The New Off-Limits Urban Oasis

Architecture and urban planning types came to Miami this week for the Rejuvenation of American Cities on the Water Conference, a three-day lecture and tour event billed as a chance to “experience Miami’s extraordinary urban landscape.”

They unknowingly stumbled into a potential urban planning tragedy.

This past Friday, after a morning tour of Chad Oppenheim’s glitzy 10 Museum Park building, conference attendees turned their attention to the soon-to-open federal courthouse downtown. Designed by Arquitectonica, the building spans two-blocks and features a wave-like lawn area sculpted according to the plan of Maya Lin, famous for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

In a February talk at Florida International University, Lin noted she had reduced the size of the berms after officials with the U.S. Marshals Service complained they would provide perfect sniper hideouts. More recently, questions have emerged about whether the Marshals Service supports the idea of even opening the area to the public. Among other worries, there are additional concerns about homeless people sleeping behind the berms once the site’s chain link fences come down, according to a federal guard at the courthouse’s driveway entrance.

Predictably, the Marshals Service is mum on the subject. “I’m not sure you’d be the person I’d be discussing that with,” said spokeswoman Kerry Bertrand.

General Services Administration spokesman Gary Mote acknowledged there are "some security concerns," but indicated the lawn was less of an issue than a breeze way area designed to be open to pedestrians. Asked whether the courthouse's lawns and other public space might be kept off limits, Mote would only say, "They're looking at that now."

--Rob Jordan

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