Take Me Out to the ... Parking Lot?

Open spaces: check. Sewer runoff: check. Locked gate: check. Yep, this is indeed a Miami park!


BAYFRONT PARK
100 Biscayne Blvd.
What can we say? It's a great address. Located in downtown Miami, its 61.3 acres highlight city officials' favorite use for public lands: private development.

City parks director Alberto Ruder acknowledges that only about 30 acres of the property are actually a park. The rest is given over to recreation of a sort: the sale of tourist knickknacks and overpriced food at theme restaurants. City planners have identified Bayfront as a "regional" and "passive" park, the latter a designation that might be insulting to Miami's shopaholics.

To be fair city planners didn't try to hide this one, though they struggled mightily with grammar to explain it. "The Bayside Plaza accommodates all types of performances from one man magic shows to musical bands. Over 12 million people have been estimated at visiting Bayside in it's first year; and it's plaza serves a vital open space function to the City of Miami," they wrote in their EAR report.

Parks activist Dan Paul has been visiting the site since he came to Miami in 1949. He fought a losing battle against the Rouse Company to try to stop development here. Fifty years ago he remembers coming to Bayfront Park after work to walk by the waterside or listen to music at the band shell. "It was a lovely, quiet place," he recalls, "particularly on nights when you could watch the moon come up over the bay."


MOORE PARK
765 NW 36th St.
There are a number of reasons why Moore Park could qualify as the crown jewel of Miami's inventory. The parking lot a tenth of a mile long, for instance, or the two giant cylindrical sewer buildings and fire station that all share the property. Yet what makes Moore really sparkle is the little wooden shack on stilts that houses a woman who guards the cars of city workers. The metal stilts are spray-painted yellow and bolted to the ground, perhaps in a feeble effort toward hurricane compliance. A flimsy wooden ladder ascends to a covered perch boasting a cardboard back wall. It resembles a lookout tower peering off into hostile territory.

The 19.6-acre Allapatah-based park is designated "active" because of a large running track. At the back entrance, which leads to the parking lot for sewer-department employees who work in the park at the county's 36th Street pumping station, a sign lists eleven park rules. In light of the plant's operations, rule number two takes on added significance: "Dangerous or hazardous activities prohibited." Rule number nine, "Deposit trash in containers," might need revision as well. Behind a chainlink fence topped by barbed wire, the sewer plant-cum-park is littered with discarded metal, rotting wooden pallets, and large ceramic pipes.

"Look at all the trash that is here," says a horrified Dan Paul. "Miami used to be very proud of its quality of life."

CULMER MINI PARK
NW Second Avenue between Tenth and Eleventh streets
The "mini" park in the heart of Overtown lives up to its name: It's only .2 acres. Developed in the 1980s it formed part of a new "passive" park concept. Culmer Mini consists of leafy shade trees, concrete benches, and some tables. The site is the very picture of an urban oasis, especially contrasted with the pool hall across the street and the piles of garbage in an adjacent vacant lot. It could be a great place to while away a morning reading a newspaper or playing a game of dominoes. There is only one problem: For at least the past four years Culmer Mini has been locked shut.

"The parks became a magnet for crime," says parks director Alberto Ruder, who closed the park at the request of the local Neighborhood Enhancement Office. Ruder says no one has ever complained to him about the closing of Culmer or a similarly shuttered park in Liberty City.

Miguel Germain used to ride past this site on the bus as he went to school. He is not surprised it is closed. "[Local residents] are poor people, so they are powerless people," he says.

Wallis Tinnie marched down Second Avenue as a majorette in high school. She remembers a vibrant community before the expressway came and destroyed it. "It is really sad," she says with a shake of her head. "It doesn't have to be this way. That is what we really need to understand."

Dan Paul, who in his 50-plus years in Miami has never stepped foot in Overtown, is disturbed by what he sees. "It is shocking to me that it is locked and the public can't use it," he says. "What if those kids over there want to sit and have their drink? They can't get in. They certainly can't count a closed park."


UNITY HALL PARK
NW Sixteenth Terrace and NW North River Drive
The roads around the Miami River can be hard to follow at times, yet finding this Allapatah riverside park is relatively easy despite its mini size of only .26 acres. Simply go to the Jackson Memorial Hospital district and find the signs for State Road 836 West. After cruising a number of side-streets, a driver will see the signs that point to a ramp. Don't take it! This will actually lead to the highway, and more important, it will carry the driver over Unity Hall park. Instead make a U-turn when you can. (This is probably illegal so on second thought, don't do that. Especially don't do that on the next curve.) Find a way to turn around on NW North River Drive and come back under the overpass and through the traffic light. Now take a sharp right into the driveway of the old York Rite Masonic Temple. It looks abandoned but in fact three lodges, a chapter, a council, and a commandery still meet in the building. Don't go all the way around the building, because transients tend to congregate in back. Sloping up one side of the driveway to the road is a small grassy embankment. Welcome to Unity Hall park! Granted it's really just a highway divider, but the parks department keeps the grass neatly trimmed on this "mini" and "passive" park. Enjoy!

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