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.

The process can vary, but there some common steps that are universal for revitalization.
1. Community vision:

I know as a planner that all great neighborhood plans start with a vision. Understanding what you want and where you’re headed is the first step.
2. Business survey:

Understand what existing businesses need and create a business-friendly environment.
3. Understand the market:

What real estate is available and what can the population support? Then set goals for the merchandise mix.
4. Branding:

Attract investors, new tenants and customers with targeted marketing and special events.
5. Roads and Streetscape:

Plan to improve the streets and sidewalks by either piggybacking on planned road construction or finding money from other sources or even transferring ownership to the city.

6. Parking:

Develop a plan for parking and long term strategies for converting surface parking to parking structures. The image above, 55th Street Station, just one block west of Biscayne Boulevard on NE 4th Court, is the best example of what the boulevard can become. One property owner’s vision set this hub in motion. It started by renovating an iconic building- the 55th Street bus shed- as a signature neighborhood restaurant and was supported with abundant and free parking in an adjacent parking lot (a requirement of the city zoning).

Here's where the design genius kicked in. The owner created an interior courtyard with café seating looking onto the main street to encourage people to sit and attract even more people.

Then came more restaurants with outdoor seating and a pizza joint in a classic 2-story glass mid-century moderns structure.

Beautiful shade trees and decorative planters and plantings between the sidewalk and buildings make the space feel like an oasis.

And we can see the owner has a sense of humor when one of his retailer installed life sized sculptures of white and one blue sheep above the storefront.

7. Zoning and land use:

Once you have the vision in place which considers all of the details above, modify the building regulations to support it.

Lastly, choose your funding mechanism and staffing strategy. Across the board, a dedicated funding source is best, but not essential. Let’s look at a few common ones...


1. Business Improvement Districts (BID):

BIDs create vibrant, clean, and safe districts. They deliver services and improvements above and beyond those provided by the City. Typically 75% of the BID budget is funded by special assessment, most BIDs also fundraise and apply for grants.
An example you all might be familiar with is the Wynwood BID. It was created to support cleaner and safer streets and to market and promote the area for visitors. The BID pays for off-duty police officers to patrol the streets and dedicated staff to clean sidewalks and welcome visitors. They also have an executive director to keep a watchful eye and initiate the Wynwood marketing and media relations plan.
Wynwood was created by a handful of truly talented property owners who built two really great restaurants first, then invited professional artists to “muralize” the really decrepit and dodgy warehouse buildings and finally created a monthly art walk event at night to draw traffic and attract new investment. It worked.
2. Main Street Designation:

Florida Main Street is another option. While they don't offer a dedicated funding source, they do provide technical assistance for traditional historic commercial corridors and grant opportunities. Main Streets uses a four-point approach to making better retail streets:  local partnerships, coordinated marketing, improved design for better looking streets and economic strategies to improve what is already there and attract what is desired.
3. Special Improvement Districts:

Yet another option which can also be found in Miami are Special Improvement Districts (SIDs). Special assessments are levied on property owners to pay for specific improvements. Downtown Flagler Street improvements are partially paid through a special assessment. This shows the commitment and desire on the part of the property owners and demonstrates the need to prioritize projects. Bottom line, money talks.


Private Investment:

Finally, many of the most successful places are funded by the private sector. Developers can pay for new sidewalks, new streets, trees, lighting and even transit. For example, most of the road improvements in Miami’s Design District, were bank rolled by the developer. These gorgeous streets are the perfect accessory to the exquisitely detailed storefronts with some of the most expensive fashion houses.

So What’s Next?

So with all this great insight, what could the Boulevard be? Focus on the anchor hubs and learn from 55th Street Station.

1. Start with the plan and get input from businesses and property owners.
2. Provide parking
3. Landscape between sidewalks and buildings. Add more trees!
4. Develop a marketing strategy with regular special events.
5. Figure out the ideal tenant mix. What’s working and is there a common theme?
6. Lean on the city to provide more guidance and support.
And most importantly, use what you got. Great buildings to start, but we have an incredible collection of funky and historic neon signs. Emphasize these special characteristics which are distinctive and unique to the neighborhood. Go Coppertone girl!

Article originally posted by Melissa Hege, AICP at

Melissa Hege, AICP, LEED AP, practices planning and urban design in one of the Country’s most envied and envious iconic cities—the Republic of Miami. For more than a decade, she has enjoyed the juxtaposition of the region’s beauty and dysfunction, and continues to learn from it daily. Educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Brandeis University, her portfolio includes award winning plans which translate design based solutions into practical applications.

In her current practice, Melissa Hege City Planning, she straddles the roles of planner and community advocate by exploring infrastructure investments which add exponential value to cities. These include waterfront parks, bicycle and pedestrian trails, and complete streets—streets which have comfortable and protected zones for bicycles, pedestrians, cars, and transit. She is currently developing a waterfront pop-up installation on Miami’s Biscayne Bay to demonstrate the potential value of a permanently improved and connected waterfront trail in downtown Miami. Other recent projects include an interactive web based tool to visually track all multi-agency infrastructure improvements in downtown Miami and a Complete Streets forum for local municipalities in partnership with Miami Dade County.

Melissa is a board member of the Miami Modern (MIMO) Biscayne Boulevard Association, a 501c3 dedicated to preserving its architectural history and expanding commercial opportunities for this US-1 corridor. She is Past Chair of the Miami Section of the Florida American Planning Association, was Co-chair for the State’s annual conference and served on Miami-Dade County’s Transportation Aesthetic Review Committee. She has been published in the Miami Herald, Florida Planning, Planetizen and Panorama (University of Pennsylvania) and taught as an adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University. She developed a planning curriculum for middle school students at the Cushman School and is a regular speaker at the Florida American Planning Association’s annual conference.

 PREV 1 2

All rights reserved Modern Cities