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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The Herald, along with WLRN and the Knight Foundation, has launched an endeavor to find the best urban block in South Florida. Below is the article from the Herald.
What are your thoughts?

The contest comes with a cash prize for anyone interested in entering, by the way.

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/14/2894236/best-urban-block-in-south-florida.html

Best Urban Block in South Florida? It’s out there.

As cities make a comeback and once-blighted neighborhoods are revived, The Herald is launching a reader competition to identify the best block in South Florida.


By ANDRES VIGLUCCI
avi[email protected]

We used to know how to do this in America — how to build a convivial, walkable, prosperous city neighborhood of shops, workplaces and homes that drew people to it like the proverbial bee to honey.

Then came the car, and out went everything we knew. Life and commerce drained out of cities and downtowns as people followed the lure of far-flung suburbs made possible only by the automobile.

Out there, zoning laws banned the traditional city block, the cheek-by-jowl mix of people and activities that gave rise to civilization thousands of years ago. Single-use zoning mandated the strict division of home, workplace and commercial place, each separated from the other by gulfs of highways and automobile arterials that made trying to walk anywhere a fool’s errand, not to mention dangerous.

For the longest time, Americans who wanted to experience the pedestrian-friendly charms and dynamism of a “real city’’ had to fly to Paris or Rome or Barcelona, old places the automobile colonized but never conquered entirely.

Now we’re taking another look at this arrangement.

From Pittsburgh to Denver to New York, from West Palm Beach to Tampa to Miami, young people, families and retirees who have tired of the ‘burbs and their endless traffic congestion are flocking back to once-dormant, even blighted downtowns and urban neighborhoods, reigniting urban economies. New U.S. Census Bureau figures show that big U.S. cities are growing in population.

In recognition of this consequential trend, The Miami Herald is launching an open competition to identify the best urban block in South Florida. The Herald is sponsoring the contest in conjunction with WLRN/Miami Herald News, El Nuevo Herald, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Townhouse Center, a new Miami non-profit that promotes the development of urban neighborhoods through small, attached buildings that can be adapted over time to different uses.

Why are doing it?

As towns and cities seek to retool their downtowns and urban districts to lure new businesses and residents, the time seems ripe for a refresher on what makes a good city block — what it might look like, what the key ingredients are, how it ought to function and feel. That refresher is especially needed now because over the years suburban-style development and zoning invaded, and sometimes sped the devastation of, our urban cores.

We’re talking about strip malls with parking lots fronting streets redesigned as highways, impractically narrow sidewalks, yawning parking garage bays on main streets, and lots of blank walls — stuff that doesn’t make good urban places.

Giving exposure to great blocks can also provide a proven model as sprawling suburban communities increasingly try to retrofit to create the pedestrian-oriented urban centers they never had.

And what better place to look for examples than right at home? Although South Florida development took off with the car and the air conditioner, and the region has become synonymous with suburban sprawl, its main cities and original suburbs predate that, and their cores were designed on a traditional, dense city grid.

That means that wonderful, walkable, steeped-in-South-Florida blocks abound if you know where to go. Some have recently found new life. Others never faded. We don’t want to exert undue influence by pointing them out. But many are hardly a secret.

We’re also hoping readers can uncover some great blocks that may be overlooked.

So we are soliciting photographs and short videos of your favorite urban block in Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties, accompanied by a brief explanation of why it’s the best. Entries will be judged by five eminent, expert jurors. The winner will get a block party. Individuals will get cash prizes for best photo and video presentations.

What will the judges look for?

A street, one-block long, fronted by buildings on either side. The buildings could also front a plaza, a small park or square, or a pedestrian-only passageway.

The block can be anywhere — downtown, outlying neighborhood, or suburban town center — and it can be old, restored or brand-spanking new.

One thing they’re not looking for: your beautiful suburban block of single-family homes (that’s a contest for another day).

There are several critical ingredients for a great block. The best block won’t necessarily have all of them, but it should possess at least some.

First and foremost is people. The block must be dense and pedestrian-centered, with buildings, streets and sidewalks oriented primarily to accommodating the gathering and movement of people, not cars.

“To me, the clearest criteria, when it’s a true urban block, has to do with walkability. It has to be well-integrated and also appealing,’’ said Miami Planning Director Francisco Garcia, charged with implementing the city’s new Miami 21 zoning code, which mandates pedestrian-friendly development. “It’s very difficult to convey to people in South Florida that development of this sort is what we’re after.’’

