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Espinel returns to his condominium in Plaza Venetia as rush-hour traffic clogs Biscayne Boulevard and the homeless window washers take out their rags and spray bottles to prepare for the arrival of potential customers. He has many obligations in the weeks ahead: He will speak personally with each Dade County commissioner about a league-proposed ordinance that would require developers to give the public an opportunity to help plan both the location and appearance of major buildings. He will try to organize league members to speak at an April 8 county commission meeting on the arena proposal. And he'll be offering the league's technical support to Coral Gables residents and city commission members, who will soon vote on the construction of a new supermall.
Not everyone welcomes the league's participation. Espinel invited Miami Heat president Jay Cross and port director Carmen Lunetta to the Municipal Art Society workshop. Neither attended. Architect Roberto Espejo, an associate of Cesar Pelli, the acclaimed architect who heads the performing arts center design team, worries that allowing another party such as the league into deliberations about planning the various projects will delay their eventual construction. "Miami is made up of a lot of self-appointed kind of groups and people who get involved," he says. "We think it's great. Often, though, these groups work independently of what other groups are doing. It gets nutty."
Espejo may have reason to bristle at the possibility of further public intervention. For more than a decade the Performing Arts Center Trust has sought community input about the location, objectives, and design of its performance halls. Pelli was selected only after an exhausting seven-day charrette in which four groups of architects met with musicians, dancers, singers, arts administrators, and neighbors.
Espinel also attended those sessions and believes they could be models for designing future projects. But before the Urban Environment League can hope to influence such complex procedures, it clearly needs a broader base of support, many more members who, like Espinel, believe there is still hope for Miami. "The group needs participation, it needs people," Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk says. "In order to be effective, the group needs to be really diverse. It especially needs people who think they are not experts."
Thus far Espinel has been successful in recruiting members who already have been vocal advocates for public parks and sensible development. Now, he realizes, he must broaden his reach to attract support from the ordinary citizens whose quality of life will forever be affected by the way government bureaucrats plan and develop their surroundings.