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A Miami Story DIY 101: How to Make Your City Waterfront Fabulous

For the past year, my team and I have been diligently working to plan and create the Baywalk pop-up--a temporary public art installation on downtown Miami's waterfront. Why-- because Miami deserves a stellar waterfront walkway.

Over time I've recruited an internationally acclaimed architecture firm and collected an assortment of public endorsements, funding and finally a true partnership with the City. Here's how we did it and how you can do it in your City. (Note all imagery was produced by ArquitectonicaGeo)


1. Choose your passion:

Mine was improving public access to downtown Miami's urban waterfront with a cool and fun, temporary art installation. Maybe you didn't know but the Baywalk is already a thing. All the waterfront restaurants like Epic and Cippriani that overlook Biscayne Bay are separated by a 50 foot wide path which the City required them to build. In fact, all new construction (and most old) have some version of this path. The problem is that in several places the path is incomplete, think about the old Herald site and some of the bridge crossings. An even bigger problem is that none of these paths look or feel the same. They have no signs and do not exist on any map or public website. They feel private. I didn't get it. Why wouldn't the City try to make this a real waterfront? It seemed so obvious.


2. Do your homework:

The more I investigated, the more I realized how complicated it was to create one beautiful waterfront path on property that was not owned by the City. Each property has a different public or private owner. That's when the lightbulb went off. Let's pick one location so everyone can see how cool the waterfront could be with a little imagination. I picked the PortMiami bridge shown above. There's actually a footpath underneath this bridge (images B and C) which connects the back of American Airlines Arena (image A) to Bayside Marketplace. It's a haven for homeless and fairly unsanitary at times, but who wouldn't blame the homeless for wanting a spot with a view!


3. Know your players:

Before assembling my team, I pitched the idea to the Florida Department of Transportation. They owned the bridge and the area beneath it. They were so excited about the project that they helped me convince the Miami Parking Authority to sponsor the project and handle all of the tough parts like permitting, insurance and construction management.


4. Design like you don't give a damn:

I partnered with ArquitectonicaGeo, the international landscape architecture firm and sister to Arquitectonica. They shared my passion for the waterfront and developed a comprehensive design scheme for the path.

They extended the limits of the project to have a greater visual reach and wove in a pretty cool environmental theme while paying homage to Christo's pink wrapped islands from way back in the 1980s. (Note: Photo courtesy of Christo)

​Bottom line, migrating birds have nowhere to roost on their last stop before reaching the Bahamas because we keep ripping out the trees, without replacing them. The pink tree trunks are a kind of a two dimensional cartoon. The installation suggests, if these were real trees, they'd provide a place for birds to roost AND a canopy of shade which are shown as large blue circles painted on the pavement below.


5. Play hard and with conviction:

With the design in place, now the hard work begins. First, we had to reach out to each of the property owners to figure out what permits were needed. Look at all the different owners in the image above! We went round in circles for several months because no one really new what kind of approval we should seek. In the process we brought in the City, County and elected officials who all loved the project and wrote us glowing letters of support. Then we reached out to the big institutions--the art museum, Bayside, Bayfront Park and the Miami Heat. Everyone loved the concept. More letters. Finally, we came back to the City and they agreed that the project was a special event and suggested a special event permit. Now we were getting somewhere.


6. Go for the money:

This was perhaps the most complicated part. Through begging, pleading and a very generous donation from the Miami Foundation, we have been cobbling together a tidy sum to pay for materials and construction. With some donations from public entities, non-profits, private foundations and private companies we are closer than ever to our goal.


7. Ride the twists and turns:

Your project may not always go as expected. We lost our agency sponsor right when we were awarded our grant from Miami Foundation. Miami Parking Authority pulled out their sponsorship and left us with no public champion. But persistence paid off! The City was so bought into the project that they jumped in as our sponsor. Thanks to their amazing Risk Management Department who evaluated all the legal implications, and the Department of Real Estate and Asset Management who will use their internal team to manage permissions and construction, we are well on our way to seeing this amazing project be built.


8. Maintain your good old rolodex (or contact list for those of you too young to know what I'm talking about):

It's a constant game of follow up with all the various players. You need to stay on top of this, keep a good list of contacts, send regular emails and follow up on all the details. If this is your project, you need to always be in leadership mode. No one else has the time to follow up like you can. Be inspiring. Be polite. Be thankful. You can't do this alone.


9. Invite the community and their leaders:

Your project won't work if no one shows up to see it and use it. I pursued partnerships with local institutions like the Perez Art Museum Miami and the Miami Center for Architecture and Design to host events and presentations about the project. ArquitectonicaGeo has brought in their PR firm to help us promote the project to various media outlets and through social media. Publicize ribbon cuttings and incorporate walking tours and special events in your project to increase usage. Use these events to communicate your ideas to the public and elected officials. This is critical to the project's success.


10. Share the credit:

Remember everyone who helped you and try to help them. Give credit to all involved and share in the project's success. Regularly share your progress and thank those who have supported you.


11. Measure your results:

Make a good assessment of your project to prove its value. For our pop-up, we'll be using an automatic counter to count how many people use the temporary installation per day, week and month. We can use the data to ask for more permanent improvements and to get the City and County to budget more money for long term improvements.


The Baywalk pop-up is still a work in progress, but now that we have all the right leadership and advocates, we are well on our way to seeing this project become a reality. Hard work, perseverance and the ability to react positively and creativtly to unforeseen obstacles will keep your project moving. My ninth grade art teacher once told me "there is no such thing as mistakes, just opportunities." Grab your opportunity. Just go for it.

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