Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Half of Urbanism

Last Friday I went to dinner with some colleagues to Wynwood Kitchen at Wynwood Walls, the original group of warehouses painted in changing murals.  Always spectacular.  To walk from courtyard to courtyard surrounded by mammoth-sized Art is both stunning and urbane.  And lots of people walking around, filling restaurants and galleries that have moved into the raw warehouse spaces.  It's as much of an urban scene as Miami can produce, like Lincoln Road used to be.  
However, no one lives there.   Everyone drives in to participate in in urban life, then they drive home again.  Is that really urbanism?  Perhaps not yet.  The scene in Wynwood is just a half of city life, adrift with neither infrastructure nor a residential population, like one of Miami's many attractions invented by clever investors.  However Wynwood is now sparking development that will bring housing and perhaps offices and transit and the other elements that fill out a city, bit by bit, by popular demand.  Some residential towers are planned but none are under construction now.
Some of us in front of "Codo a codo" (elbow to elbow) by INTI

Here's the irony.  Some people drive to Wynwood from their apartments in new high-rise buildings on Miami Beach or Biscayne Boulevard.  Bus service is miserable, walking is unpleasant, and transit non-existent.  In fact, they drive everywhere, pouring out of the parking garage in the morning on their way to work and returning at night.  The towers have a few amenities around them, but not much.  They are the other half of city life, detached and adrift, tethered only by traffic.

In the fullness of time both Wynwood and Biscayne Boulevard might accrue enough of the qualities of the other to become fully urban.  But can Miami wait that long?

Expensively Empty

Last week a group of Italian students and I were chased off of the property of the "Apogee" condominium tower in the southernmost tip of South Beach.  The security guard told us it was a "private, very private building."  In fact we were not allowed to step off the sidewalk onto the circular driveway.  Geeez.  Four condo towers stand between the urban grid of Miami Beach and South Pointe Park, a beautiful terminus to the island designed by Hargreaves and Assoc. Landscape architects.  The public has access via two streets that cut between the towers, a beach walk and a bay walk. 

Entrance to Apogee, a very private residence
What struck me was that this well-defended private property, standing so aloof from the city, was also empty.  Luxury condos are often kept as pieds-a-terre for wealthy people who live elsewhere.  The buildings remind me of multi-story boat storage scaffolds, which hold hundreds of boats that people rarely use.  The condo towers similarly stand waiting for their inhabitants to return. 

The city responds in kind, offering very little to the zombie towers.  A few pricey restaurants have set up either inside the towers or nearby, but one cannot find a cup of coffee or slice of pizza short of several blocks away.  The location is so exclusive that almost everyone goes elsewhere.