By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
The wrinkled Puerto Rican men sucking on their Budweiser longnecks stare over from the crumbling stoop, wondering what planet this group dropped in from: a red sports car with two guys who look more West Kendall than Wynwood, two mutts scrambling out of the back seat. The dogs slow, stop, gaze back at the car as if they've suddenly realized they're the butt of a bad joke.
Where's the park?
Surely it's not this one-tenth-acre grassy lot crammed between two apartment buildings, bounded on three sides by a chain-link fence. This looks like a vacant lot begging to be built on, probably the former site of a nondescript stucco structure like those around it. But in case anyone's confused, next to the driveway blocked by a rusty cable, there's a wooden sign: "Wynwood Mini Park. City of Miami Parks & Recreation Dept."
The dogs sniff at the edges of the fence, saunter back to the sidewalk and plop down. The old men grunt, laughing at the dogs and slurring insults at their chauffeurs. "Maricones. Pendejos. What do you want here?"
Because no one comes here. At least no one in search of a park. Not even a dog.
In the City of Miami, which prides itself on its wide-open spaces, its expanses of green on the bayfront, on Watson Island, on Virginia Key, the word "park" can take on a new meaning. In fact 38 of the city's 123 parks are smaller in area than a single acre, together comprising only 11 of the 1169 acres of park land in the entire city. In Miami, there is no mandated minimum size for a park; every square inch counts toward the 1.3 acres per 1000 city residents required by state law and outlined in the city's comprehensive plan, a blueprint for everything from housing to coastal management that will take Miami through the year 2000. Some of these so-called parks are merely median strips, others grassy triangles in the middle of intersections, still others concrete patios with benches here and there.
"Technically those properties are included in our inventory, but they really are just open-space areas," admits Kevin Smith, assistant director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. "For lack of a better term, they are called miniparks or open space, but for all practical purposes, we realize there is no recreational use. There never was any intention of designating them for anything other than open space." Which might explain why so many are located in the city's most densely populated, impoverished neighborhoods.
"A lot of these are traffic circles at intersections, and road dividers, things like that," says Smith. "So what are you going to do? You can't really put anything else in there, so why not have some open space?"
Sure, Kevin, but parks? Some of these aren't big enough for a regulation-size tennis court. (Table tennis, maybe.)
Some of the city's more petite parks, of course, are well utilized. Crowds of stogie-puffing men challenge each other to heated games at Maceo Park, better known as Domino Park, a quarter-acre plot on SW Eighth Street. Grove residents gather from dawn to dusk at the half-acre Coconut Grove Mini Park on Grand Avenue. (After dark it's a notorious hangout for drug dealers.) Yuppies gather for lunch at Bijan's at Fort Dallas Park, three-quarters of an acre on the north bank of the Miami River downtown. At a few others, such as the half-acre Pullman Mini Park on NW 49th Street, kids take advantage of the swing sets.
But most of Miami's little parks are barren places, abandoned by the city and the citizens to stray dogs, the occasional homeless person searching for a quiet place to sleep. Despite the regulations. "Park hours are from sunrise to sunset. Dangerous or hazardous activities prohibited. Authorized vehicles only allowed in park. No defacing of park property. Open fires in park grills only. Park to be used for intended purposes only. No hunting or molesting natural wildlife. Domestic animals not permitted in park."
Oops. For such small stretches of territory, that sounds like one too many rules. At least. And as long as the city insists on officially maintaining that these puny parcels are parks, why not evaluate them with the aid of the expertise of a couple of canines?
The following critical analysis, impartial but highly opinionated, is based on the findings of Simba, a half-Doberman, half-boxer mix, and The Mojo, a street mutt so far removed from purity of breed that there's no fathoming her original bloodline. (The Mojo is plenty acquainted with the subject at hand, though, having been rescued from David T. Kennedy Park -- 29 acres if you're keeping score -- in Coconut Grove, where she had been abandoned.) During this urban adventure, the scientific method, which consisted of driving to the various "parks," cajoling the two dogs to get out of the car, and carefully scribbling down their reactions, was steadfastly -- one might even venture to say doggedly -- adhered to.
Allen Morris Brickell Park
SE First Avenue and Tenth Street
Brickell Park, donated by the Allen Morris Company realtors, is tucked away in a shady, triangular neighborhood bordered by SE First Avenue, South Miami Avenue, and SE Eighth Street. Although popular lunch eateries are clustered in the area, the park is usually empty, save for an office worker cutting through on the way to or from lunch, or a resident taking the dog for an illicit stroll. Simba and The Mojo make an initial dash up the concrete walkway, across a gravel-covered garden, under a wooden kiosk, but express much more interest in an elderly woman with hazel-dyed hair walking three dogs and one cat along the sidewalk on First Avenue. At the sight of these two strange dogs, she emits a terrified howl. "Put them on a leash! A leash! Put them on a leash!"