On Biscayne, a parking lot gets new life

On Biscayne, a parking lot gets new life

As the Our Miami Public Space Challenge sets to relaunch on March 3, we caught up with  2013 challenge winners to find out more about their projects. Here, Melissa R. Hunsberger writes about her efforts to bring a farmers market to downtown Miami.

On most Saturday mornings, the asphalt parking lots located in the median along Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami are void of activity. Yes, there’s the occasional car parked overnight or a dedicated jogger passing by, but most days, these lots are ripe for opportunity. What if they could be repurposed, transformed into a vibrant space, where friends meet, cultures mix and social exchanges unfold?

This is just what we had in mind when Maggie Fernandez and I proposed an idea as part of The Miami Foundation’s 2013 Our Miami Public Space Challenge. With only three days before the contest deadline, we submitted our proposal, calling it “Fresh Start Farmers’ Market @ Our Biscayne.”

Miami’s Central Business District has more than 11,000 residents and consumer expenditures for groceries exceed $20 million. Yet, there are no grocery stores located in the area, forcing residents into their cars. The farmers’ market aims to give residents access to fresh produce, reconnect the community and invigorate local economies.

In order to implement our project, we worked with the Miami Parking Authority and the City of Miami, and built partnerships with Bayfront Park, the Downtown Development Authority and Downtown Miami Partnership. Our objective was to work smarter, not harder, and since neither Maggie nor I know the first thing about putting together a farmers’ market, we brought The Market Company on board to help us.

By 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 8, opening day for the farmers market, nearly half of the vendors had arrived and were setting up their tents. The sun was low on the horizon and the bright rays signaled a clear day was in store. We considered ourselves lucky, as the weather in South Florida is fickle. The market kicked-off with 15 vendors offering a variety of organic produce, live music, a voter registration drive and a light bulb and shower head exchange.

Some of the first customers to arrive were residents out walking their dogs. By 10:30 a.m. the vendors were inundated with yogis who had just finished a class in Bayfront Park. There was a steady stream of customers throughout the day: tourists waiting to catch a ship, bike enthusiasts stopping by for a refreshing smoothie and neighbors out to buy produce. Seeing the market come to fruition filled me with community pride. Maggie and I have already begun brainstorming for the 2014 Public Space Challenge.

You still have a couple more opportunities to experience the transformation of a lonesome parking lot into a vibrant space. The farmers’ market will take place Feb. 22 and conclude on March 1 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.  It is located at the corner of East Flagler Street and Biscayne Boulevard in downtown.

Melissa R. Hunsberger is a freelance writer and winner of the 2013 Public Space Challenge. The project is funded by both The Miami Foundation and Health Foundation of South Florida.  For more information visit Facebook.com/OurBiscayne.

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