An enthusiastic crowd of several hundred mostly young professionals gathered at a Design District club Wednesday evening to learn about the challenge of creating public spaces in Miami where people can gather and neighborhoods can connect.
The real goal of the Miami Foundation’s newest venture, the Public Space Challenge, is to attract talented young professionals, foundation president and chief executive Javier Soto told the crowd at The Stage Miami, which had turned from a loud networking frenzy to rapt attentiveness.
Admitting he was shocked and a little intimidated by the turnout spilling out the door, Soto said his organization exists to help people who want to create change.
“Help imagine and create this new Miami,” he said. “We have to create the type of place and the type of space that will attract people.”
The carrot to do just that: $100,000 put up by the foundation to the person or people chosen as the winners of the contest for creating the best public space.
It’s as simple as going to the site OurMiami.org and zooming in on a map to a site, then submitting a brief explanation of what should be built or placed there. Suggestions aren’t limited to just creating small parks; visitors to the site are urged to suggest where benches should be installed, or a lawn should be laid out.
The Miami Foundation has undertaken the initiative, which builds on the Miami Herald’s Best Urban Block in South Florida contest from last year, with the help of the Herald. Soto also announced Wednesday that Florida International University had kicked in $10,000, and the Health Foundation of South Florida helped out with $20,000.
“The goal is to do things people care about,” said Stuart Kennedy, the foundation’s program officer.
The crowd had gathered after hearing news of the event on social media and through a story the Herald ran last weekend. The Stage, a bar and music venue, filled quickly after 6 p.m.
Ben Solomon, 60, a grant writer, was hoping to find someone who would partner with him on his latest venture: The installation of a liquid organic fertilizer product that would work well in most grassy areas.
“We want to be a socially conscious program,” said Solomon. “We’re looking to donate it with matching funds to an organic garden.”
Coral Gables High graduate Brandy Davila, who traveled the world after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said coming back home wasn’t an easy decision. Now she works for a company called u-aspire Miami, which finds ways to help kids pay for college.
“I never felt there were opportunities for me here,” said Davila. “But now I see Miami in a completely different light. Now we get to do something for our future.”
Soto, who said the city sometimes gets a bad rap for its philanthropic efforts, looked around the packed renovated warehouse and couldn’t help but smile.
“Tonight, just looking around this room it’s not hard to feel optimistic about Miami,” he said.