By Chuck Strouse
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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Both Metro-Dade and the City of Miami Beach plead poverty. Although he's not aware of any state requests for assistance, the chief of property management and acquisition for the Dade County Parks and Recreation Department says he's not prepared to open his coffers for the causeway project. "We're not going to do it for nothing," says Marty Washington. "We don't have the money. At some park sites, we've had to reduce the cutting cycles to seven times a year. Imagine cutting your lawn only seven times a year! When we have to make a choice between maintaining our parks or a state road, the choice is pretty clear." As for Miami Beach, since-departed city manager Rob Parkins decided in 1990 that the city couldn't contribute to the causeway's maintenance, and the new city administration has ignored the subject. "Our situation regarding [financial] resources has not changed," Miami Beach Parks and Recreation director William Irvine says today. "The prospect of getting additional resources to maintain it looks very bleak." Assuming Miami Beach or Metro-Dade can't cough up more money, the state's $12,000 for upkeep will cover little more than the cost of grass mowing. "To give you a worst-case scenario," speculates FDOT's Fierro, "if we can't get any type of a commitment [from Miami Beach or Metro-Dade], that would pretty much force us to fall back onto a minimum amount of landscaping." Namely, Bahia sod and a few trees.
Maintenance aside, the state's $386,000 for landscaping severely limits its options. The money amounts to no more than $1.80 per square foot of available landscaping, a sum that Dade's landscape architects laugh at. "Three to four dollars per square foot would be a classy job, and that's what this deserves," says Ted Baker, a landscape architect and lecturer at Florida International University. To estimate costs of landscaping roadway medians, Juan Antonio Bueno, assistant professor of landscape architecture at FIU, begins with a minimum of three dollars per square foot. He spent about eleven dollars per square foot to landscape a five-mile stretch of State Road 826 between I-95 and the Intracoastal Waterway, a project involving Dade County, North Miami Beach, and the state. At three dollars per square foot, landscaping the MacArthur would cost at least $636,400. An average of eleven dollars per square foot would push costs over $2,333,000 and, landscape architects say, would make the causeway the showpiece it should be.
The lack of a landscaping blueprint in the state's plans comes as no surprise to Dade's leading landscape designers and architects. "The DOTs of this country have destroyed more landscapes and more cities than any other agencies of man, public or private," rails internationally renowned town planner Andres Duany. "Aesthetic considerations such as views and landscaping are their lowest priority. They're committed only to the unimpeded flow of traffic, virtually always at high speed. They've completely lost the tradition of parkway design from the Twenties and Thirties." Adds Douglas Duany, Andres's brother and a lecturer in the School of Architecture at the University of Miami: "The idea is to capture an expressway and make it into a boulevard. The highway that they're doing could be in Alaska."
"This is pretty typical of the state road department," agrees landscape architect William Rosenberg. "They think of the landscape architect's role as something that comes afterward. Other states, particularly the mountainous states out West, have landscape architects in on the road-building projects from the beginning."
Proper roadway landscaping, architects say, involves more than plunking down a few trees for motorists to look at. It involves responding to the aesthetics of the surrounding environment - natural and manmade - and using flora to enhance the existing beauty and accentuate the views. "It adds a dimensional quality," Ted Baker explains. "It establishes boundaries. You can enframe the cruise ships and maybe close off some other views. The question is: How do you represent in the landscape the best that South Florida has to offer?" Causeway landscaping would also serve functional purposes, landscapers say, such as stabilizing soil, filtering air, providing shade, blocking wind, and providing habitats for small mammals and birds. Beyond its inherent aesthetic and ecological benefits, well-designed causeway landscaping would provide a psychological asset to drivers. "You can work with shade patterns on the road to create a rhythm with the tree trunks to psychologically massage you," Raymond Jungles explains, pointing to South Miami Avenue and Coral Way as examples.
Despite FDOT's bureaucratic myopia, Dade's landscape architects still harbor some hope that careful design may avert a total aesthetic disaster. For the median, the architects agree that densely packed trees should be avoided and the arrangement of flora should allow drivers to see views on both sides of the causeway. The architects also agree that the trees and bushes used on the median, as on the rest of the causeway, should be low-maintenance, native plant species that can resist wind, salt water, salt air, and drought. However, the architects diverge in their opinions about the species of trees and their arrangement. Albert Perez, the landscape architect who designed the widely praised median along South Dixie Highway between Douglas and Red roads, suggests an evenly spaced row of palm trees. "It would be a preface to Miami Beach," he says. "A very simple matter. A sharp kind of thing. No clusters. It shouldn't be something that would block the view. It would bring romance." As a reference point, Perez mentions the tree-lined boulevards of Paris, or Miami in the 1920s and 1930s.