At the center of the center of Miami Springs a gazebo beckons. So does the shade of eight large oak trees and a blanket of green grass. It’s an urban oasis. You could have a picnic. Read a book. Strum a guitar. Take a break from the office.
If only you could get there.
The Miami Springs Circle is surrounded by a moat of traffic. Cars whirl around and around.
Pedestrians longing for the oasis have one option: Run for it.
Be quick, because these are Miami drivers who regard anyone on foot as an impediment. Yielding the right of way is a sign of weakness.
No crosswalk exists, nor any stop signs or stoplights. Pedestrians must blaze their own path across two or four lanes of traffic.
“Here you have a beautiful town square that is designed exclusively for cars to move through at rapid speed rather than for people to use it,” said Tony Garcia, an urban planner at Street Plans Collaborative. “There is no way for a pedestrian to get to the center without jaywalking.”
The lack of access to the Curtiss Memorial Circle is mystifying and maddening, but Miami Springs residents Jennifer Gonzalez and Maria Font want to change that. Their proposal to add two crosswalks to the Circle has been entered in the Miami Foundation’s annual Public Space Challenge, which awards a total of $305,000 in grants for the best ideas for improving or activating Miami’s neglected and underused public spaces. Each year, imaginative citizens with a passion for their communities concoct brilliant projects that help make Miami a more vibrant and cohesive place. Proposals for 2018 are due by May 3.
“We see the Circle as a missed opportunity,” Gonzalez said. “People can’t really use it and it’s not very beneficial to the surrounding shops and businesses. We want to marry a bustling little city with a pretty green space. It’s just a question of being smart.”
Gonzalez and her neighbor Font moved to Miami Springs recently because they were enchanted by the friendly, placid, small-town feel of the city (population 14,000) that was founded by aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss and James Bright and incorporated in 1926. It’s known for its Pueblo Revival style architecture and proximity to Miami International Airport.
“We got hooked, and we’d like to see the hub of the city become even more appealing,” Gonzalez said. “People do cross over, but it’s dangerous. If you have more walkable spaces, safety improves.”
The Circle is used for occasional events, such as Riverfest, when the city closes it off to traffic.
“We envision community meetings, concerts, picnics, people reading to their children or going back and forth from the restaurants and stores,” Gonzalez said. “In places where the outdoors is welcoming, people like to gather.”
Gonzalez and Font also plan to install new sustainable landscaping, including a butterfly garden. They would team with Mary Benton, founder of Bound by Beauty, and landscape architect Jean Lee to create a habitat for pollinators.
“We would use native plants that require little to no maintenance for the city,” said avid gardener and butterfly fan Gonzalez, mentioning milkweed, coontie and scorpion tail. “This could be a gateway to creating more pollinator corridors and could help save our endangered butterfly species.”
Gina Pelaez, co-owner of Mixto, a charming bistro and bookshop on Westward Drive, supports improvements to the Circle.
“It would make downtown Miami Springs more of a destination,” she said. “The Circle shouldn’t feel cut off from everything else. And we’re on a historic street that needs love and attention. Look at what Doral and the Brickell City Centre did in building walkable spaces into their plans, unlike here where we’ve been kind of stuck.”
To improve access, the city will need approval for the crosswalks from Miami-Dade County. Opponents will cite decreased traffic flow.
“The county has historically shot down pedestrian and bike improvements, so we will have to deal with that,” Garcia said. “It’s a big battle all around the county.
“We’ve been entrenched for decades in a culture where the priority is moving cars, and anything that slows them down is seen as a negative. But that model of suburban sprawl has been unraveling over the last 20 years. More people are living in walkable, compact, urban centers and they want to return to the traditional model where human beings are at the top of the pyramid, not cars.”
Garcia cited the remaking of New York’s Times Square into a plaza.
He, Gonzalez and Font want to utilize a partnership with the county on the Quick Build program.
“Instead of spending five years and millions of dollars, we get it done in months by spending thousands of dollars on low-cost materials,” he said. “People won’t have to jaywalk anymore and there will be no major harmful impact on traffic flow.”