Carlos Alves and J.C. Carroll Turn Homestead Dust Bowl into Verde Gardens

When I heard about a new community for the homeless in Homestead, the first thing that crossed my mind was, wow this is another case of local government relocating those they deem "undesirables" away from town.

But my twitchy inner skeptic got bitch-slapped when Carlos Alves, AKA Miami's "Mosaic Man," took me out to Verde Gardens where he and his wife and partner, J.C. Carroll, have designed and created a dazzling ceramic mosaic-tiled community park on a barren acre of land.

Their tropical oasis, lavishly landscaped and encompassing four pleasure gardens, will be inaugurated tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. during a ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust and Carrfour Supportive Housing.

Carlos Alves and J.C. Carroll working in Little Havana Studio.
Carlos Alves and J.C. Carroll working in Little Havana Studio.

Carrfour's Verde Gardens Apartments is a complex of 145 units of affordable housing for former homeless families. The townhouse community includes an organic produce nursery, and a farmers' market retail site on the land where the Homestead Air Force Base stood until it was closed after Hurricane Andrew. Funding for the housing project came from the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust.

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Carrfour is also providing vocational and micro-enterprising training to Verde Garden residents so they can obtain green-collar jobs, become independent, and market the products they grow to local consumers. That's great news considering that the unemployment rates have hit South Florida harder than other areas of the nation.

I met Alves and Carroll at their Little Havana studio off SW 6th Street and 12th Avenue where they filled me in on the dire state of Miami's homeless before we headed off to see the project.

After being awarded the job by Miami-Dade Art in Public Places, the couple designed the park from the ground up over a span of two years. They used several tons of handmade, glazed ceramic tile and sculptural elements fired in their Little Havana kilns and welded metal features as well.

If you've ever visited Art Center/South Florida, Miami Beach City Hall, Metrorail's SW 8 Street Station, taken a flight out of the Milwaukee Airport or caught the subway at Washington D.C's main terminal, than you are probably familiar with Alves' work. He also created the fountain in front of the Colony Theater on Lincoln Road and the 40 foot sand castle for the Miami Children's Museum.

Carlos Alves and assistant grabbing some shade.
Carlos Alves and assistant grabbing some shade.

At Verde Gardens, Alves and Carroll, both avid gardeners, eschewed the sea life motifs they have been known for in the past and tackled their current venture with a distinctly green thumb approach.

J.C. Carroll irrigating
J.C. Carroll irrigating

"All the tile and ceramic we installed has to do with native flora and fauna," Alves says. "When we first got here it was arid land. We designed and installed the irrigation system, poured cement, designed four separate gardens, landscaped it all and created connective walkways before tiling everything," he says.

Carlos Alves' Tree Sculpture
Carlos Alves' Tree Sculpture

"We were so excited when we were awarded this project," pipes in Carroll. "The opportunity to turn an empty dust bowl acre lot into a series of secret gardens full of native and species plants and to design and create areas incorporating our artwork in and using nature as a medium -- well, this definitely was one of the most exciting works we have accomplished to date," she adds.

Soon after they planted the first trees the birds and butterflies showed up at the scene.The project has a butterfly garden, a senses garden designed to stimulate awareness to the environment, a meditation garden for residents to relax after work, and a gratitude garden to inspire giving thanks.

Carlos Alves and J.C. Carroll Turn Homestead Dust Bowl into Verde Gardens

The areas feature muraled benches and tiled walkways. There are tiled tables to play games, ceramic-covered stools, sculptural trees, and many of the complex's residential buildings, main offices and community center will feature tiled mural pieces as well. These were created by nearly a thousand students, representing over a 100 nations who worked with Alves and Carroll as part of the Clinton Global Initiative.

During our tour of Verde Gardens, I was bowled over by the scope of not only the couple's public art project but by the sprawling complex itself which happens to be the only initiative of its kind in the country I learned.

Carlos Alves and J.C. Carroll Turn Homestead Dust Bowl into Verde Gardens

"The fact that we are avid gardeners and had basically run out of space in our own yard really helped too," mentions Carroll. "We will go down to the Gardens for ever to assist in its care and I hope to organize a little garden club as well," she beams.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Tour starts at 10:30 a.m. September 7th at the Verde Gardens Farmers' Market, 12700 SW 280th Street, Homestead. To RSVP call Sheneka Adderly at 305-375-1490.

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