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Thread: Suburbs of South Beach [BROADBAND RECOMMENDED]

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    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Suburbs of South Beach [BROADBAND RECOMMENDED]

    SUBURBS OF SOUTH BEACH

    Every so often there’s a great wringing of hands on this forum over the question, “What makes a place urban or suburban?” I don’t know what all the fuss is about; it seems evident urban places are ones where people walk, and suburban places are ones where they don’t.

    The distinction’s pretty obvious in Paris or Miami Beach, in both of which the suburbs actually have bigger buildings than the city and fairly high density, but nobody walks.

    According to the 2000 census, 87,933 people live in the 7.03 square miles inside the Miami Beach city limits, for an overall city-limit density of 12,508—a bit more than Boston.

    South Beach, the urban part where people walk: within its 2.60 square miles live 40,177 permanent residents (2003), yielding a density of 15,472 persons per square mile, about the same as San Francisco.

    That leaves the suburban remainder, also known as North Beach: 4.43 square miles and 47,756 residents, for a density of 10,780. Pretty high, huh? Especially for a suburb.

    That’s higher than any of the faux-cities of the sunbelt, including of course Miami, which with the clear-eyed vision of a European we would have to declare a suburb of South Beach. The census bureau doesn’t see it that way, but you know what the census bureau is full of; they’re the ones who regaled us with the [oxy]moronic “urban sprawl,” till they changed their definitions.

    * * *

    Nobody on this forum still believes in urban sprawl or the tooth fairy, and everyone here knows what the look of Miami Beach is, but older people and many who have never been can be forgiven for thinking Miami Beach looks like this:


    North Miami Beach.

    If you had come to Miami Beach twenty-five years ago, you probably also would have left thinking it looked like this. The reason: North Beach, with its vast Brazilian slabs was then the only respectable part of town-- out there in Suburbia, where nobody walked.



    Densely built-out but completely suburban North Beach, home of the fabled Fontainebleau and Eden Roc megaresorts: here, in each building-as-city you got a private stretch of patrolled sand and a fully self-contained resort environment, complete with hairdresser, gift shops, oceanfront pool, bars, restaurants, coffee shops and maybe a night club.



    Canals and artificial islands abound in North Beach:



    Everyone arrives in a vehicle: guests in cars, hotel workers in buses:



    Wealth on the water backed by what could be taken for commie blocks:


    Btw, how much is that yacht?

    North Beach; the Fontainebleau is the concave building:


    Photo from SSP.

    The stepped conical spire at left marks the end of urban South Beach, and the beginning of suburban North Beach, with its megablocks galumphing up the skinny sandbar to distant Fort Lauderdale; Miami Beach resembles Paris in that the high rises are outside the central city. Big green area is a country club and villas for plutocrats:


    Photo from SSP.

    It was all so Fifties-- like Las Vegas with a beach as the principal attraction in place of gaming tables. There was not a soul on the sidewalk; each hyperdense beachfront building was a spaceship that nobody left for the duration of their stay. You could arrive by taxi from the airport and never leave your hotel grounds until it was time to take the cab back to your plane:



    If you asked your cabbie on the way to drive you through old, decrepit South Miami Beach where you heard there were some little old decaying buildings from the Thirties, he would flat refuse. Too risky to even drive through: that was the turf of drug dealers, prostitutes, carjackers, squeegee artists, welfare mothers and perverts. South of 18th Street it looked dangerous, and the crime statistics proved it was. On fixed incomes, a few old Jews from the Boroughs reputedly cowered there among the litter and detritus, though how they survived was mysterious. To a cabbie, driving through South Miami Beach was like riding through the Serengeti on a bicycle: too foolhardy to even contemplate.



    But, swelling with pride, your cabbie would be more than pleased to show you to the mansions of the toffs, above Dade Boulevard, safe behind their gates on lush and verdant lanes, most of which back up to canals or Biscayne Bay:



    He would show you the lifestyles of the rich and famous:


    959?










    Modernism’s forte was really the single-family house; the paucity of detail was in scale with the smallish masses of a residence. Too bad the modern house never caught on except among the super-rich.

    Actually, even some of the rich prefer vulgar display:









    Early Modernist villas –or are they Deco? Is there really a difference?



    And isn’t the apartment block just polychrome Bauhaus?



    * * *

    The city of Miami Beach is built on a barrier island that separates the Atlantic Ocean from Biscayne Bay, a lagoon. Like Venice, it’s connected to the mainland by causeway. On the mainland lurks Miami, a separate municipality, every bit as interesting as Mestre.



    North Beach in foreground, skyline of Miami across the Bay:


    Photo from SSP.

