The grass may be greener along Brickell Avenue, but that’s because it’s artificial

Brickell residents protest artificial grass

Brickell residents gathered to protest the installation of the artificial turf along Brickell Avenue to replace real grass.
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Brickell residents gathered to protest the installation of the artificial turf along Brickell Avenue to replace real grass.

They paved paradise and put down plastic grass.

“What’s next?” outraged Brickell residents ask. Will they take all the trees and put them in a tree museum?

Grass along the swales of Brickell Avenue – one of Miami’s iconic roadways – has been ripped out and replaced with a carpet of artificial turf. The synthetic grass is glued with a bile-colored adhesive to 1 ½-inch thick concrete slabs that were poured atop the soil.

Along Brickell Avenue and Brickell Bay Drive, the city of Miami ripped out real grass and replaced it with artificial grass. Residents are upset, saying the fake grass creates a smell when dog urine and uncollected poop can't degrade into the ground.

The city’s public works department and Mayor Francis Suarez say the $230,160 project will save on maintenance expenses and beautify bare patches beneath shade trees, but people who live in the condos and apartments that line the downtown avenue are appalled.

“We don’t want fake grass in our neighborhood,” Miriam Merino said. “What is the city thinking? It is a stupid, tacky, environmentally destructive idea.”

The turf has been installed – to the surprise of most residents – from Southeast 15th Road to Southeast 25th Road on both sides of Brickell Avenue and on Merino’s street, Brickell Bay Drive, one of the few waterfront streets with public access.

“We’re thinking we could set up a miniature golf course for Halloween, so bring your putter,” said Emory Pinto, who lives at 1550 Brickell Ave. “It makes absolutely no sense to tear out existing green space and replace it with plastic.”

Miriam Merino, left, and Victor Farvet hang a sign on a tree that is surrounded by artificial turf on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. Merino and other residents gathered to protest the installation of the artificial turf along Brickell Avenue to replace real grass. PATRICK FARRELL

EasyGrass, the contractor hired by the city, initially poured cement around the base of the large trees on the swale up to the edges of the trunks, entombing them. When alarmed residents complained about the danger to the trees and lack of drainage, workers returned last week and removed chunks of concrete. But in numerous spots, turf still covers the roots.

Valentina Caccia finds it ironic that while many cities are taking steps to save the planet, reduce greenhouse gases, mitigate sea rise, ban plastics and stop global warming, Miami is rolling out a polypropylene-based product that can smother plants and insects, inhibit drainage and create heat islands by raising surface temperature by 20 percent.

“I just came from a conference in Europe where they take global warming very seriously and are implementing measures to green their cities,” said Caccia, a Brickell resident and marine scientist who teaches at Nova Southeastern University. “And here we want to warm ourselves even more? Kill the ecosystem? Promote flooding?”

Brickell Avenue, once known as “Millionaires’ Row,” is headquarters of Miami’s financial district on its northern half. The southern half has grown into a lively residential district that backs up to Biscayne Bay. There’s a promenade of runners and dog walkers along the avenue’s sidewalks every morning and evening, and people pause to chat with their neighbors. For the past week they’ve been holding nightly demonstrations, carrying protest signs that say “No Fake Grass on Brickell” and “Dog Poop and Pee Boiling in the Sun.” They’ve posted signs on the trees that say “Save Me! I Will Die Soon.”

“We were blindsided by this ill-conceived project,” said Carlos Suarez, who has lived on Brickell for six years. “A majority of residents find the whole thing asinine.”

They worry that the synthetic grass will be incompatible with the dog population.

“Poop that is not picked up decomposes on real grass and pee sinks in. But now it’s just going to sit on the plastic and cook and the smell is going to be unbearable,” said Claudia Merino Jaffe, who has lived in the Brickell area since 1982. “My dog had a little diarrhea last week and I tried to wipe it up and it was like scrubbing a rug.”

EasyGrass, a Miami company that sells “enviroscaping solutions” and “products that never looked so natural,” lists SYNLawn and AstroTurf among its synthetic lawn options that provide “a green makeover by replacing natural grass – and all its upkeep hassles and expenses – with maintenance-free natural-looking fake grass. No mowing or trimming. No watering. No fertilizing, herbicides or pesticides. No chemicals.” And holes that allow for drainage.

The city has installed EasyGrass at various dog parks and sports fields as well as EasyIvy (“flame-retardant artificial foliage”) and EasyMulch, a rubber compound.

But online feedback from homeowners who spent $3,000-$5,000 on artificial lawns contained laments about pet waste odors and heat. Their lawns were hardly maintenance-free. They had to hose them, blow leaves off them, brush the blades to keep them from matting. Pet owners tried cleaning with bleach, baking soda, Pine-Sol and Simple Green and couldn’t get rid of feces and urine odors that were “overwhelming and vomit-inducing,” said one customer. “We couldn’t stand to be in our yard or open our windows.” Their lawns got so hot they hurt their pets’ paws.

Carlos Suarez said there’s already a nasty urine stench along Brickell and parts of the turf are detached, but the city has no plan for cleaning the EasyGrass swales.

“Maintenance of the swales is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner,” said Department of Resilience and Public Works Director Alan Dodd when asked by Commissioner Ken Russell at Thursday’s commission meeting.

Replied Russell: “I think we’ll need to come up with something.”

Residents, bitter about the removal of Royal Poinciana trees from the median five years ago, say grass under most trees was thriving. There were some bald and rocky patches around large roots at a handful of swales.

But some members of the Brickell Homeowners Association complained, and during an evaluation walk and subsequent meetings, Dodd said the public works department decided EasyGrass was the best solution. Mayor Suarez supported the project. Russell, who represents the district, said he was never informed and was still considering landscaping alternatives.

“I’m not trying to get in a fight with the mayor over this issue but it’s my understanding a couple residents went to him, this got approved and it never came to my office,” Russell said. “It’s a very big expense and I think it’s a big waste of money. You did it with good intentions that the neighbors are not going to thank you for. It’s going to look bad for us as a city and as elected [leaders] and in the end we may end up having to rip it out based on the consensus of the neighbors. This will get louder and louder, I guarantee you.”

Suarez said turf was effective and “welcomed by neighbors” in other areas but he was “not aware that real grass was removed in this instance. I look forward to continuing the conversation about the viability and desirability of this material in the city of Miami.” There’s been discussion about installing EasyGrass in the Roads neighborhood and along Coral Way, which Commissioner Manolo Reyes said he supports.

Commissioner Joe Carollo said the benefits will not outweigh the cost, which he and Russell estimated at $300,000, and that EasyGrass was unsuitable for Brickell, “where you have so little green space, so much usage and every other apartment has a dog.”

“I don’t know who thought of this but it doesn’t make sense,” Carollo said. “You need grass. This is going to be $300,000 in the trash can.”