First The Seed, Then The Tree

Today it's an ugly headache. Someday it will be a beautiful source of pleasure. But tomorrow it's still going to be an ugly headache.

For those brave and unfortunate drivers who still suffer the MacArthur Causeway, the Florida Department of Transportation has some good news and some bad news. The good news: The department has finally selected an architect to design the causeway's landscaping. The bad news: You won't see a tree until the spring of 1994.

This past week a DOT committee picked the Miami-based Rosenberg Design Group from a short list of five firms vying for the contract. Transportation officials had distilled the finalists from about two dozen applicants and required them to deliver an oral presentation of their credentials, experience, and conceptual approach to adorning the causeway. Because of widespread concern about this project, DOT made the unusual move of inviting three people from outside the department to sit on the selection committee and permitting them to vote: Roger Carlton, Miami Beach city manager; Paul Carey, landscape architect for the Metro-Dade Parks and Recreation Department; and Don Kipnis, representative of the Palm/Hibiscus/Star Island Homeowners Association.

Builders hope to complete construction of the roadway by next March, two months earlier than originally scheduled, producing a barren, eight-lane highway framed by cement barriers and split by a twenty-foot median decorated with nothing but street lights. DOT officials don't expect the landscaping plans to be finalized until next summer, but a lengthy bidding process and the usual bureaucratic paper-shuffling will push the selection of a landscape contractor to January 1994.

According to the tentative timetable, groundbreaking should begin by April 1994, but DOT spokesman David Fierro promises that installing the foliage won't mean a return to the nightmare of traffic delays and congestion. "I can't tell you right now that [the landscaper] won't disrupt the traffic at all, but it's going to be minimal compared to highway building," he says half-convincingly. "We don't anticipate the landscaping contractor having any kind of impact."

Bill Rosenberg, who also designed the landscaping of the William Lehman Causeway and portions of the Rickenbacker Causeway, presented several rough plans to the selection committee but now refuses to discuss his preliminary ideas in depth until he meets with transportation officials and signs a contract. His general suggestions include planting coconut palms, some low-lying shrubs such as bougainvillea, and flowering tree clusters in the median. For the north side he's considering alternating between low-lying shrubs, such as railroad vine and sea oats, and small clumps of trees, including the possibility of mangrove clumps along the embankment. And he tentatively proposes a configuration of taller palms, including the Medjool date palm, to form visual entranceways at either end of the causeway. (DOT's original roadway design, completed with little regard for landscaping, leaves no room on the south side for foliage except, perhaps, planters incorporated into the concrete barriers.)

According to several pleased committee members, Rosenberg was sensitive to the aesthetic possibilities and environmental demands of the causeway, which many architects say has the potential to be a glorious approach to Miami Beach and one of the most dramatic roadways in the nation.

Not everyone, though, was happy with Rosenberg's selection. Laura Llerena, one of the finalists for the job, complains that it represented an example of DOT's male chauvinism. "Once again DOT has decided to use a man, not a woman," gripes Llerena, who says she has practiced landscape architecture in Dade for twelve years. "They don't allow fresh blood, fresh ideas, and they don't want women to be prime consultants." Stanley Cann, DOT district secretary, denies Llerena's charges and says the firms were graded on their abililty, not the gender of their owners. "I guess it's tough when you don't get a job," remarks Cann, who was among eight men and two women who evaluated the firms. "We just try to pick the best."

Several prominent landscape architects in Miami regard Rosenberg as a comfortable and predictable selection for DOT. "Bill is competent and his design will be technically correct, but I don't think it's going to be spectacular," comments one well-known landscape architect who requested anonymity. "It's not going to be a symbol for Miami." Says another: "He's a nice guy and knows how to work well with DOT officials without causing many waves."

Diplomacy will certainly be an important part of Rosenberg's job as he juggles the desires of state and local governments, as well as homeowner groups and business associations in Miami Beach. Last year, after pressure from Miami Beach officials, the public, and the media, DOT agreed to increase the MacArthur landscaping budget from $386,000 to about $1.5 million. "I expect all the public scrutiny and I look forward to it," says Rosenberg. "I think that's what ultimately makes it better. The more public support you have for anything the better chance you have of getting it implemented and the better chance you have of getting it maintained over time."

More traffic congestion? "It's going to be minimal compared to highway building," a DOT spokesman says half-convincingly.

 
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