Miami-Dade County’s parks are no longer just for playing ball, the people who run them say.
Under an ambitious six-year-old master plan that aims to transform the county’s extensive but disconnected park system over a couple of generations, they are gradually becoming something else, too: fully integrated links to community, nature, conservation and a more healthful life.
Parks officials will detail progress on their expansive vision Friday at the biannual Great Park Summit, a free public bonanza at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden for lovers of everything green. It features talks by big names in the parks world, panel discussions, exhibits, a tree-planting opportunity and a bike ride along Old Cutler Road. And they’ll feed you, too.
The 50-year master plan, unveiled in 2008, reconceived the county park system — one of the largest in the country — as a necklace of green spaces connected by a far-reaching web of walkable, bikeable greenways, accessible waterways and greened-up neighborhood streets and sidewalks.
Since then, the county has undertaken some big initiatives, including a greenway that will eventually connect Biscayne and Everglades national parks, a makeover of the old Snake Creek Trail in Northeast Miami-Dade, and the establishment of “fitness zones” at 14 parks.
In the planning stage now: transforming the bare-bones M-Path beneath the Metrorail tracks from Dadeland to downtown Miami into a “linear park,” and creation of a cycling and walking path connecting Miami to Everglades City and Naples along the Tamiami Trail.
The idea, planners say, is to improve neighborhoods and get county residents outside, moving and mixing with others by providing parks, green spaces, nature centers, pathways and more within easy walking or cycling distance of every home.
“We are about recreation and playing baseball and soccer, but it’s so much more,’’ said Maria Nardi, chief of planning for the parks department. “It’s about building the public realm. This is about transforming the community and about reconnecting people to places.
“We’re a pretty young city. We’re trying to change the paradigm of how you think about parks. It’s not just a place you go to, but it’s also the journey to it — the street, the sidewalk.’’
The summit theme: “Parks and Public Spaces as Catalysts for Greener, Healthier, More Economically Vibrant Communities.” Keynote speaker Michael DiBerardinis, Philadelphia’s deputy mayor for environmental and community resources, will explain how his city established a network of greenways to foster sustainability.
Also speaking are Barbara Tulipane, president of the National Recreation and Park Association, and Ann MacDonald, New Orleans’ parks director, who oversaw the recovery of the city’s parks after Hurricane Katrina.
The program begins at 8 a.m. with a complimentary continental breakfast and runs until 2:30 p.m. After that, volunteers can help plant trees at the adjacent Matheson Hammock Park or go on a bike ride on the path that runs along Old Cutler. Bikes and gear will be provided by Mack Cycle.