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
In an ideal world, Douglas Duany would plant rows of royal palm trees running the length of the causeway along the median and the sides. But in the absence of adequate sod along the banks, he suggests a single row of royals down the middle. "You have to engage the aesthetics of South Beach as soon as possible, the whole romance," he explains. "Royal palms would capture the tropical feeling of South Beach in the approach."
Architect Kenneth Treister, who designed the Mayfair House Hotel in Coconut Grove, advocates an even more minimalist approach. "In both the Julia Tuttle and the MacArthur, they started with landscaping and let the pines grow," he complains. "It ends up being a tunnel, and you could be in Wisconsin or Syracuse, New York, for all you know. On MacArthur they should have grass, and occasionally shade or palm trees that have a clear trunk. But no bushes."
While seeking the same sort of regional identity through species and views, another group of landscape architects suggests designs with more variety. "All palms is too sterile," says Raymond Jungles. "You want to have a variety of things." He suggests using several different species of palm, including coconut, Senegal date, sabal, and Washington. Other suitable trees would be geiger (a medium-size tree with a dense round head atop a crooked trunk), silver buttonwood (a large tree, broader than it is tall, with silver-color leaves and an irregular crown), and perhaps yellow tabebuia (a flowering tree with trumpet-shape flowers). Plant the trees in stands of each species, at least eleven per stand, says Jungles, and space them according to their type: sabal palms would be six feet apart, Senegal date palms twenty feet apart, coconut palms in informal groupings, Washington palms staggered, geigers in sparse groupings. Jungles also suggests a ground cover of bougainvillea, sea oats, railroad vine, saw palmetto, gilardia, spider lily, or coontie.
For the two-foot strip on the north bank of the causeway, many of the landscape architects recommended planting mangroves, which would provide excellent soil stability and a regional counterpart to palm trees. The mangroves, suggests Jungles, should be planted in 50-foot-long stretches and "limbed up" to allow a view of the bay islands. Between the pockets, landscapers could plant lower-lying plants, such as sea oxeye daisy or dwarf bougainvillea, which would soften the guardrail but not get too rambunctious. A major drawback to the mangrove, though, would be its classification as a protected species. "One of the problems of introducing mangroves as a landscape plan is that once you plant it, it's on its own," warns landscape architect William Rosenberg. "God forbid if you try to cut it or thin it, because it's a sacred cow."
Landscaping on the causeway's north side is of particular interest to many homeowners on Palm, Hibiscus, and Star islands. The residents, represented by the MacArthur Committee of the Palm/Hibiscus/Star Island Homeowners Association, has for the past year and a half met with FDOT and City of Miami Beach officials to discuss landscaping for the causeway. "What we did was recognize that the City of Miami Beach wasn't aggressively interacting with the FDOT with regards to representing what we felt should be the interests of the citizens of Miami Beach," says committee chairman Donald Kipnis. But despite the group's repeated requests since last December, the Miami Beach City Commission has failed to place the landscaping issue on its agenda.
The group campaigned particularly hard for a row of scaevola - a dense, fast-growing shrub - to be planted between the guardrail and the water. According to Kipnis, scaevola would provide a visual and aural barrier between the islands and the traffic, and would prevent fishermen from illegally gaining access to the water's edge. "It will look a lot better for the island residents on the south side of Palm Island to look out and see a green band than to look out and see a metal guardrail and fishermen standing there," he says.
Several landscape architects criticize the exclusive use of scaevola because it can grow to a height of five feet, blocking views of the water from the causeway. "The scaevola is self-serving," grumbles Jungles. "Yes, it's easy to maintain, it grows fast, it's green, but I think the view's more important. I would just as soon plant trees for shade for the fishermen. Waterways should have interaction, and people shouldn't be denied views of the bay."
On the south side of the causeway, the concrete Jersey barriers (described by architect Geoffrey Ferrell as "the last word on ugliness") will reduce the bank to an unmitigated eyesore. "The main charm of a causeway in Miami is the visual relation between the car and the water, the whole twenty-minute experience of being in contact with the sky and the bay," says Douglas Duany. "A Jersey barrier hurts that immensely." Architect Kenneth Treister proposes a competition to design a barrier that would allow drivers to see the water but would fall within the safety specifications of FDOT.
Indeed, imagination might be the aesthetic savior of the roadway. In a burst of creative fury, Ted Baker proposes running bougainvillea up tall aluminum shafts with three-foot diameters, creating "twenty-foot color columns." Or a series of archways, 25 feet high, covered with bougainvillea. "Think what it'd be like, if you're a German tourist and you've never seen bougainvillea before," he speculates, his eyes widening. "It would knock your socks off!"