The artificial turf war on Brickell Avenue is over. Residents and Mother Nature are the victors.
Real grass will replace the fake grass that replaced the real grass.
Mayor Francis Suarez, heeding the objections of Brickell residents, ordered the removal of synthetic grass that was installed on the swales of Brickell Avenue and Brickell Bay Drive.
EasyGrass, the company hired by the city for $230,162 to roll out its “enviroscaping” product, has agreed to remove it and the concrete slabs it is glued to and replant the swales with topsoil and sod. At the urging of Suarez, EasyGrass will do the restoration at no extra cost.
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Suarez and Commissioner Ken Russell met Monday with residents at one of their nightly demonstrations during which they’ve been carrying protest signs that say “No Fake Grass on Brickell” and “Dog Poop and Pee Boiling in the Sun” and “Don’t Kill Our Trees.” People who live in the condos and apartments that line the iconic downtown avenue were flabbergasted and horrified by plastic grass that they complained would smother tree roots, exacerbate flooding, look tacky and produce a stench caused by non-decomposing dog poop and urine.
“It’s one of the most absurd ideas I’ve ever come across,” said Carlos Suarez, who has lived in the Brickell neighborhood for six years and walks and runs on the avenue daily. “While we’re pleased with the decision, we think it’s problematic that the city is using this product elsewhere at a time when other cities are banning plastic and going green. We find this environmentally unfriendly solution kind of odd.”
Mayor Suarez concluded that carpeting the swales was a well-intentioned but bad idea.
“I put in, with the commission’s consent, a $6 million investment to beautify the city, with the objective of making our citizens happy,” Suarez said. “Once it became apparent they weren’t happy with this project, my responsibility is to fix it and figure it out. We try not to make any mistakes ever, but we have to be humble enough to admit it when we do and take action to correct it.”
Russell and Commissioner Joe Carollo, who estimated the total cost of the project to be $300,000, predicted at last Thursday’s city commission meeting that the AstroTurf-like grass that EasyGrass advertises as “maintenance-free and natural-looking” would have to be ripped out as the residents’ revolt grew in volume. Russell called it “a very big expense” and “a big waste of money” and was incredulous that the public works department had no plan to clean or care for the new swales. Carollo questioned the cost-benefit equation, said the project “doesn’t make sense,” and lamented that “this is going to be $300,000 in the trash can.”
But Suarez said beautifying the bald and patchy swales along Brickell with real grass or landscaping and paying maintenance expenses would have cost just as much.
EasyGrass, which has a contract with the city, has installed artificial grass in city parks and at heavily used sports fields, as well as synthetic EasyIvy and rubberized EasyMulch.
“No tree has ever died, to my knowledge,” Suarez said.
EasyGrass created a pilot installation in the median of Coral Way at Southwest 33rd Avenue that has been in place for a year “and no one has complained,” Suarez said.
There are plans to expand beautification of the median from 17th Street to 37th Street using a combination of hardscape, landscape and artificial turf, according to Commissioner Manolo Reyes’ office.
Suarez and Alan Dodd, director of the city’s Department of Resilience and Public Works, also disputed the protesting residents’ claims that they were not informed of the project. There were walk-throughs and meetings with the Brickell Homeowners Association in the months prior to installation.
“Frankly, the swales haven’t been working and were in terrible condition,” Suarez said. “Now that we’re sticking with real grass we have to be prepared for the upkeep.”
Brickell residents said most of their swales were green and healthy and installing the turf was an overreaction.
“We’re relieved that the mayor listened to us,” said Miriam Merino, who led the protests and petition drive. “But a lot of trees are still entombed by concrete around the base, so we want to make sure they take it out and put the grass back. The mayor said they were so eager to move forward with beautification and I said, ‘You mean plastification?’
“I’m also concerned that a company that specializes in putting down artificial grass will be trusted with planting natural grass. We have to remain vigilant.”
Residents will have a follow-up meeting with Suarez next week to discuss a timeline.
“Taxpayers will still have to pay for it and it’s going to be a lot of work to take out the concrete, the glue, the turf,” said Valentina Caccia. “Next time they need to consider the views of the thousands of people who live here and not just a few.”