MIAMI

Contest offers cash prizes for making better public spaces in Miami

 

If you go

What: Kickoff for the Our Miami Public Space Challenge.

When: From 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Where: The Stage Miami, 170 NE 38th St.

Entry: Free; RSVP by Tuesday at miamifoundation.org/ourmiamirsvp.


aviglucci@MiamiHerald.com

Public spaces, meaning everything from a big city park to the downtown square to the shady corner where neighbors congregate, are an important means for people to feel connected to their communities, urban experts say — but just about everyone agrees Miami has too few of them, or at least not enough really good ones.

Now, a new public competition, with some real money behind it, is asking Miamians to propose ideas for neighborhood public spaces — either improvements to existing spaces, or entirely new ones — that can be done quickly and inexpensively.

The reward: $100,000 to actually build one or more of the winning entries.

The “Our Miami Public Space Challenge,’’ which launches Wednesday, is the brainchild of the Miami Foundation, which last year embarked on a comprehensive effort to help locals feel more love for the place they call home.

The idea is based on a growing number of studies that show a close relationship between fiscal prosperity and cities whose residents feel a warm affinity for their hometowns. That’s in part because cities that people are proud to live in also tend to attract and retain the skilled, talented workers who drive economic growth.

“We believe that attractive, accessible public spaces are critical to quality of life,’’ said Miami Foundation president and CEO Javier Soto. “We want to help move the needle on livability and quality of life. The question is, how can we create a city that is a magnet for the talent needed to create economic vibrancy?’’

The competition, with a strong focus on social media, builds on the Miami Herald’s Best Urban Block in South Florida contest, held last year to highlight the qualities of great, pedestrian-friendly city streets as people flock back to the region’s urban centers to live. South Beach’s Espanola Way was the grand winner.

The Miami Herald and WRLN/Miami Herald News are the Miami Foundation’s media partners in the new contest, which poses a fresh challenge: To come up with feasible, creative ideas for a shared space that can give a specific neighborhood a meaningful boost in livability and identity.

And while the idea must be on a local, neighborhood scale, sponsors are encouraging applicants to define public space broadly. It could even be privately owned so long as it’s accessible to anyone.

“A public space can be any place where people gather,’’ Soto said. “I want the definition to be as broad as possible, to include things we may not even think of as public spaces.’’

That could encompass anything from a micro-park to a community garden — a popular option in such public engagement efforts in other cities — to simply putting benches in a place where people already gather but have nowhere to sit, said Daniel LaTorre, a senior fellow at the Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit group of experts helping the foundation run the competition.

The concept is to have residents, the real experts on their own neighborhood, design or develop the public spaces, rather than government planners or private developers.

“The best places come about from good public dialogue and ideas,’’ LaTorre said — even when there is disagreement over precisely how best to use a space.

And while most people may immediately think of a park or a public square when asked about public space, LaTorre noted that the largest quantity of public space in any city or town is in its streets and sidewalks, which can have the most significant impact on quality of life.

The best public spaces, he said, have a use, preferably more than one.

In one recent project PPS was involved in, for instance, residents of a neighborhood in San Antonio zeroed in on a little-used street that separated an elementary school from a park, LaTorre said. They came up with the idea to close the street to expand the park and connect it to the school, then build a community garden and a covered, outdoor classroom for subjects like social studies, science or biology that would relate to the surroundings. The project is being built, he said.

Entries can be submitted online starting Thursday at the contest website, reachable from www.ourmiami.org, by dropping a pin on a map of Miami to indicate the location of the public space. A few simple queries help applicants outline their ideas. Photos and videos can be uploaded to the site. Visitors to the site can view all submissions.

A panel of community representatives and professionals will select winners by early October. The number of winners will depend on the number of outstanding, feasible submissions and how much money they require to be implemented.

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