By: Andres Viglucci
The former warehouse district of Wynwood may be newly abloom with dining and night spots, hip shops, offices and ever-expanding construction of edgy apartment buildings. But when it comes to its public realm, Wynwood still leaves much to be desired.
Narrow, broken and cracked, and with little in the way of shade or trees, Wynwood’s largely unimproved sidewalks and streets are a throwback to its not-so-long-ago past as urban basket case.
While the gritty streetscape retains its appeal for some, the district’s business and property owners are more than ready for something completely different — a new-look, greened-up Wynwood of expanded sidewalks, street trees and robust urban landscaping, all with lots more safe space for pedestrians and people on bikes.
That’s the broad vision outlined in a master plan now in the drafting stage that could, if money and permitting fall into place, help complete Wynwood’s accelerating transition from post-industrial wasteland to burgeoning entertainment district to thriving 24/7 city neighborhood. Public presentations of the unfinished plan were conducted Wednesday to gather community input before it’s finalized, probably by summer, said David Snow, the city of Miami’s urban design chief.
The draft plan, developed under the aegis of the Wynwood Business Improvement District, a public agency, calls for a drastic overhaul of the neighborhood’s streets and sidewalks. It would add a significant number of marked pedestrian crossings to the congested main drag, Northwest Second Avenue, a connected network of green-painted bike lanes and what one of its designers described as a “rich and dynamic” variety of trees and plantings throughout.
More radically, the conceptual plan by Arquitectonica GEO, the landscape-architecture division of the Miami-based firm, also envisions creation of three “woonerfs” — Dutch-inspired, greened-up streets in which pedestrians would mix with slow-moving cars. One of the woonerfs, stretching four blocks along Northwest Third Avenue, is already under design separately and could be the first piece of the plan to be realized.
The BID board did not vote on the draft designs on Wednesday. But members of the board, which was instrumental in developing a special zoning code for Wynwood that’s spurred a wave of mixed residential and commercial development, seemed happy with the broad direction. Snow said the master plan will require approval from the city’s planning board and the city commission.
“Wynwood prides itself on being a leader in championing new concepts, whether it’s our residential micro-units, experiential retailers, or the way we look at urban planning,” said BID vice-chairman Albert Garcia in a statement released after the presentations. “We’re excited to lead the way now on transforming our urban neighborhood through the thoughtful, pedestrian-oriented public spaces that the streetscape and woonerf master plans will bring to the area.”
Though the woonerf concept has spread across Europe and is starting to spring up in U.S. cities, the Third Avenue woonerf would be the first in South Florida. Its designers at Local Office Landscape Architecture, a Brooklyn, N.Y., firm, showed BID board members four options on Wednesday that ranged from a restrained “urban promenade” to a densely canopied “habitat” design that recalls the Everglades. All four designs would feature so-called bio-swales to manage heavy rainwater, said Local Office principals Jennifer Bolstad and Walter Meyer.
More than a street, they said, the woonerf would be a landscaped public space in which pedestrians would take precedence over cars. Street parking would be eliminated and motorists would be slowed by jogs in the street or other traffic-calming devices.
The best option is for a one-lane, one-way path for cars that would allow lots of space for greenery and pedestrians, Bolstad and Meyer said. Though some developers in the audience asked for continued two-way auto traffic, the designers said that would severely constrain the woonerf layout. As an alternative, they suggested having two lanes on one block at the south end leading in and out of a new parking garage.
Arquitectonica GEO’s Michelle Cintron and John Hutchens, meanwhile, showed concepts for two other woonerfs, on Northwest First Avenue and on Northwest First Place, that would use “meanders” in the street to slow cars and add landscaping that would reproduce endangered pine rockland habitat and a subtropical hardwood hammock.
GEO’s broader plan calls for patterned sidewalks made out of a durable, porous concrete that would allow rainwater to flow through to the ground and the roots of street trees. Its rough look would also match Wynwood’s industrial aesthetic, Hutchens and Cintron said. They’re also working on a diverse menu of tree and shrub species that would be suitable for the setting and serve to “unify” the look and feel of the district.
Among the ideas they displayed was a concept for a riotous garden along the edges and medians of Northwest Fifth Avenue.
But some property owners in the audience asked for more restraint, saying trees and landscaping should not compete with or obscure the colorful graffiti murals and architecture in the district.
“The landscaping, to me, is too lush,” said Jessica Goldman Srebnick, CEO of Goldman Properties, the firm that launched the Wynwood revival with its Wynwood Walls project. “It needs to be more an accent than overwhelming foliage. Wynwood needs to have a real urban feel.
Even after the master plan is approved, it’s unclear how soon the new woonerfs, sidewalks and streetscapes would be installed, or who would foot the as-yet-undetermined cost. One possibility, the BID said, is that the city and property owners could share costs of building sections of the plan. Another is that the city would require developers to follow the plan as they build out their projects and required street frontages, which include sidewalks and other public amenities.