Turning a parking lot into a public treasure

Dan Paul Park came to Miami last June. At least for a day.

Dan Paul was more than a lawyer. He was an advocacy rock star. He took his game to the Supreme Court and secured your rights to read newspapers without a government-mandated obligation to shove political platforms down your throat. He butted heads with politicians and developers and haters to defend your right to enjoy a seaside stroll.

He rocked a bowtie before bowties were cool.

According to September 1992 coverage in Miami New Times, the man ran the gauntlet of county bureaucratic chaos to get his Save our Parks amendment on the ballot, just to get slapped by Hurricane Andrew and have public focus on the issue become just a tad distracted. But the amendment passed anyway, with bonus points going to then-county commissioner Harvey Ruvin, now Miami-Dade’s Clerk of Courts, who headlined a commission memo by quoting some classic Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

You may not have heard of Dan Paul, but as a Miamian, you should know that his legacy lives on every time you stroll through Bayfront Park, or on the Miami River Greenway, or any other of Miami-Dade County’s scenic coastal paths. He fought for your right to have public spaces along the water, despite looming commercial developments.

Thanks to the Dan Paul Amendment of the County Charter, you pay a small homage to the man every time you hit the voting booth. When last November’s vote asked you to approve plans to build SkyRise Miami Tower, your opinion was counted via the ballot box because Paul fought for your rights.

The enduring impact of Dan Paul’s civic engagement permeates local government and development. From votes on commercial projects in parks and public spaces at the county level, to City of Miami protections allocating an average of 50 feet of public walkway along the sea wall, Paul’s advocacy for creating a people’s Miami endures. Now it’s time to honor that.

We lost Dan Paul in 2010, at the respectable age of 85. While many of us never knew him, was honored last year by local organizations determined to keep his spirit alive.

The Urban Environment League has endeavored to uphold Paul’s vision since the 90s, with one particular battleground under a decades-long siege. Situated behind the American Airlines Arena, the unglamorously titled Parcel B contains both the requisite seaside Baywalk, as well as five acres of pristine newly-laid asphalt. Parcel B was originally slated to be a bayside park as far back as 1996 as part of the AAA’s development referendum. Instead, it’s in perpetual limbo at the gates of paradise, paved over for profit. It currently stands ready to be leased as parking and storage for cargo haulers, satellite trucks, and other arena-related items, at a rate far below what would be expected for such a prime spot in the center of Downtown.

To draw attention to the continual effort to reclaim Parcel B as a park, last June the Urban Environment League partnered with Emerge Miami, whose own interest in community-building involves combining activities such as bike rides with activism such as, to make an impromptu park out of a parking lot for a day. Field games, picnics along the baywalk, and other day-at-the-park activities transformed this potentially remarkable space from parking lot to public treasure.

Paul helped us gain a vote in how our land is used. Let’s use that land the way it was intended.

This article has been updated since publication.