Miami Book Fair 2020: 5 questions with Charles A. Flink on a greener Miami

The Miami Book Fair’s 2020 edition is hosting a number of noteworthy panels this year, including a talk with Charles A. Flink, the author of The Greenway Imperative: Connecting Communities and Landscapes for a Sustainable Future.

Flink has spent 35 years endeavoring to build greener cities and document the positive effects of nature-filled public spaces on community morale. The landscape architect and North Carolina State University professor shared his findings in book form with the release of The Greenway Imperative in March.

Flink took the time to speak with The New Tropic in advance of his participation in the Miami Book Fair panel “In Conversation: Promoting & Protecting Green Spaces” today. He’ll be appearing alongside Meg Daly — the founder and president of Friends of The Underline — to discuss the strides Miami has made towards establishing shared green spaces and what the next steps might be. Here’s more about Flink’s eco-friendly philosophy and a preview of the panel.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

The New Tropic: How did you get involved with eco-friendly landscape architecture?

Charles A. Flink: I was someone who always wanted to be outdoors; I wanted to work on preserving and conserving the environment as a main component of my work. I loved working with communities and I’ve always enjoyed being a problem solver, so greenways kind of checked all those boxes for me. I opened my business, Greenways Incorporated, in 1986. I’ve had a chance to work all across the United States and in seven foreign countries pursuing my passion.

Miami is among the many cities featured in The Greenway Imperative. What’s your history with the city and the Miami River?

I had a chance to partner with The Trust for Public Land on the Miami River Greenway [project] back in the late 90s and early 2000s. They gave me a call and said, “Hey, we think we want to do a greenway strategy for the Miami River Greenway. Would you come down and help us with that?,” and I said sure. When I arrived, there were two major agenda items: One was to try to clean up the river because it was full of nasty pollution and lots of sediment. Secondly, there was the discovery of the Miami Circle, this incredibly old archeological find dating back to the Tequesta Indians maybe 2,000 years ago. [The question was] what are we going to do with this river? When I started talking with people, I got the distinct impression that a lot of people were surprised that there was a river cutting through the middle of downtown and they didn’t know that their city was named after the river. So there was this need — not just from an environmental perspective — to connect people with the river and a cleanup effort, but there was also a need to connect people to a cultural landscape that was the birthplace of the community.

Is it fair to say Miami has struggled with establishing public green spaces?

Miami has a great opportunity to take advantage of its natural resources and be more of an outdoor city, be more of an outdoor community. Why it hasn’t done that is a mystery, because when you look at this mighty river… the Miami River Greenway is not a fulfilled promise or fulfilled dream. [The project] is 20 years in and it’s still not done and there’s much more to do. Part of the reason the book is titled The Greenway Imperative is to try to get people to wake up and understand that these are things that you have to really continue to put energy and effort into; they don’t just happen by themselves. These are community landscapes and community spaces, and it depends on an actively engaged community to make it happen because politicians just don’t do this kind of stuff on their own.

What’s the prognosis for greenway-type projects and initiatives in Miami’s future?

The first phase of the Underline is going to connect right to the Miami River… and you have the Ludlam Trail happening. So pieces are beginning to come together in Miami [and] Miami-Dade County that forms an important spine of development that’s going to create the desire to get more done. Hopefully citizens won’t just be satisfied that little pieces are being done and they’ll demand more of their elected officials and their community. The Miami River Greenway holds promise; it’s not fulfilled, but there are elements of it out there that show people that this can be successful.

Are there any trends or developments that give you hope for the environment and sustainable living in the long-term?

When I travel around the world, I find that there’s a lot more that we agree upon that we’re interested in trying to do together. And it would be nice if we could put the differences aside and focus on what we need to accomplish together for one major reason: The only zone of life that we know of anywhere in the universe is on this planet. And I’m encouraged: the thing I was trying to showcase in the book was the variations on this theme of the greenway imperative and how people have embraced it, taken it to heart, and worked through their differences.

We’re not the victims of the future; we’re the determinants of the future, and we need to act like that.

You can learn more about Flink’s work during the Miami Book Fair panel “In Conversation: Promoting & Protecting Green Spaces” today.