DDA: The public will start getting the waterfront back in 2017

We’re spending this month making the city’s movers and shakers nail down some resolutions and predictions for their work in 2017. This week we’re talking development and neighborhood change. You can see all of the resolutions here.

Alyce Robertson is the executive director of the Miami Downtown Development Authority (DDA), an independent agency of the City of Miami focused on transforming Downtown Miami from a 9-to-5 business district to a 24/7 urban center. We’ve lightly edited this interview for clarity and length.

We’re just coming out of doing Biscayne Green which has been a huge success for demonstrating urban placemaking and showing a good response from residents and visitors alike for this urban place where people can come together. It’s kind of shown that the experience is really great and people are looking for more of that. They’re hungry for more experiences in the urban core.

Our resolution is to create more Biscayne Green types of experiences at other places in the urban core.

We’re returning the waterfront to the public.

One of the things we have on our plate is the fact that they’re looking to create a space on Baywalk. As Miami has developed, residents and other developers are putting aside space between their property and the Bay so that we can create a walking area. What we’ve been working on in the past is connecting it. Our future is activating that Baywalk, kind of like we did with the urban placemaking in Biscayne Green, moving some of the activities there.

[Editor’s note: If this is a bit unclear, what she’s describing is having a wide walkway between structures and the waterfront the whole length of Downtown. Miami previously had little public waterfront because developers built right up to the water’s edge, essentially privatizing it. Regulations for new development have allowed them to open up space for a walkway, bit by bit.] 

There are still a few pinch points along the Baywalk that we’re working on getting open. Our new push has been to get the points where it stops and open those up where we can. If you’re not developing, you don’t have to set aside the land.

It’s the City of Miami that has the regulation. It only applies when new development occurs. Because so much development has occurred in the last 10 years, we’re really getting to a tipping point where it’s a usable space.  It goes all the way to I-395 now. You can go underneath the port bridge, through Museum Park, where the PAMM is. What we’re working on is, wherever it stops, if we can get those property owners to open it up.

We’ve reached a “critical mass” of residents that will provide pressure for change

In the past, we didn’t have the critical mass of residents that we do now. Usually people came into Downtown they worked, they left at night. Now people are coming here, raising families here. We’ve more than doubled our population since the 2000 census. Now we have all these people. It’s their neighborhood.

Now we’re making the places they can come together to inform that sense of community. Biscayne Green is one of them and it’s been a big success. How do we take that temporary pop-up park pedestrian project and turn it into something more sustainable in the long haul?

 The purpose of Biscayne Green wasn’t first to create a pop-up park, it was to create a safer way to cross Biscayne Bay by narrowing the thru-traffic. If you do that, it has other benefits too on the forming of community and people coming out of their condos.

There’s a lot of social benefits from creating a “complete street.” Going forward, where can we turn our streets to be more pedestrian friendly, less car-oriented?

We have a design for S.E./S.W. 1st St. that we’ve been working on with the county and the city. The city owns that street. The county wants to put a bus lane on it. The DDA has hired consultants to design it. It’s in the process of getting implemented.

A lot of buses travel on First Street. We want to make a dedicated bus lane there. It will be the first one Miami has [Editor’s note: This is a different than the busway that runs along US-1]. We really want to show you can share the street with bicycles, buses, and other things.