Growth and development in downtown Miami are rampant again, experiencing an expansion probably not seen since the turn of the last century.
But in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, many locals abandoned the city for the suburbs. Thousands headed west. As the population grew, neighborhoods such as Kendall were born, then West Kendall, The Hammocks, Town & Country and swaths of other unincorporated communities.
Today the spotlight has returned to downtown, being revived by swanky condos, hip eateries, museums galore and now the proposed Miami WorldCenter, a sort of new town hub.
And what of those western neighborhoods? Though they have become ill defined and disjointed, almost 214,000 residents call them home. That’s a population comparable to that of Orlando.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Juan C. Zapata, who represents western District 11, has a different vision for the area. He secured a grant to pay Florida International University’s brain trust to come up with a blueprint to help brand and connect the area that he is calling the West End.
Consider it a mulligan for Miami-Dade’s suburbs — a chance for a do-over.
“I just think the area has a lot of untapped potential; it can be transformed into a place where we can live and work and be self-sustained,” Commissioner Zapata recently told the Herald Editorial Board. His idea is for a stand-alone community — after all, we can’t all live and work downtown, nor do we want to.
We think Commissioner Zapata’s ideas for the West End are solid, visionary.
The area in question is bounded by Florida’s Turnpike on the east; Southwest 152nd Street on the south, Krome Avenue on the west and Tamiami Trail on the north. That’s a huge chunk of real estate.
Commissioner Zapata laid out the results of the community-development study conducted by FIU professors and students from the College of Architecture. Led by Winifred Newman and Kevin Greiner, they came up with: West End Strategy: A Vision for the Future. The team analyzed how the area’s economic assets and landscape can be leveraged to create economic and community development within the West End.
Here are some of the study’s main recommendations that can — and should — be carried out in the next one to three years:
▪ Brand the district and its neighborhoods. Give them a single identity. Already, Commissioner Zapata has launched a free West End app, which highlights community events.
▪ Create work opportunities in the West End that will help ease traffic gridlock, offering alternatives to a downtown commute.
▪ Connect all parts of the district with alternative transportation — trolleys, bike paths, greenway trails and pedestrian bridges. Give the area unique streets signs.
▪ Rezone and replan for new town centers, something sorely lacking in the West End.
Surprisingly, Commissioner Zapata says his plan has received only a polite reception from those charged with charting the future of our community. That’s a shame. Creating hubs of sustainable economic activity throughout the county should be a goal. When residents find jobs nearer where they live, it relieves the roads of traffic; when they can walk to shopping and schools, the streets are more vibrant, like a real neighborhood. Transforming the West End into a unified and viable community where people live and work would benefit us all.