    While Miami Beach is urban and full of street life, Miami sports the usual suburban districts and damaged Southern downtown. Like Atlanta, this features parking lots, blank walls, trafficways, aloof highrises and poor people changing buses. In addition, you will find a surprising amount of artificial topography and colorful highrises, some by Arquitectonica. These you can safely ogle from your car on Biscayne Boulevard—the alternative being to state your business to the gated parking’s security guard.



    As in Atlanta, there is also a heavy-rail subway looking for riders. The barrel of pork in which it came could have been sent to New York, Boston or Philadelphia, where it would have been gratefully put to good use.



    On an artificial island in the lagoon, the Port of Miami astounds when large with ships:









    Miami itself is mostly as ugly, unwalkable and forgettable (even Little Havana) as any other Sunbelt city. It has some nice subcenters, such as Coral Gables and Coconut Grove; I posted those about a year ago. Though charming, these remain suburban; Coconut Grove’s a pleasurable outdoor shopping mall with chain stores and a good-looking clientele, and Coral Gables is an admirable Twenties planned suburb with beautiful streets, very pretty houses and an ingratiating shopping district. Kansas City, Cleveland and Los Angeles (among others) have places based on the same impulse, and these are pretty nice too. Nice, but suburban.

    * * *

    Sometimes nifty architecture can be a catalyst for gentrification. This was certainly the case in South Beach, which went from poor relation of North Beach back to today's glorious little modern city.

    .

    .

  2. #2
    Member Jeff_Rosenberg's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    Every so often there’s a great wringing of hands on this forum over the question, “What makes a place urban or suburban?” I don’t know what all the fuss is about; it seems evident urban places are ones where people walk, and suburban places are ones where they don’t.
    I don't know that I agree with that.

    Speaking as a youngster who just recently became interested in planning, my initial interest was mixed use places. I think that mixed uses are what makes a place "urban."

    Of course, to have a viable mix of uses, you need to have density. And, to have a place where people walk, you also need density.

    Obviously, I think it's good to have places where people will walk. I also think it's good to have uses mixed within each building, i.e. storefronts. But, ultimately, I don't think design makes places urban or not-urban. It makes places pleasing or not-pleasing, but we could still have an ugly, car-centric, yet dense place that are mixed-use and even fairly vibrant.

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    Very nice photoessay, ablarc. But: doesn't Coconut Grove have a large residential community that adds a bit ofm urban (i.e. pedestrian-oriented) character? Or is it just the cutesy village for Miami's metropolitan affluent, who arrive by car? Or-maybe a bit of both?

  4. #4
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    But: doesn't Coconut Grove have a large residential community that adds a bit ofm urban (i.e. pedestrian-oriented) character? Or is it just the cutesy village for Miami's metropolitan affluent, who arrive by car? Or-maybe a bit of both?
    Bit of both. It's a place in the suburbs with urban characteristics. I bet you can name a place or two like that in the Bay Area.

    The world is rendered in shades of grey. Out of that, we're called upon to extract principles in black and white, so we can make sense of the greyness.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Very nice photoessay, ablarc. But: doesn't Coconut Grove have a large residential community that adds a bit ofm urban (i.e. pedestrian-oriented) character? Or is it just the cutesy village for Miami's metropolitan affluent, who arrive by car? Or-maybe a bit of both?
    Coconut Grove is an urban crossroad community. The outdoor mall Cocowalk was added recently and stores and restaurants line about 5 blocks of the two intersecting streets and a few in between. Luxury condos are rising to the northeast, northwest and small area of land to the west, while a community of poor blacks living in shotgun shacks lie to the southwest (soon to be gentrified no doubt). The Coconout Grove Metrorail station is barely within walking distance of the community center, but frequent shuttle buses connect the two.

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    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    Bit of both. It's a place in the suburbs with urban characteristics. I bet you can name a place or two like that in the Bay Area.
    .

    Which, of course, is the problem. In a sea of undifferentiated sp...oops, almost used the banned word, how about "low density, lowest common denominator, automobile-oriented development (lodlocodaod?), these islands become the victim of their own success, with outrageous housing prices and parking conflicts between residents and "visitors." For example, in Rockridge (Oakland), a not particularly nice bungalow will cost you $650K.

    It helps that the Bay Area does have multiple centers, with most affluent suburban towns and neighborhoods having a cute "downtown." The big retail dollars are still spent at the freeway off-ramps, though.

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    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Heh. By train, the Chicago suburbs are positively charming. The old 19th century downtowns are still intact next to the stations, and many are pretty yuppified.