The best city blocks also have a mix of uses: shops, restaurants, offices and residences at a density high enough to create a critical mass of activity that draws other people, creates a sense of security and can support commerce. That could mean apartments over the store, or live-work lofts, or any number of varied arrangements, so long as they’re seamlessly woven into the block.

A winning block would also have building fronts and fixtures designed to the human scale and, ideally, good attention to architectural detail. There should be variation in building facades, yet those should be aligned in a consistent “street wall,’’ with lots of transparent windows and doors that open onto the sidewalk and allow those outside to see what’s inside, and vice-versa.

There should also be chances for social interaction, casual encounters and exchanges. That means broad sidewalks, perhaps also street benches, sidewalk cafes or a food stand.

Yes, there can be on-street parking. Some experts say that’s desirable as it shields pedestrians from moving traffic and creates a sense of safety. But not so parking lots or open street-level garages.

Because it’s Florida, shade is good, whether from trees, arcades, awnings or overhanging balconies or ledges.

The block could also have accommodation for bicycles, through bike lanes, sharrows and places to lock up securely, and maybe a trolley or transit stop.

“A great block ... has many ways to get to it by foot, by bike, car, bus and rail and even by boat, especially in South Florida,’’ said West Palm Beach architect and Best Block juror Rick Gonzalez.

Another good ingredient is variety, whether in the scale or age of buildings. The architectural style doesn’t matter: 1920s Mediterranean, 1950s MiMo, throwback architecture or thoroughly contemporary, so long as it works well with the street.

“Not all great streets are the same,’’ said Coral Gables-based planner and Best Block juror Victor Dover.

Building heights don’t necessarily matter, either. Great blocks can be found from Times Square on one extreme to the modest scale of New Orleans’ French Quarter or Key West’s Duval Street.

Many urban designers like Gonzalez believe a moderate to mid-rise scale is best. In his experience, he said, what works best are building lots from 50 feet to 150 feet wide, and buildings of two to 10 stories, with a variety of businesses on the ground floor like cafes and shops, and on the upper floors offices or residences, including hotels.

“A great block would be one that all of us would like to live, work, play and learn on,’’ Gonzalez said.

But it’s not inconceivable that a great block could be found in a skyscraper district, if built with an orientation to the street at the base, like in many sections of Manhattan. Some experts say pedestrians hardly notice anything beyond four or five stories above their heads.

Beyond that, there are the intangibles: A certain vitality. A feeling of intimacy. That the block be “memorable in some way,’’ Dover said.

And it must possess that elusive yet essential quality: a sense of place that is distinctive, that expresses something about where the street is and the culture that produced it.

In sum: The best block in South Florida ought to be a place you come to time and again, not just because you have to, but because you can’t stay away.
 

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Contents Under Pressure
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I'd side with Lincoln Road as well for hitting all the marks. There's some other great ones around as well, though. A few street in the Gables certainly come to mind as well as Las Olas.

With that, fellas, I am outta here for a few days. Heading out to San Francisco and then down the coast to Carmel and Big Sur (which I can't wait to see). Short trip but at long last a REAL vacation.

Take care all and seeya soon! :cheers:

 

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Best Urban Block in South Florida, ayy?

Well seeing as this isn't restricted exclusively to Miami, I'm trying to think of this on the whole broad spectrum of blocks throughout South Florida (there must be over 100,000 after all). And seeing as I'm no expert in Miami-Dade county (aside, of course, from Lincoln Road), I'm gonna steer away from dwelling on that county's urban blocks.

Going from north to south, these pedestrian-oriented developments/blocks come to mind:

Abacoa, Jupiter
Downtown at the Garden, Palm Beach Gardens
Clematis Street, WPB
City Place, WPB
Worth Avenue, Palm beach
Atlantic Avenue east of Intracoastal, Delray Beach
Atlantic Avenue west of Intracoastal, Delray Beach
Plaza Real (Mizner Park), Boca Raton
Palmetto Park Blvd., Boca Raton
Royal Palm Place/US-1, Boca Raton

A1A at Hillsboro Blvd. (Pier), Deerfield Beach
Promenade at Coconut Creek
Commercial Blvd. at A1A (Pier), Fort Lauderdale
A1A at Las Olas, Fort Lauderdale
New River Riverwalk, Fort Lauderdale
Las Olas/downtown, Fort Lauderdale
Seminole Hard Rock Casino, Hollywood
US-1 south of Griffin, Dania Beach
Young Circle, Hollywood
Gulf Stream Park, Hallandale Beach

