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The trees, concrete and sod barriers, and mounds were installed to block out noise and the visual appearance of Biscayne Boulevard and I-395. "It was decided pretty early on that the traffic and congestion were not things that lent themselves to the enjoyment of the park," Armbruster recalls. The view of the bay from Biscayne Boulevard was a consideration, he adds. "There was quite a bit of discussion as to whether or not you could really catch a glimpse of the water from the edge of the park. You might see Watson Island, but in the line of sight you couldn't see the bay." Because one couldn't possibly catch more than a glimpse of the water from the western edge of the site, Armbruster says, construction of a wall wouldn't detract from the view from Biscayne Boulevard.
While he acknowledges the ongoing problems with the park, Armbruster thinks Bicentennial's overall design is not at fault. "The original idea was that this pastoral setting would help generate new growth and urban development in the area, and as that took place then the park would have a place in serving that new growth," he says. "Well, what happened is that other parts of the city didn't build to correspond. So it ended up being a step to accomplish certain things that never happened." Lack of access was always a problem, he adds, but city commissioners brought that difficulty on themselves. "The city decided to eliminate as many paved areas as possible," Armbruster says, "but without that access, it will always be very hard to get people to go there."
In 1987 the city commission approved a Downtown Waterfront Master Plan drafted by the planning department, where Luft was chief of urban design. That plan proposes not only a radical new design for the site, but a different way of thinking about what the park should be. Based on designs for the Parc de la Villette in Paris and Chicago's Grant Park, the master plan is a vision of Bicentennial Park as an oasis of urban senses and experiences, an intersection of Miami's diverse cultures and social groups with educational, interpretive, and interactive attractions. The idea, say the plan's creators, is to draw people into the site in order to embrace the city rather than eschew it.
Frederick Law Olmsted's view of what a park should be, say planners, is not entirely relevant to Bicentennial. Besides, the development department's Jack Luft argues, plenty of open green space would be preserved on the site, as well as in Isamu Noguchi's recently redesigned Bayfront Park, and on Watson Island. Some development of Bicentennial is clearly justified. Besides, he says, Miami is a city not of crowded tenements but of single-family lots, with ample yards and neighborhood parks, near extensive beachfront and undeveloped Everglades.
The plan would incorporate into Bicentennial Park the 23-acre Florida East Coast Railway tract across the deep-water slip to the south, land purchased in 1981 for $23 million, after a lengthy condemnation battle. In the first stages of the plan, the park's dirt and concrete walls would be demolished. Planners also proposed grading the entire site to have an upward slope toward the waterfront. "By gently tilting the plane of the park two degrees toward the boulevard observer," planners wrote, "the views of open space and a sense of the distant bay's edge [would be] significantly enhanced." The deep-water slip would be the center of a new site; a pedestrian bridge over the inlet would unite the park and serve as a symbolic gateway.
In order to "create a north-south activity link" between the Omni Mall area and Bayfront Park, four large pavilions would be built along the bay, two on each side of the deep-water slip. These would house attractions such as an aquarium, a maritime museum, a science museum, and audiovisual centers including video, slide, laser, holographic projections, and 360-degree or multiscreen theaters. Pedestrian promenades and plazas would trace the waterfront, connecting the attractions. Vending and concession stands would dot the site. Whereas the current site has virtually no parking or access, the plan calls for below-ground parking lots that would provide 1500 spaces. Metromover extensions to Omni, Bayside, and the Port of Miami would include stations along the edges of the park, and pedestrian walkways would be constructed over and under the new Dodge Island bridge.
The plan, says Jack Luft, would transform Bicentennial Park into a "story-telling center where we define who we are, what we are, where we are, and where we are going. The idea is to create a place that celebrates the urban experience rather than denying it. The idea with La Villette in Paris was that open space was not so much the issue. What should be more important is a place that brings people together into a shared cultural experience." The increasingly fragmented community of Greater Miami has plenty of open areas, Luft argues, so pastoral green space isn't enough to turn a downtown park into a destination point for area residents.
Although local architects familiar with the waterfront master plan agree that Bicentennial requires a radical redesign, they aren't nearly as enthusiastic about Luft's vision for the site. "Yes, the park needs a new look," says Jean Francois LeJeune, an architecture professor at the University of Miami. "But I'd think it would need a much bolder design than what this plan is proposing. This could be a spectacular site with just a fantastic potential for a beautiful park, but it needs the vision of a great architect. This is not an easy site to work with by any means."