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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    Heh. By train, the Chicago suburbs are positively charming. The old 19th century downtowns are still intact next to the stations, and many are pretty yuppified.
    i am another that enjoys the work you put into your photoessays. thanks for the effort.

    otoh... metrorail and marta's heavy rail both see about 250,000 trips daily, which i do realize is nothing to brag about, yet i personally think it's enough to make it some high quality ham, versus just plan 'ol pork.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by cabasse
    i am another that enjoys the work you put into your photoessays. thanks for the effort.

    otoh... metrorail and marta's heavy rail both see about 250,000 trips daily, which i do realize is nothing to brag about, yet i personally think it's enough to make it some high quality ham, versus just plan 'ol pork.
    Thanks.

    If we had a government with correct priorities, there'd be enough money to put heavy rail wherever it would receive use. Then there wouldn't be such fierce competition for the meager sums available.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    excellent photo capture of it all
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  11. #11
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    This ought to help Miami a whole lot:


    Miami to scrap old code, design `new city'

    The city of Miami, long criticized for helter-skelter development, plans to replace its antiquated zoning code with a neighborhood- and pedestrian-friendly set of building rules in an effort to map the future.

    BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI

    aviglucci@herald.com

    Miami, where complaints about hodgepodge development are as old as the city itself, is poised to try something completely different: planning.

    On Saturday, Miami officials will formally launch an ambitious two-year effort to produce a series of comprehensive plans to guide the city's future development.

    The most dramatic, and potentially contentious, element: The city intends to junk its antiquated and confounding zoning code -- which critics say encourages urban horrors like high-rise towers next to single-story homes -- and start over.

    ''We are really designing a new city,'' said Mayor Manny Diaz, who is heading the effort, dubbed Miami 21, and has made it a top priority of his administration. ``It's long overdue. As far as I can tell, no one has looked at this since, well, ever.''

    The effort will also include plans to improve transportation, parks and public spaces, and to spur economic development in the city until well into the new century.

    But the code overhaul is the linchpin of Miami 21.

    The goal is a simple ''form-based'' zoning code that clearly and concisely delineates where intensive development is appropriate and where it isn't, and outlines how buildings should be shaped to ensure attractive, people-friendly streets.

    Miami would be the first major U.S. city to adopt such a code.

    It will be written by the Miami firm of Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, co-founders of the New Urbanist movement, which seeks to revive the principles of traditional town planning -- denser, compact development and walkable streets -- as an alternative to auto-dependent urban sprawl.

    Though perhaps best known for planning the Florida Panhandle resort town of Seaside, Duany and Plater-Zyberk's firm has more recently created urban plans for cities from Berlin to Baton Rouge, La.

    The rewrite would take place even as a high-rise condo-construction boom of unprecedented scope is already recasting downtown Miami and surrounding areas -- gobbling up vacant land, flattening some of the city's oldest buildings and, in some cases, invading long-established neighborhoods where the quirks of the zoning code permit out-scaled development.

    The city and its consultants say it's not too late to ensure that the new condo towers are woven into a coherent urban fabric.

    ''I think it's all good,'' said Plater-Zyberk, who also is architecture dean at the University of Miami. ``The question is how to make it all work together.

    ``Walking out of a single-family house and going two or three blocks to a Starbucks is pretty great. But having a 50-story building looming over your backyard is not.''

    AN APPEASEMENT

    Some activists who have battled the city over development say the well-publicized launch of Miami 21 is meant to pacify critics while construction continues largely unchecked.

    The city selected Duany and Plater-Zyberk for the task in May 2004, but it took the ensuing months to assemble a team of national economic, transportation and legal experts.

    In the meantime, city planning statistics show, 51 large-scale projects have been approved across Miami, encompassing 17,776 residential units and more than three million square feet of floor space. Applications for new buildings continue to flow in.

    The city's largest residents' group nonetheless intends to participate intensively in the public sessions that will help shape the plan.

    ''I'm basically optimistic,'' said Joe Wilkins, secretary of Miami Neighborhoods United, a 1-year-old coalition of 20 city homeowners' associations. ``We've been victimized by the antiquated zoning code. The feeling is that the city has had a bias toward development at the expense of the neighborhoods.

    ``The city always says they want to preserve neighborhoods. This is a chance for them to put their money where their mouth is.''

    PUBLIC INPUT

    The city fully intends to use advice from residents, Diaz vowed, noting that he also expects input, and potentially opposition, from developers fearful of regulation.

    ''We want that debate,'' Diaz said in an interview.

    The city will be divided into four quadrants, with the new zoning for each to be completed and enacted in successive six-month blocks, starting with the city's northeast neighborhoods. When it's done, the rewrite will cover every significant commercial corridor in Miami and a quarter-mile to each side of it, encompassing virtually the entire city.

