Were also hoping readers can uncover some great blocks that may be overlooked.
So we are soliciting photographs and short videos of your favorite urban block in Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties, accompanied by a brief explanation of why its the best. Entries will be judged by five eminent, expert jurors. The winner will get a block party. Individuals will get cash prizes for best photo and video presentations.
What will the judges look for?
A street, one-block long, fronted by buildings on either side. The buildings could also front a plaza, a small park or square, or a pedestrian-only passageway.
The block can be anywhere downtown, outlying neighborhood, or suburban town center and it can be old, restored or brand-spanking new.
One thing theyre not looking for: your beautiful suburban block of single-family homes (thats a contest for another day).
There are several critical ingredients for a great block. The best block wont necessarily have all of them, but it should possess at least some.
First and foremost is people. The block must be dense and pedestrian-centered, with buildings, streets and sidewalks oriented primarily to accommodating the gathering and movement of people, not cars.
To me, the clearest criteria, when its a true urban block, has to do with walkability. It has to be well-integrated and also appealing, said Miami Planning Director Francisco Garcia, charged with implementing the citys new Miami 21 zoning code, which mandates pedestrian-friendly development. Its very difficult to convey to people in South Florida that development of this sort is what were after.
The best city blocks also have a mix of uses: shops, restaurants, offices and residences at a density high enough to create a critical mass of activity that draws other people, creates a sense of security and can support commerce. That could mean apartments over the store, or live-work lofts, or any number of varied arrangements, so long as theyre seamlessly woven into the block.
A winning block would also have building fronts and fixtures designed to the human scale and, ideally, good attention to architectural detail. There should be variation in building facades, yet those should be aligned in a consistent street wall, with lots of transparent windows and doors that open onto the sidewalk and allow those outside to see whats inside, and vice-versa.
There should also be chances for social interaction, casual encounters and exchanges. That means broad sidewalks, perhaps also street benches, sidewalk cafes or a food stand.
Yes, there can be on-street parking. Some experts say thats desirable as it shields pedestrians from moving traffic and creates a sense of safety. But not so parking lots or open street-level garages.
Because its Florida, shade is good, whether from trees, arcades, awnings or overhanging balconies or ledges.
The block could also have accommodation for bicycles, through bike lanes, sharrows and places to lock up securely, and maybe a trolley or transit stop.
A great block ... has many ways to get to it by foot, by bike, car, bus and rail and even by boat, especially in South Florida, said West Palm Beach architect and Best Block juror Rick Gonzalez.
Another good ingredient is variety, whether in the scale or age of buildings. The architectural style doesnt matter: 1920s Mediterranean, 1950s MiMo, throwback architecture or thoroughly contemporary, so long as it works well with the street.