Out of these 20, I'd probably rank my top 5 as follows:

1. Las Olas/Downtown, Fort Lauderdale - day or night, I always feel like the masses descend on Las Olas. Not a parking lot in sight, these stretch of blocks retain the old school planning that made Fort Lauderdale a destination in the first place.
2. Worth Avenue, Palm Beach - Although this whole avenue caters exclusively to the super-rich, it has a signature, old world architectural style that can only be found in Palm Beach. There are ample shade trees, arcades, and even water fountains for your pooch along the sidewalk that make this my personal favorite place to walk in South Florida.
3. City Place, West Palm Beach - It's kind of obvious why City Place is so great to anyone who's ever been to it. My only critique against it is that rather than complement its downtown surroundings (i.e. Clematis Street), it instead drew all the business away from these places, causing an adverse affect to several blocks around it.
4. Atlantic Avenue west of Intracoastal, Delray Beach - Year round Old School Square is a place to see and be seen. Excellent restaurants and shops catered to people of every income complement the numerous town homes and multi-story apartment buildings popping up around the neighborhood.
5. Plaza Real (Mizner Park), Boca Raton - This would've been my number one if A) the plaza still had the banyan trees down the middle, and B) if it were only still the 1990's (Liberty's Books, more affordable stores, seemingly more people walking around). Still, I believe Mizner Park has architecturally honored Mr. Boca himself, Addison Mizner, and at the same time inspired countless developers around the area, thus preserving the distinct Boca qualities... even if everything's pink.
 

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Brickell Village between Beethoven's 9th and 10th Street and South Miami Avenue and SW 1st Avenue.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Lincoln Road was the first block that came to mind for me, as well, as it is my favorite spot in the city, but I do not agree that it is the best urban block for the following reasons.

The contest states that it is seeking the best examples of urban blocks to serve as models for towns and cities looking to redefine their urban cores. Lincoln Mall is a great block, but it isn’t a design that can be realistically replicated throughout a downtown. It’s a pedestrian mall with no residential, no hotel space, and minimal office space.

I think every city should have a Lincoln Road Mall-type destination, but it isn’t really a great model for how to build the urban blocks that will make up a downtown core. Too many Lincoln Road Malls would make a downtown dead (Lincoln Road relies on the residences, hotels, and offices of adjacent blocks for its vibrancy) and it would be quite difficult to traverse the city (the mall can only be traversed on foot, rollerblade or bicycle) if you had more than a few Lincoln Road Malls lying around.

I know we like to say that Lincoln Road is our La Rambla, but aside from the pedestrian pathway and the restaurants, Lincoln Road lacks many of the key ingredients that make La Rambla so wonderful and so functional (apartments, hotels, offices, metro, car/bike lanes).
 

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The best city blocks also have a mix of uses: shops, restaurants, offices and residences at a density high enough to create a critical mass of activity that draws other people, creates a sense of security and can support commerce. That could mean apartments over the store, or live-work lofts, or any number of varied arrangements, so long as they’re seamlessly woven into the block.
This is why Lincoln Rd doesn't really fit. There aren't really any blocks in South Florida that I can think of that do. South Miami Ave in Brickell is getting there but it still has too many empty patches and isn't the most pedestrian friendly in the world. Miracle Mile lacks residential and office space, same with Sunset in South Miami. Flagler in the CBD has offices, shops and restaurants but little to no residential component.
 

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The contest states that it is seeking the best examples of urban blocks to serve as models for towns and cities looking to redefine their urban cores. Lincoln Mall is a great block, but it isn’t a design that can be realistically replicated throughout a downtown. It’s a pedestrian mall with no residential, no hotel space, and minimal office space.
Absolutely, the blocks including Lincoln Road are great examples. One of the few public gathering spaces in South Florida anchored by a Ritz Carlton Hotel.

Lincoln Road is a road. If you are talking about blocks, name about any block with Lincoln Road as one of the boundries of the block, and you will have lot of resi, retail and public space.

How about the block with north boundary of Lincoln Road.
South boundary of 16th street.
West boundary of Meridian Avenue.
East boundary of Euclid Avenue.

