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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

THE PRICELESS VALUE OF PARKLAND

AS A DEFENSE AGAINST FLOODING




This is a picture of historic Bryan Park in Miami's Shenandoah section of Little Havana.

More than a decade ago, my wife pretty much sacrificed two-plus years of our lives to protect the rare 2-acre green space in the heart of a densely urban area.

An incredibly ill-advised plan proposed to pave over all but about 5 or 10 percent of the park to put in a tennis center.

About 100 kids who played competitive tennis would have benefited. About 10,000 -- who play dozens of improvised games on the soft, safe grass -- would have been driven into the streets for life. Over the decades, perhaps 100,000 people would be denied a safe, green oasis in the heart of the city.

And the plan almost became a reality. A grant was written, contracts were put out -- all with zero public notice. The power play for the few almost ruined recreation and open space for the many.

More times than I can count, my wife and I were shouted down by selfish tennis parents who could only think of their kids and not of the community.

We made power points and handed out flyers listing the dozens of reasons why a park -- already half paved over for tennis courts and park equipment, needed to preserve the roughly one acre of green space remaining.

We got threaten phone calls, dirty looks and worse.  At one meeting, my wife and I mentioned that a recent heavy rain -- not a hurricane, not an end of the world rain -- had flooded the area around the park.

We had water in our garage and several neighbors suffered damage. This was before anybody was talking about sea level rise in Miami. 

I suggested that the acre of green grass was a sponge that could save our nearly 100 year old homes.  I said endless impermeable surface will result in flooding even when it rains only an inch.  Far too many house lots featured almost zero grass, as people concreted over their back yards for patios and paved their entire front yards for parking.

My wife and I pleaded for a few more stormwater drains plus the preservation of the big, grassy area that could absorb water that would otherwise flood us.  

 An official obsessed with building a giant, out of scale, revenue-producing tennis tournament center dressed us down. He said we were grasping at straws to save our view of the park.

Well, I'll spare the reader of all the thousands of hours we spent dedicated to preserving parkland -- in the city that has the least amount of parkland per person in the U.S.  Suffice to say, after many setbacks and attacks on us, the tennis center finally went away.

When Francis Suarez became the District 4 Commissioner, brokered a deal to build a compact community center, but to preserve the park for people and green space.  That is why, among dozens of other strong reasons, we will vote for him for mayor this fall.

Francis later created a covenant to protect the land.  But Miami City parks are still vulnerable.  Not a year goes by when some city official, elected person or community leader suggests paving over our precious little park space.

Fire stations, revenue-generating events/facilities, bigger swimming pools, community centers that could be on lots not used for parkland -- all of these are suggested. They all might be good uses, but not at the expense of reducing the green grass that gives life to our children and protects the homes of their parents.

Yesterday, it looked like about half of Miami and Miami Beach was under a foot or more of water.  Our area was very hard hit by relentless rain.

When I came home, the nearby traffic circle at SW 24th Avenue and SW 14th street was a lake.  A pair of low-lying house lots on SW 23 Ave at SW 13 Street were flooded up to the doors of the houses. But the rest of the area around Bryan Park was wet, but not severely flooded.

I looked out. Bryan Park was a lake.  Just a few inches of water, but a lake.  All that water that would be displace by concrete, was percolating through to soft, green grass and into the soil.  It is how nature intended it.

I'm no engineer, but I'm sure some slight modification of the grading of SW 13 Street and maybe a few more French drains -- and Bryan Park would be even better equipped to serve as an inexpensive, brilliant flood control device.

Thank goodness my wife and I had the courage and conviction to fight for our park. Had we not, I think half our neighbors would have suffered tens of thousands of dollars in flood damage.

I'm not saying this to boast. I'm sharing it as a cautionary tale.  Please, fight for your green space. Push city officials to buy more park land.  Even a single house lot-sized pocket park may be enough grassy area to channel flood water into.


Sea Level Rise is real. It will take billions of dollars and genius technology not even yet developed to save greater Miami. In the meantime, let's realize that park land is our most valuable asset. And park land that doesn't have parking lots, concrete courts and roof lines on it -- is the parkland that's best prepared to safely handle runoff stormwater.

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