Miami-Dade County

Pocket parks convert vacant lots to tranquil spots

A new pocket park will be built at the corner of Anderson Road and Catalonia Avenue in Coral Gables.
A new pocket park will be built at the corner of Anderson Road and Catalonia Avenue in Coral Gables. Miami Herald

The city of Miami and Coral Gables are buffering development and reclaiming green space by creating pocket parks that provide small oases of tranquility and neighborhood fellowship.

The initiatives to acquire vacant lots or dilapidated houses and convert the property into mini parks has been a hit with residents who dread the construction of another zero-lot-line McMansion and welcome the addition of a shady refuge.

Biscayne Green aims to make the city more friendly for pedestrians by temporarily transforming parking lots into parks in Downtown Miami.

“We call them neighborhood backyards,” said Kevin Kirwin, director of Miami’s Parks and Recreation Department. “We’re taking parks to the people within walking distance of their homes. Folks gravitate to them, hang out, get to know each other and learn their dogs’ names.”

Miami has purchased land for seven new pocket parks. Coral Gables purchased land for six.

“These parks allow people to have a small slice of heaven in a bustling community,” said Coral Gables Commissioner Vince Lago. “We want to limit congestion and increase quality of life.”

At the corner of Catalonia Avenue and Anderson Road, a new sign announces: “Congratulations! This property is now owned by the citizens of Coral Gables. Join in the conversation as we design a new neighborhood park for your area.”

Neighbors “overwhelmingly support” the building of a park on a grassy corner lot that has been empty for years, said Larry Kreis, who has lived across the street for two decades.

“Once they plant some more trees and add benches it will be a beautiful, peaceful spot,” Kreis said. “It’s the perfect use for it. The only opposition was from residents who worried that maybe strangers would end up sleeping there, but that has never been a problem.”

In Miami, the new parks are concentrated in the Shenandoah and West End/Fairlawn neighborhoods. The lots vary in size from 6,900 to 12,000 square feet and ranged in cost from $206,000 to $421,000 for a total of $1.9 million, which was paid for by land acquisition impact fees, Kirwin said.

“This is a deviation from how parks were built in the past, when we got the property by default because somebody wanted to get rid of it,” Kirwin said. “Now it is a targeted strategy. Based on the resources we have, we are looking at where we can make safe, authentic, accessible and functional spaces.”

Both cities seek residents’ input in finding and designing the parks.

“We want to make them complementary,” said Kirwin, who has worked closely with Commissioner Francis Suarez on the planning and funding of the park project. “One might have a small dog run, another might have an appropriately sized playground, the others might be completely passive.”

Lago was instrumental in the preservation of the two Sherman’s Oak lots on Lisbon Street between San Benito and Santa Cruz avenues. Coral Gables saved a historic tree and created an open-space park when it bought the properties for $900,000 from the developer who wanted to build a house there.

Last year, Coral Gables purchased five more, ranging in size from 5,000 to 30,000 square feet and ranging in cost from $500,000 to $1 million, by using money collected from outstanding garbage fees. Last week, the city passed an ordinance that will dedicate park impact fees from developers to the acquisition of park land for the next 10 years, Lago said.

“We can raise $21 million and have a recurring revenue stream for these properties,” he said.

The location of the five planned parks in Coral Gables — which will all be passive — are: 807 Catalonia Avenue; 241 Sarto Avenue; 937-939 Majorca Avenue; 6540 Marlin Drive; and 1047 Venetia Avenue.

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