November 12, 2014
Wynwood, Miami’s great neighborhood of mural-covered warehouses and former factories that now house creative tech startups and trendy restaurants, and practically zero green space, is getting a park.
It’s going to be a “park” in the sort of Wynwood-ian sense of the word. No baseball diamonds or picnic tables here. Built by a developer, and activated with art, Wynwood Gateway Park will be an entirely unique place. Think something sort of between the old Enea Bamboo Garden in the Design District, a much loved space that lasted for five years when it was only intended for thirty days, and the Wynwood Walls, which isn’t really a park at all, but an outdoor museum, and you begin to get the general idea.
As Wynwood urbanizes from its industrial roots, the lack of parks, or really any public spaces at all, has become glaring. Tony Cho knows this through experience. Having worked in Wynwood for years, Tony has been a big part of the neighborhood’s resurgence. As a realtor, he’s helped lease and sell dozens of Wynwood properties, and as a developer he’s rehabbed old warehouses into spaces for creative professionals and brought in hip commercial tenants. He’s had a partner on every project he’s done, until now. The Wynwood Gateway, where the Ducati store is at the corner of 29th Street and NW 2nd Avenue, is the first project that’s all Tony’s. Without an outside investor to be accountable to, it’s his land and his money, and he can do what he wants. And he wants to build a park on the big lot behind it.
Knowing that a park is what Wynwood needs, and finally having the monetary freedom to create it, Tony announced a competition with the help of DawnTown, an organization well versed in holding architectural competitions in Miami. A jury was selected, and Tony promised $500,000 of his own money to build the park, as well as his word that the park would stay in place for at least five years. The winners, delightfully, are a team of three locals, FIU’s Nick Gelpi and Roberto Rovira, both architecture-school professors (Nick’s an architect, and Roberto’s a landscape designer) and artist Jim Drain.
The park will be a greenhouse, without the glass: A thin metal enclosure that echoes the shapes of two wooden bungalows formerly on the site, now long gone. Rather than the contents within it, the enclosure itself will glow with LED lights like a skeleton alive. An old oak tree will pop through the middle, in a way that’s rich in architectural precedence. A pathway through the site will provide a cross-block pedestrian linkage, and earthen mounds will create variety in height, with butterfly gardens. The park will be a very activated space, but in an abstract way. It’s designed very much to be used, and really to be used much more as a room would be, rather than some specific recreational amenity or even, say, a rolling lawn. It will have a door-like entrance. It will have a floor, in this case a permeable paver that lets the grass peek through. Vertical greenery and benches will line the walls. Art will provide the centerpieces.
It all seems very fairy-like, but very soon it will be quite real. The revised budget is predicted to be almost twice the $500,000 that Tony pledged, and he has promised to raise the rest through donations and grants. Wynwood Gateway Park (or Greenhouse Park as it’s now being called either name) is permanent in intent, but still only temporary in black and white. Tony’s hope is that it stays longer, but in the end it depends on money. If Tony’s doing well enough with his other investments, he’ll keep it going. If he’s able to find a way to make it self-sustaining, well, that would be even better. This goal certainly isn’t impossible. The creation of a self-sustaining park by a benevolent, if not independently wealthy, benefactor, has been done before by others. And he’s got five years to figure out how to do it again.