The Miami Foundation Raised $130,000 to Help You Create and Beautify Miami's Public Spaces

Established more than 40 years ago, the Miami Foundation has diligently worked with various non-profits and philanthropists to improve our city and make Miami a more beautiful place all around. The foundation's latest initiative is the Our Miami Public Space Challenge, which calls on you to get involved and share your ideas for bettering Miami's public spaces.

Stuart Kennedy, senior programs officer at the Miami Foundation and showrunner of the Our Miami program, describes his role as working "to enhance our community by building attachment to the city, developing public spaces, and retaining young talent in Miami."

The idea for the project, aside from community involvement, is to get who know the community best to offer ideas on how to improve public spaces in interesting ways.

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"The Public Space Challenge is a contest open to anyone in the community for the best ideas to activate or create public spaces in Miami," explains Kennedy. "Improved public space offerings will help engage locals and increase Miami's civic health."

The Miami Foundation is investing $100,000 and the Health Foundation of South Florida has provided another $30,000 for ideas promoting healthy lifestyles, bringing a total of $130,000 in funds to be dedicated to the Public Space Challenge.

Kennedy is a native of west Texas, and though he has only been living in Miami for seven years, he has fallen in love.

"Miami's vibrancy and momentum is nothing short of astounding," he said. "With so many Miamians energized and dedicated to improving our town, we are literally witnessing the growth of a world-class city before our eyes."

Cultist: What do you think Miami public spaces are lacking and how do you think this initiative will improve them?

Stuart Kennedy: The Miami Foundation's 2012 Our Miami community indicator study found that only 42 percent of residents in Miami-Dade County live within walking distance of a public park or beach. These public spaces - parks, libraries, markets, plazas, playgrounds - are important because they give Miamians an opportunity to connect with each other. The more we interact, the better we understand each other, and that's what builds a stronger community.

The public spaces we do have might be used more often with some small enhancements, like shaded seating or improved lighting. This Challenge gives Miamians an opportunity to be involved in the process of improving these spaces. They belong to all of us. We pay for them with our tax dollars and have a say in what they look like. We hope to grow a community conversation and inspire community action that will have exponential impact on our public spaces.

What sort of ideas were submitted last year, and what sort of ideas are you expecting to receive now?

Last year's ideas ranged from farmers' markets to bus stop libraries and new running trails. The 2013 winners are building out walkways shaded by hundreds of colorful umbrellas, community gardens in vacant lots, neighborhood festivals, and much more. There were 15 winners in 2013.

[This year,] we hope to see a wide variety of creative and innovative ideas in each of the eight categories, and we encourage everyone to be inventive with their ideas.

$130,000 is quite a large amount of money. Why do you think it's important to invest so heavily in public spaces?

The grant funding is important because it allows winners to build out their projects and show tangible results. We want everyone to know that their voice, their ideas, and their actions can make a real difference.

In reality, public space infrastructure is expensive. Permanent, large-scale improvements will require significant public and private funding. That's another reason we want everyone's ideas - whether practical or pie in the sky. We can help connect you with the right folks to make your project happen. We created this Challenge to engage our community stakeholders, fuel the conversation and increase demand for better public spaces across Miami-Dade County.

In the press release, it mentioned last year's winner had the idea to install benches along the Brickell Bay Drive walkway. How is the winner incorporated in the project development? Or is it just their idea that's put into practice?

Each winner is responsible for leading their project through its completion. Shelly Baer has been in the process of determining the best course of action to have benches installed on Brickell Bay Drive. since she was awarded the grant. The Foundation has provided technical assistance along the way. She is now working in partnership with the City of Miami department that oversees capital improvement projects to turn her idea into a reality.

How many winners are selected?

There is no preset number of ideas that will be selected. For reference, 15 ideas were funded in 2013. Community experts and professional place-makers will evaluate all submissions to select finalists. Each finalist will receive assistance in completing a full proposal, including a budget. The final winners will be selected from that group. Awards will depend on project budgets and available funding.

This is the second year of this initiative. What challenges or issues did you face last year that you are able to amend this time around?

One of our primary goals this year is to obtain submissions from more people in more diverse communities. We'd love to see ideas from all of Greater Miami's neighborhoods; from Homestead and Kendall, to Opa-locka, Hialeah and Aventura. We need everyone in Miami-Dade County to submit ideas. We want to get all areas of Miami-Dade engaged in this project, so that public spaces throughout our vast and diverse community can be improved. We have significantly expanded our outreach and, so far, we're off to a great start.

If you would like to submit to the Public Space Challenge, visit or visit their Facebook page for a schedule of events leading up to the submission deadline. There are eight categories to consider, which are: Beautification/Art; Child/Senior Citizen Focus; Garden/Farmer's Market/Healthy Eating; Physical Activity/Exercise; Public Comfort; Gathering Space; Safety; and Signage/Way-finding. The contest is free to enter and open to all. Last day to submit an idea is April 8, 2014.

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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for Miami New Times. She nurtured her love of words at Boston College before moving back home to Miami and has been covering arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.