River Daze

If Miami is a hand, the Miami River is its lifeline. Although its actual source is the Everglades, to local yokels, the river's flow begins at some mysterious point behind the Pink Pussycat strip joint just east of the airport. From there to its mouth at posh Brickell Point, the river tells the story of our fair and fast city. Read the river in one direction and you'll see the past, in the other way you'll see the future.

At least that's what the Miami River Commission is counting on. They approach the river as if it's a talisman for the future of the city itself. After more than 50 years of neglect, since 1998 the MRC has been busy developing an economic and environmental plan that will transform the derelict waterway, known more for drug busts and underhanded sleaze than for leisure activities, into what they call a "destination landscape," according to the commission's Miami River Corridor Urban Infill Plan. The document provides a blueprint for a ten-year, three-billion-dollar effort to clean up, straighten out, and improve the function of the 5.5-mile strip that becomes a canal running to its source along Okeechobee Road.

The commission is hosting an open-house-of-sorts for the public to get better acquainted with the life of the river. At the eighth annual Miami Riverday participants will not only get a dose of music and games with local acts such as Don Dinero, Grant Livingston, and Oriente, but there will be free river tours that will explore from the Miami Circle at Biscayne Bay to just west of NW 22nd Avenue.

MRC managing director Brett Bibeau says the event gives residents a fun opportunity to check out the overarching plan, which includes removal of contaminants through dredging, the development of a public greenway project along the riverbanks, and cleaning up much of the contraband that has made the river infamous.

Along the tour participants can marvel at some of the completed projects, including five mini "pocket" parks, the new bridge at Second Avenue, and the recently refurbished areas beneath the bridges. And all of this is just a start.

At the end of summer, Bibeau says, the Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to begin the first dredging of the river, which will clean up layers of hazardous materials as well as make the river more easily accessible to the shipping industry by making it deeper. Also there are numerous multi-use and high-density residential projects (a.k.a. lofts) in the works. Though crucial to economic development, these projects have been mired in controversy as the business community and riverside neighborhoods keep watch for their interests.

If that is any indication, the river's future looks a little murky.