After decades of inaction from city leaders and the Miami Heat on creating a promised park behind American Airlines Arena, Miami activists took matters into their own hands in June. Hundreds gathered to rechristen a stretch of waterfront asphalt as "Dan Paul Park," named for a pioneering parks activist, aiming to bring publicity to the forgotten green space.
But activists aren't done yet drawing attention to Miami's lack of funding for parks. This Saturday, hundreds are expected back at Dan Paul Park — this time aiming to break a world record with a three-acre long chalk drawing.
"I grew up in L.A. which has a fantastic park system," says Justin Wales, an attorney who leads Engage Miami, a grassroots group pushing for more parks funding. "After the recession hit, a lot of parks were cut. But now that the economy has picked back up, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to get the community engaged to restore our parks to pre-recession funding."
That parks funding push has lately focused on the plot of land east of the arena, a barren paved over area dubbed Parcel B. During negotiations for the arena, the Heat promised to a park there. But nearly 20 years later, there's still no green space, just a three-acre sheet of asphalt.
Engage Miami is planning on Saturday to create a three-acre chalk drawing a top of all that asphalt to drive their message home — and in the process, hopefully to win a Guinness World Record for the largest collection of independent chalk drawings. The current record is 308 drawings in Toyama, Japan.
"It will be fun and give us an opportunity to do some real political advocacy in a unique and impactful way," Wales says. "We want to show that politics is more than just commission meetings, making donations, and letter writing."
Wales also created a petition to change the county's park budget, which will be available to sign at the event. His original goal was 300 signatures, but he now has close to 800. "My goal now is to get around 1,000 signatures by the September 3 budget meeting," Wales says. "That would mean 1,000 Miami-Dade citizens are in support to saving our parks."
County Commissioner Daniella Cava is an active supporter of increased funding for county parks and says she hopes the push has an effect on the county level.
"There is additional funding available, but the public really needs to demand it," Cava says. "The existing parks haven't been maintained well in the past few years, and I believe that a world-class city needs world-class parks. I'm really hoping to find a sustainable source of funding to improve our parks."
The Miami Foundation's Javier Soto has also joined the park's rally bandwagon and has called on county leaders to invest in parks by restoring funds for vital programming and maintenance for facilities and grounds.
"I can't think of a great city that doesn't have iconic green spaces," Soto says. "We would like to see a park within a 10-minute walk for every resident in Miami-Dade county, and we will put our resources behind it to make it happen."
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