barron-channer_web.jpgMIAMI — The city of Miami Gardens is hoping to transform 14 acres adjacent to Rolling Oaks Park, creating a farmers market, installing exercise equipment and planting indigenous vegetation.

With money tight all around, city officials have submitted their proposal to the Our Miami Public Space Challenge, vying for some of the $120,000 available to encourage creation of public spaces.

Darien Martin, an aide to Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver G. Gilbert III, envisions building nature trails that would meet up in the park at 18701 N.W. 17th Ave., along with an educational component to teach people about horticulture, healthy eating and fitness.

“This is an idea that has been going around for a while,” Martin said. “We wanted a big space and Rolling Oaks Park is a perfect fit. It is centrally located and easily accessible. This is a major trail next to Rolling Oaks Park we are proposing; we want you to feel immersed in nature.”

The Miami Foundation developed the challenge, along with the Heath Foundation of South Florida, to uncover the best ideas for creating and improving local public spaces: parks, libraries, public buildings, markets, plazas, playgrounds or any other place where people can meet and connect. Of the $120,000 challenge pool, $20,000 has been set aside for projects that have a health component.

Anyone can submit ideas, including individuals, groups, for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations. The deadline is Sept. 19.

Community experts and professional place-makers will identify the top ideas and award the cash. The “Our Miami” grants will be handed out throughout the year on a rolling basis.

The challenge was launched on July 31 at The Stage Miami music venue, 170 N.E. 38th St., in the presence of “400 young professionals, local change-agents and engaged Miamians,” as organizers put it. It has so far attracted just over 100 entries, with lots of ideas coming from the Brickell, Downtown Miami  and north of Downtown areas, organizers said.

Marlon Hill, a member of the Miami Foundation’s Board of Trustees, is hoping the challenge will garner ideas from communities that show a need for public spaces.

“The idea is to elevate someone’s attachment to [Greater] Miami and inspire them to submit an idea to either improve an existing public space or to create one,” Hill said.

“Citizen should be proactive in the Miami Gardens, North Miami, West Perrine areas. These communities by percentage and aesthetics have less attractive places they can enjoy and could be disenfranchised in creation of public spaces. They have a vested interest in getting public places in their neighborhoods,” he added.

The foundation will also recognize the most publicly supported idea through its ideas submission map online, Twitter and Facebook with a people’s choice award. The Miami Foundation hired Daniel Lattore, senior fellow for digital place-making at the Project for Public Spaces, to develop and monitor the Internet map where ideas for the challenge are submitted. Lattore, said a public space is any space that is maintained by the government. He includes parks, plazas, courtyards in front of public buildings and sidewalks. Roads are the largest public spaces but are made mostly for cars and less so for bicycling and pedestrian uses, he said.

The public spaces that come out of the challenge should get people to interact and have a place to meet, Lattore said. “It’s about changing the culture of the city,” he said.

Stuart Kennedy, program officer for the Miami Foundation, said he is pleased with the response but is looking forward to seeing more entries from all over Miami-Dade County.

“We hope folks in Liberty City to Hialeah to Miami Gardens to Kendall to Homestead participate,” Kennedy said.


Picture above LAUNCH: Attending the Our Miami Public Space Challenge were, from left, Barron Channer, Takiyah Butler, Jason Green and Oasis Garcia.