Instead of paving paradise with a parking lot, these folks are beautifying ugly spaces

Whether it’s illuminating a forbidding highway underpass, converting neglected vacant lots into parks, bringing music to the seashore, building bike trails or hosting citizenship ceremonies in the wild, Miamians want to enhance their public spaces.

From a cornucopia of 441 ideas, the Miami Foundation selected 21 winners Tuesday in its fifth annual Public Space Challenge, awarding a total of $350,000 to neighborhood projects throughout Miami-Dade County.

A plan to refurbish the last remaining historic building in Miami associated with Henry Flagler, reopen the park where it’s located on the Miami River and add a bike rental facility won $25,000. A proposal to install honeybee hives in urban spaces won $15,000. An idea to convert an empty lot in Little Haiti into a nine-hole mini golf course won $18,500. An environmental scavenger hunt for kayakers that would encourage exploration of the waterways of Miami Beach won $10,000.

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Beekeeper Danielle Bender checks her beehive in Little Haiti. She is one of the winners of a Public Space Challenge grant to install public beehives in urban areas.

PEDRO PORTAL Miami Herald file photo

“A lot of folks uncovered the hidden gems in their neighborhoods,” said Stuart Kennedy, director of program strategy and innovation for the Miami Foundation, which aims to provide seed money for the projects and watch them grow. “They want to step up and improve a space the community can use and enjoy.”

Kennedy consulted with the county’s parks department and kept its Open Space Master Plan goals in the forefront. One of those goals is to have a great public space within walking distance of every Miamian.

The Public Space Challenge, which has invested $1.1 million in ideas since 2013, has inspired residents to think more creatively about Miami’s ugly and underutilized spaces.

“When you look at the numbers, Miami is way behind the rest of the country in that we have less park space per resident than cities like Chicago or New York,” Kennedy said. “But people here are starting to interact differently with their public spaces. They are showing there is a strong constituency and stating how important these spaces are to their life, health and safety.”

Among the winners:

*Install free solar-powered Wifi and digital literacy programming at Williams Park in Overtown to “narrow the technological equality gap.”

*Create a farmers’ market, community garden and art space in Flagami.

*Hold citizenship ceremonies “outdoors under a tent in Biscayne National Park with a waterfront view of Biscayne Bay, or trail-side in Everglades National Park with an audience of alligators, egrets and great blue herons,” proposed the South Florida National Parks Trust as a way to introduce new U.S. citizens to national parks.

*Host Miami Music Club events at North Shore Open Space Park in North Beach with local artists and make it a “site for sonic contemplation and reflection.”

*Improve pedestrian access to South Miami Park.

South Miami Park hole

Pedestrian access to South Miami Park is so limited that someone created an entrance by cutting a hole in the fence surrounding the park. A proposal to create another entry point to the park won a Public Space Challenge grant from the Miami Foundation.

Linda Robertson

*Close off Southwest 147th Avenue in Kendall to vehicular traffic at designated times, open it to cyclists and pedestrians and call it the West End Ciclovia.

*Clean up trash and graffiti and add landscaping, a picnic bench and kayak launch at the dead end of Royal Road in Coconut Grove and turn the waterfront plot – one of the very few places with public access to Biscayne Bay – into a mini park.


A fisherman casts off the seawall at the end of Royal Road in Coconut Grove, a space to be enhanced after a proposal to beautify it won a Public Space Challenge grant from the Miami Foundation. The Foundation announced the 21 winners on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017.

Glenn Terry Special to the Miami Herald

*Expand the 7.8 miles of North Point mountain biking trails the Virginia Key Bicycle Club has built at the island venue.

*Fix up the ACE Preserve greenway and blueway in North Miami with some natural TLC from the Urban Paradise Guild.

*Enhance an overgrown pedestrian cut-through path that connects Richmond Heights, Palmetto Estates and Colonial Drive Park.

*Throw a free street dance showdown to celebrate Miami’s hip-hop culture at the Arsht Center’s Thomson Plaza for the Arts.

*Add outdoor lighting to the playground, memorial garden and pathways at the Annie Coleman housing project in Liberty City.

*Place colorful LED lighting in the Northwest 20th Street underpass below I-95 to better connect Overtown and Wynwood and paint murals to make it less of a “dark and unpleasant experience” for pedestrians and cyclists.


A dark and dreary I-95 underpass will be redone with lighting and murals, thanks to a Public Space Challenge grant from the Miami Foundation, which announced the winners on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017.

CARL JUSTE Miami Herald file photo

*Repurpose part of a Little Havana parking lot into a green, pine-shaded oasis.

*Bring honeybee hives and educational programming to parks and urban places, to be nurtured by neighborhood beekeepers.

*Convert an old street hockey rink at Tamiami Park into a small soccer pitch.

*Install mile markers along Miami Beach.

*Build an interactive cityscape in Doral Central Park where youth can learn about traffic and bike safety.

Start thinking now about proposals for 2018, Kennedy said.