Street design Miami neon dreams: A Biscayne Boulevard

November 13, 2017

Melissa Hege, AICP, LEED AP of South Florida-based Melissa Hege City Planning LLC. emphasizes how distinctive and unique characteristics to a neighborhood can assist in its revitalization.

Coppertone Girl

Miami is a big bold city- always in the news, for better or worse. But by comparison, our neighborhoods- our buildings and streets- are timid. I’m not referring to South Beach which has always been bombastic sometimes at the expense of its residents or the Miami Design District which has some of the most high-quality design in the entire city. Rather, I’m referring to the neighborhoods in between the big ones, which are the glue of this town, but can’t quite catch that wave. Historic Biscayne Boulevard, affectionately named MiMo Biscayne Boulevard after the overwhelming number of buildings designed in the style of Miami Modern, is one such neighborhood.
When I was asked to join the MiMo Biscayne Association Board over a year ago, I wanted to understand all the moving parts and evaluate where I could fit in best. After all, the organization had been clipping along for ten plus years and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. But with all the effort of individual committees and members, businesses still struggle with low foot-traffic and rising rents. It’s a story that’s likely familiar to other communities too. How can a major four lane roadway with some charming historic buildings attract more people? Why don’t more people walk the neighborhood? What can be done to help? And that’s where my internet search started.
Let’s start with the basics.
1. Housing = people:

You need at least 5,000 households per square mile to support retail. The MiMo Biscayne Boulevard corridor definitely meets this threshold, but most of these folks aren’t going to support much retail.


2. Access:

A neighborhood must be easy to get to by car or transit. Traffic during rush hour can be a bear on the Boulevard, but there are great connections to side streets. In fact, the street grid pattern has perfect sized blocks for walking- not too long and not too short. They are 270’ long as we can see in this picture above. So why isn't anyone walking here?


3. Existing restaurants and retail:

There should already be some successful restaurant and retail hubs that can anchor new stores. Think about the old school shopping mall model which place smaller shops and restaurants in between department store anchors. Biscayne Boulevard has lots of them: Vagabond motel, Starbucks, Dogma and Organic Bites. These are exceptional businesses which have added life and distinctiveness to the corridor.


4. Safety:

It should be easy to cross the street with low crime. Biscayne Boulevard is difficult to cross on foot. The few signaled intersections have such short crossing times that you find yourself running, not walking, to avoid getting hit by a car making a right hand turn.

5. Capacity:  

There should be paid or volunteer staff which is dedicated to support improvements. The city of Miami’s Neighborhood Enhancement Team office in Legion Park is the closest we have to dedicated staff. More city assistance could be a good thing.

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