Bay, and deserves environmental improvements.

With so much at stake, and so many populations affected, the AIA concluded that the Miami River Greenway and River walks needed renewed attention from the Miami River Commission, the State, City and County, as well as the private property owners along the River. In particular, they called for strengthened governance to keep all the parties working together for the shared vision as already promulgated and endorsed by the Miami River Commission, and the approved Greenways Action Plan of the City and County. It calls for a continuous public walkway and bike path from the mouth of the River to the new Miami Intermodal Center at Miami International Airport. When possible on public land, it will be a River Walk, and when it needs to go around private water dependent property it will be an on-road landscaped walk on North or South River Drive paralleling the River. The AIA endorsed the plan but pointed out that enforcement of its provisions has been often lacking by the City, and implementation is slow. They called for renewed commitment for public access and utilization of the Miami River, pointing out its potential as an urban destination similar to revitalized urban rivers across the nation and planet, with fisherman wharf type amenities, as well as healthful opportunities for walking, jogging and biking. The AIA’s findings are worthy of UEL’s support and ongoing public education efforts.

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