Table for 400: Miami's Latest Experiment

It's not every day that you can enjoy an intimate meal with 400 of your closest friends, but community dinners are a thing. And Miami isn't going to be left out of this trend. Enter Taste of Avenue 3.

The Miami Dade Transit Quick-Build Program–funded in part by a grant from NYC’s Transit Center–is facilitating and developing community lead, short-term and inexpensive transportation improvements on Miami streets. Think light and quick and cheap. For four days, Avenue 3 Miami was transformed into a pedestrian street using bright paint, movable planters, a gorgeous and impeccably designed seating module (designed by Glenda Puente and Moonlighter Makerspace, and constructed by Moonlighter Makerspace), string lights and games. And let’s not forget one super mega dinner table.

In the long term, after the paint has faded, the seating module will be permanent and NE 3rd Avenue, between Flagler and NE 2nd, will become a more pedestrian-friendly street with some permanent changes like better lighting and public art. For the project visionary, Downtown resident Steven Dutton, and multiple community partners, persistence pays off. But for now, let’s see what they did to transform the space for the evening event and capture the community’s reaction for the longer-term project.

A Whole Lotta Paint:

It started with paint, but not just any paint, really bright, neon paint with cute little characters doing fun things- things you would do if you were enjoying 3rd Avenue as the designers intend. The cones were the County’s tool for protecting volunteers during the installation, but Miami loves their parking spaces, and it took some real shmoozing to get folk to understand the temporary nature of the design.

It’s always good to have a sign to explain what you’re actually doing. This one says that the project is a demonstration and gives some interesting facts and historical context, for example, Third Avenue used to be called Short Street. Good to know! It also doubles to pretty up the barricades that were required by County traffic control requirements.

Happy paint makes happy people. And who doesn’t love balloons?

This cute design suggests Third Avenue is a good place to sit and talk.

Traffic Control:

Designers had to maintain access to this active entrance to a condo parking garage, so they used these nifty planters and some not so nifty Acme barricades, to separate the driveway curb cut from the parking lane. The barricades were required. The planters mark where people can walk and prevent cars from turning into any unsuspecting smart phone users…I mean pedestrians.

Parklet: A Beautiful Thing

Thanks to the folks at Urban Impact Lab, the City of Miami now has a parklet ordinance which allows parking spaces to be converted to some pretty inspiring spaces like this one above built my Moonlighter. The project team intends to use this new ordinance to make this parklet permanent. My sources tell me that the ordinance could use some improvements, but for now, the project team will pay the upfront fees and additional daily parking meter rates.

Two spaces are constructed from wood and divided by a simple, yet modern planter with bright and colorful flowers.

The first space is for people who like bright blue seating. The design is simple and super practical. I didn’t actually watch this being built, but I understand that it was mostly constructed and assembled on site in one night.

The second space is more of a choose your own adventure. Choose what you like and add it to the space– tables, chairs, umbrellas. Now let’s see how the magic happens when it’s all pulled together for our dinner party.

Lights, Tablecloths, Plants, Tables and Chairs = Magic:

And there was also live music. Add people and voila! A street comes alive and a street is converted into a plaza, at least for one evening. What a nice backyard for the residents here.

A Very Long Table:

This is how it looked. It was pretty special. With a little eco twist, the table runners were burlap and the plates and flatware were from recycled paper and bamboo courtesy of Downtown neighbor Karen Trenary. Vases were overflowing with cut flowers by Downtown Flowers and the local restaurants generously supplied hungry guests with some truly tasty light bites. My favorite was the ceviche.

All Fun and Games:

Who wouldn’t want to play with a giant Connect Four board or a variation on horse shoes? Although I did decline to run the kiddie corner (there’s a reason why I got a babysitter for the evening), I did enjoy watching the kids who’s parents were brave enough to take them. While mine were safely tucked in bed, these kiddos had a blast running around and playing bean bag toss.

It’s the Parklet:

And remember the parklet during the day? Here it is at night. The street facing side is a beautiful planter with bright green ferns and lilies. And the Third Street “3” is poking out from the seating area like a beacon in the night. Don’t you just love it?

Flip to the other side and the parklet is an extension of the sidewalk. It makes the sidewalk that much more exciting and inviting for young and old and everyone in between.

The Idea Behind the Design:

Planners and designers love to show the design process. It explains how the design came to be and helps explain the finished product. It’s always amazing to me how buildings and spaces come to life from a paper drawing. So here it is–the initial design concepts from professor Henry Lares’ Miami-Dade College students prominently displayed on a building wall during the event. I couldn’t resist the photo op. Someone perfectly spaced and hung these beauties.

Saying I Love You With Post-it Notes:

And even more true, we all really want to know what you think of the design. Post it notes are a low-tech and colorful way to collect thoughts, ideas, critiques and love notes. There’s still time to share your ideas here!

Lesson Learned:

A creative opportunity, persistence and a whole lot of volunteers helped this project come off without a hitch including some elbow grease from our local Commissioner. The design implementation was carefully staged and, more importantly, participants and passersby were surveyed throughout the event to understand their opinions about the temporary improvements. After all, the visionary of this project, a downtown resident Steve Dutton, hopes to make these changes permanent. And with backing from some of the downtown heavies like DDA and the Flagler BID, it will likely happen. And if you don’t mind my twisting of Kevin Costner’s oh so annoying phrase, if you dream it, they will come.

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.