Hotel in the Vandyke, offices and retail, several resi builidngs as well.

Just about any block with Lincoln Road as the northern boundary meets the criteria.

The next time you are on Lincoln Road, look up. Those are apartments, offices, modeling agencies, recording studios, and sometimes hotel rooms on top of the restaurants and retail stores.
Don't look up for long though...there are so many people gathering on Lincoln Road day and night, and year round. You may get run over by a baby stroller.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Ah, I see what you probably did. You probably neglected to read the original post, where a definition of city block is given, before jumping into the fray. Your mistake, of course, is forgiven; your condescension, as always, is not.

The contest uses block this way:
A street, one-block long, fronted by buildings on either side. The buildings could also front a plaza, a small park or square, or a pedestrian-only passageway.
But yes, under your definition, I would agree. Under the definition used by the article, I would still stand by my initial sentiment.

Also, when was the last time the Van **** was actually a hotel?
 

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Using walkscore.com is a useful tool to help answer the contest question. I think I was most surprised to learn that Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach has a higher walk score than Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. And Lincoln Road has the same score as Plaza Real (Mizner Park) in Boca Raton (both 91). The highest scores I've been able to find so far are actually Royal Palm Place in Boca Raton (95) for Palm Beach County, the site for Collins Avenue near 13th street in Miami Beach (98) for Miami-Dade County, and the SW 2nd Street by the Museum of Discovery & Science in Fort Lauderdale (97) for Broward County.
 

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When I saw this in the paper I had trouble coming up with any particular block.
But I'd say that parts of downtown Coral Gables probably come closest to what I imagine a complete street should look like. But even then...

As dense and lively and cool looking as Miami Beach is, I can't think of too many truly mixed use areas.
 

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A street, one-block long, fronted by buildings on either side. The buildings could also front a plaza, a small park or square, or a pedestrian-only passageway.
Okay...how about Lincoln Road at the 100 Block.
Lincoln Road one block long, fronted by 667 Residential units on the South, a 375-room Ritz Carlton Hotel on the North, retail at street level, a little park and ocean walk, and there is a pedestrian only passage way to the beach and Atlantic Ocean.


I think that Lincoln Road works according to that definition. However, your post
It’s a pedestrian mall with no residential, no hotel space, and minimal office space.
is simply untrue.

Also, when was the last time the Van **** was actually a hotel?
Not sure what their occupancy was last night, but the rooms above the offices are available to rent on a nightly basis.
 

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Using walkscore.com is a useful tool to help answer the contest question. I think I was most surprised to learn that Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach has a higher walk score than Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. And Lincoln Road has the same score as Plaza Real (Mizner Park) in Boca Raton (both 91). The highest scores I've been able to find so far are actually Royal Palm Place in Boca Raton (95) for Palm Beach County, the site for Collins Avenue near 13th street in Miami Beach (98) for Miami-Dade County, and the SW 2nd Street by the Museum of Discovery & Science in Fort Lauderdale (97) for Broward County.
You can get a score of 97 in Downtown South Miami (5800 SW 72nd ST). The corner of Red Rd and US-1 in South Miami/Coral Gables gets a score of 98. I couldn't get a score higher than 92 anywhere in downtown Coral Gables. 901 S Miami Ave in Brickell gets a 97. 1001 Brickell Ave gets a 98 as well. 100 Lincoln Rd gets a 94 which is the highest I can get for Lincoln Rd but 500 Meridian Ave gets a 98.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Okay...how about Lincoln Road at the 100 Block.
Lincoln Road one block long, fronted by 667 Residential units on the South, a 375-room Ritz Carlton Hotel on the North, retail at street level, a little park and ocean walk, and there is a pedestrian only passage way to the beach and Atlantic Ocean.

I think that Lincoln Road works according to that definition. However, your post
is simply untrue.

Not sure what their occupancy was last night, but the rooms above the offices are available to rent on a nightly basis.
You know, my entire post is archived on this exact same page, so anyone can just go back a few posts and see how blatantly you took my post out of context. The sentence preceding the one you quoted makes clear that I was referring to Lincoln Road Mall, which, by the way, so too were you, as you cited Lincoln Road between 400 Lincoln and 1100 Lincoln, which is the pedestrian mall. Your new suggestion of the 100 Block is a better one, I agree, but it's not part of the mall and it's not part of the stretch of Lincoln Road that we were debating earlier.
 
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