    Parts of the current code date to the early 1900s, and have not been rewritten since, residents and city officials say.

    Since then, new regulations -- called overlays -- have been added on top of the old, so that the code has become dauntingly complex.

    It fills several volumes, forcing developers and homeowners to hire lawyers versed in exploiting loopholes, and leading to inconsistent decisions, city officials say.


    Firmer and clearer definitions will lead to more consistent and quicker decisions, city officials hope, reducing the need for protracted negotiations or battles over projects.

    ''With Miami 21, the developer will know what he can do, and neighbors will know what can go in next to their property,'' said city Planning Director Ana Gelabert-Sánchez.

    ECONOMIC ANGLE

    Also important, Diaz said, is an economic development plan to go along with the zoning rewrite to identify possible new economic uses and ensure that jobs or businesses aren't unintentionally hurt by the new code, as well as a transportation study to propose solutions to traffic congestion.

    Also planned is a survey of the city's long-neglected system of 110 parks to determine how to put them to optimal use, and also look for ways to create new parks and public open spaces like plazas and greenways.

    The new code would incorporate local plans already passed to protect neighborhoods like Coconut Grove from intrusive development. It would also formalize and extend planning guidelines already in use for large-scale projects that ensure condo and office towers are street-friendly -- hiding parking garages, for instance.

    Such measures are now subject to negotiation because the current code doesn't require them.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    The MARTA was built under the same government policy that built the BART and the Washington DC Metro. It was a Nixon-era massive reinvestment in public transport in response to the energy crisis.

    The goal of that, as with most public funding of public transportation expansion after around 1960 (and nearly all federal funding of public transportation) was to remove cars from the road. Therefore, a new rail line in Atlanta was far more attractive than another tunnel in Manhattan to reduce overcrowding. The people getting into Manhattan are stuck on the subway. It being a nightmarish madhouse won't drive them to their cars the same way no rail would drive Atlantians to their cars. Therefore, the federal government wouldn’t be as interested in funding investment.

    The problem with continued expansion into sprawl is that it doesn’t really reduce driving, it just pushes it further out. I mean, built a train line out deep into the burbs, put a big parking garage next to it (with federal clean-air funds!) and now people can live much further out because they don’t have to deal with downtown traffic. They just drive to the parking garage and hop on the train. Eventually the train reaches capacity or the garage fills up, just like a highway expansion, but until that point there’s a big impetus to sprawl. Also it’s the people who live further out that get hurt the least by overcrowded trains, because they get seats. We have a saying in Chicago, “where Metra goes, sprawl follows” Building a Metra (commuter rail in Chicago, btw) line out into virgin prairie will sprawl it just as surely as a new bypass, assuming there’s enough clean-air money available to build plenty of parking at the station...

    Also there’s a problem of scale building a line in an already built-up area. The federal government is chiefly concerned with how many new riders a capital investment will bring to transit. If you build a line through an already built-up area, development potential is limited, and most people will already have other ways to get around. If it’s a dense area without rail service, the people are likely already on busses, so you’ll just move them onto the trains. Putting the train out in the middle of nowhere AND providing a bunch of parking virtually guarantees success from the “new riders” measure. Yet the second avenue subway in NYC would result in a very slight increase in the mode share of transit (especially considering its cost) because the vast majority of riders would simply be switching from more crowded lines.

    Interesting is the Orange Line built in Chicago in the early 1990s. It was built with pork in the 1980s because the Nixon era funding programs had been killed by Reagan, and TEA was still over a decade away. But it also had to play the ridership game, so it was designed to go to Midway Airport because 1) airports had been demonstrated to be major trip generators and 2) There is tons of parking there so the line was sure to attract a bunch of commuters from the southwest suburbs. The line still terminated within the city limits and its whole service area was pretty much built out EXCEPT right next to the line, because it was built through a bunch of industrial brownfields to save money. Ridership lagged projections for a good half decade, until development began on those lands in earnest. One interesting case was Halsted station. It was in the middle of friggn nowhere when it was built, on a brownfield sandwiched between the S&S canal and a railway viaduct like 30 tracks wide on one side and a huge expressway interchange on the other. But someone influential owned that land so the station got built. They put in a bunch of really awful mid-90s lowrise apartment buildings and some kitishy restaurants next to it, and now ridership is substantial. Now they’ve also built some large senior housing complexes and a ton of twoflats around other stations, and the train line is experiencing capacity problems.

    There hasn’t been a focus on actually making transit more comfortable for existing riders for a very long time in the funding priorities, so a project like 2nd avenue (and pretty much any project in the big transit metropolises) will always take second place to the projects in virgin territory boasting huge marginal ridership gains.

    I

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