Groups rally for public park along waterfront behind AmericanAirlines Arena
By: Joseph Goodman
The chalk all washed away. It appears like the community activism and public awareness that put it there isn’t going anywhere.
More than a dozen community organizations met Saturday afternoon at Parcel B behind AmericanAirlines Arena to voice their support for a public park along the waterfront. A few hundred people participated in the event, which was dubbed “Chalk-tacular: an art project to reclaim Dan Paul Park.” The many creative chalk drawings didn’t last long — it rained around 4:30 p.m. — but that did nothing to curb the momentum that appears to be steadily building for a permanent public space along the bay.
County commissioner Xavier Suarez attended the event and praised participants for their “sticktoitiveness.”
“They really define the word,” Suarez said. “I’m happy to be here with my staff, and they all know how I feel about this. I voted against putting anything here other than a park. It has been a 30-year battle for the waterfront, and that includes Watson Island, this and what is now Museum Park.”
Earlier this year, the county asphalted much of Parcel B to accommodate Formula E1, the racing event that drew limited attendance in March. “Chalk-tacular” brought people together for a “chalk-filled fun day in an effort to transform Parcel B into the park of their dreams.” Currently, the county-owned site is mostly used by the Heat for valet parking and event staging, and the asphalted portion of the property — about two acres — is turning out to be an embarrassing ordeal for the county.
“The irony is that it was supposed to be an environmentally friendly race and they killed all the grass and trees and paved it over,” said Justin Wales of Engage Miami, the event’s host.
Formula E1 promoters originally promised a multi-year commitment to county officials, but the event won’t be returning after its unsuccessful debut through the streets of downtown. So, now one of the county’s most beautiful pieces of public land is an unused parking lot that’s fenced off from use most of the time.
“Our county deserves world class parks,” said county commissioner Daniella Levine Cava. “The Chalk-tacular event brought together park advocates from all over Miami-Dade to demand investment in our parks system. If we truly want to become an international city, then we must invest in our open spaces.”
“Chalk-tacular” was spearheaded by a number of community organizations, including recently organized Engage Miami, whose mission is to “drastically increase youth engagement within Miami-Dade County by developing a culture of participation that is impactful, interesting and fun.”
Despite the sweltering heat of the blacktop, children and young adults enthusiastically chalked the asphalt with creative designs as well as powerful messages. One recurring theme was a sentiment to rename Parcel B to Dan Paul Park. Dan Paul was a prominent First Amendment and environmental lawyer in Miami, who passed away in 2010. Paul argued Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo before the Supreme Court. The landmark case established precedent that government cannot dictate a newspaper’s content.
Other co-hosts of the event included New Tropic, Miami Parks Foundation, Ladyfest, Colony1, Catalyst Miami, Center for Social Change, Chalk Project, Celebrate Diversity Miami, Colony1, Dark Matter Collective, Emerge Miami, Guitars Over Guns, Ladyfest Miami, Miami City Chess Club, Miami Parks Foundation, The New Florida Majority, New Leaders Council - Miami, The New Tropic, Roots Collective, SMIA Group / Sustainable Miami, Urban Environment League, Urban Paradise Guild, and Urban Impact Lab.
For many years, community organizations and public-park advocates have hoped the county and the Miami Heat would make good on a promise to build a public park at Parcel B to go along with the construction of AmericanAirlines Arena. The Heat’s move to its bayfront site was a hotly debated topic 20 years ago. The county-owned arena helped spur the redevelopment of downtown Miami, but Parcel B remains undeveloped.
“We organized this and brought all the groups together to try to bring awareness for the county’s broken promise and the Heat’s broken promise,” said Wales, a local First Amendment lawyer.