Miami-Dade County

April 4, 2014

Ideas wanted: Miami foundations want to turn spaces into places

A competition that will fund the best ideas for turning underused public spaces into real community places across Miami-Dade County has received scores of proposals and remains open for submissions through April8.

Frisbee golf, anyone?

Scores of creative ideas are flowing in to the second Our Miami Public Space Challenge, which puts up cold, hard cash to fund the best proposals for invigorating and improving community spots that could stand a little help.

The submissions so far extend across Miami-Dade County and range from the novel to the tried-and-true, suggesting an as-yet-unslaked appetite for community vegetable gardens and farmers markets, for more shade over parks, playgrounds and sidewalks, and for more ways for people to get out and ambulate around their neighborhoods.

Including, indeed, disc golf, a growing cult sport whose name should explain it all: A modest proposal to install a course at Miami-Dade’s expansive but underused Homestead Air Reserve Park has received the second-highest number of “likes” in the online competition to date.

The biggest “like”-garnerer? An ambitious submission for a nonprofit fish restaurant that would train military vets and others in the food business.

While some ideas may fall beyond the scope of the $130,000 available, sponsors of the competition encourage Miamians to keep thinking big and outside the, um, sandbox. There are a few more days to submit ideas before the 11:59 p.m. deadline on April 8.

Entering is simple — just drop a pin on an online map and outline your idea in a line or two — but the competition is not stacking up to be easy.

Submissions are on pace to exceed last year’s sum of more than 250 entries, said Stuart Kennedy, senior programs officer at the Miami Foundation, the competition’s main sponsor along with the Health Foundation of South Florida. The Miami Herald is a media partner in the effort, which aims to promote community engagement in a young city that sometimes lacks for it.

“We’ve got so many good ideas. It’s going to be really tough,” Kennedy said.

But even half-baked ideas are wanted, he said. If yours is chosen as a finalist, the foundation will bring in consultants to help flesh out the proposal. A panel of experts will select the best achievable ideas for funding.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Kennedy said. “Even if the idea is not fully formed, put it up there and we will help.”

Last year, the 15 funded ideas included a pop-up farmers market in a parking lot on Biscayne Boulevard downtown; a community chalkboard for public expression in Wynwood; a community garden in a vacant lot in Brownsville; and a gradually emerging green space on another unused lot at the Dadeland South Metrorail station.

This year, proposals have come in from places as disparate as Homestead and Sweetwater, Overtown, Miami Gardens and Miami Beach, though most seem concentrated in resurgent neighborhoods in and around downtown Miami. The Miami Foundation made a concerted effort to encourage geographic diversity by hosting seminars about the contest in neighborhoods across the county.

Submissions so far are widely varied, from pop-up outdoor reading rooms and skate parks in vacant lots or under highway overpasses to the planting of fruit trees along public streets — with ripe fruit available for the picking.

An energetic, informal group calling itself Friends of the M-Path submitted more than a dozen ideas for improving the bare-bones paved bike and walking trail that runs beneath the elevated Metrorail tracks from Dadeland to the Miami River.

Some submissions seek to animate farmers markets or underused parks with art or live musical and dramatic performances. There are even proposals for apps, including a finder app that would help locate yoga sessions in parks and community centers.

All those, Kennedy said, fit the competition brief.

“We want to activate public spaces,” he said. “Creating community is what we’re trying to do here.”

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