I’ve lived in South Florida for 42 years. For most of that time, I endured sniping from friends and colleagues from places like New York or San Francisco about my home: Great weather, sure; beautiful beaches, of course; nice suburbs — heck, nothing but suburbs.
But no soul. No center. No neighborhoods or blocks with the mix of amenities — housing, employment, transportation, street life, architecture, culture — that creates rich urban life.
That began to change throughout our three-county region during the past five to 10 years, though our awareness — and appreciation of what it can do to build community — has been more confined to architects and planners than the public at large.
South Florida’s Best Blocks is an attempt to engage the broader community in that discussion.
This endeavor began with Matt Haggman, Miami program director for the Knight Foundation and a former Herald reporter, and Andrew Frey, a planner, lawyer and urbanist who started a nonprofit organization called The Townhouse Center.
About three months ago, Frey reached out with an idea to get people talking about great urban blocks and quality of life. A note from Frey, back in April: What if we put together some criteria for what makes a great urban block, offered a little prize money and “unleashed people to see their urban areas in a new way and document previously overlooked exemplary urbanism right in our own backyard, rather than in New York or Paris.’’
Today, that idea becomes a contest to identify the best urban blocks in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
It starts with a story on Page 1 from Herald reporter Andres Viglucci, who has covered urban issues in South Florida for more than two decades. In it, he explains what makes a great urban block and how to find one. Our public radio colleagues at 91.3 FM will air stories on the concept and the contest Monday on the WLRN-Miami Herald News. We’ll do follow-up stories over the next month.
You are asked to nominate your favorite urban block through the Miami Herald/WLRN Public Insight Network at www.miamiherald/bestblock. Once you register, you’ll get instructions on how to submit a photo or video telling the story of your block, though you can also enter with a 250-word description.
The photos and videos will be available to all through YouTube and Instagram, and we’ll give people an opportunity to weigh in on your suggestions.
And we’ve assembled a jury that incudes some of South Florida’s most knowledgeable urbanists to evaluate the nominees. By September, thanks to a Knight Foundation grant to the Townhouse Center, the photos and videos judged best will be eligible for prizes. The best block in each county will be recognized with a special event.
To succeed, we need you to participate. Matt Haggman’s Twitter bio (@matthaggman) describes Knight’s mission and ours in holding this contest: “Promoting an informed and engaged Miami.’’
So engage with us. The conversation you create will highlight some special spots — and get all of us thinking about how to make South Florida better.