As Opa-locka continues planning the transformation of the Triangle into Magnolia North, the city’s Community Development Corporation hosted a “Walk-Shop” Saturday on Ali Baba Avenue where residents proposed design ideas while also seeing the barren state of one of the city’s major thoroughfares.
The lead architect and designer for changing the street is Walter Hood, one of four artists and design teams brought to the city last summer to aid in the development project.
The project is funded by a $250,000 “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grant, plus money from the county’s Department of Cultural Affairs, a $20 million grant from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, and money from the Opa-locka CDC.
Hood said that in his last visit to Opa-locka, in August, he walked for most of the span of Ali Baba Avenue, which extends from Northwest 37th Avenue to just past Northwest 22nd Avenue, and noted the narrow sidewalks and lack of shaded places.
“It was almost like walking a desert, why is this place so barren?” Hood said. “People on the street had to move on the road not on the sidewalk.”
His team’s proposal works off the desert idea and is called ‘Oasis/Oases.’ The tentative plan is for 15 “oases” to be placed intermittently on the street, potentially including small farmer’s markets, car washes and shelters for people to escape the heat.
He also proposed several ideas that have worked in cities like Philadelphia and Oakland, where painting existing structures, like bus stops and alleyways, or re-thinking their design could make them stand out and be better utilized. Hood also presented various plans for expanding the sidewalks and reducing the expansive driving lanes to make room for benches, bike lanes and more trees.
“When places become more healthy, people want to be there,” Hood said. “If we don’t validate our community through our special programs and practices, no one’s going to do it.”
Hood said he and his team will return with a more defined plan in January. He added that he doesn’t think the area will be another Wynwood, with large murals and street art, unless it’s what the residents want.
“Any kind of embellishment of the public realm is a good,” said Hood. “I already have a plan in mind, but I tend to try to let a lot of voices come in.”
Some of the local voices were largely supportive of the proposed developments and were mainly focused on changing the perception of ‘The Triangle’ area of the street. The city is trying to rebrand the neighborhood, mainly known for being enclosed by metal barriers and for drug and crime activity in the 1980s. Thirty-year resident Diana Smith, 56, hopes this latest attempt won’t be a failure.
“We’ve heard a lot of promises, if they’re going to make it true then I’m for it,” said Smith.
Smith described the street as a “ghost town” after dark and wants to see more beautification with trees and painting over the more dilapidated buildings.
“We also need to get these owners to take care of these properties like they should,” said Smith standing in the midst of multiple unoccupied and boarded-up buildings.
Princess Fuller, a 25-year resident, said she hopes the developments will allow for more activity spaces for children.
“If they had more things for them to do, they won’t be out here in the street,” Fuller said. “There’s nothing in this area for the children to do.”
Fuller and others also suggested a more literal rebranding of the triangle, by removing the remaining metal barricades and placing a statue in the middle of the neighborhood as a multi-purpose outdoor space. They hope that a new generation will hear triangle and think of a place of play and not of prohibition.
“When I was campaigning, someone told me this is ‘Struggle-locka’ not ‘Opa-Locka,” said Mayor Myra Taylor. “We’re not going to say that anymore.”