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.
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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.
For details and to enter the competition, go to Miamiherald.com/bestblock