North Miami’s the Good Neighbor Park leading the pack on climate initiatives

Along one tree-lined street in North Miami, the flooding gets so bad that small cars are unable to push through the water. The city is opening what officials call an innovative park to address the issue.

On Northeast 144th Street, the city is incorporating art and a stormwater collection pond to reduce flooding in one of the city’s lowest geographical points. Fifteen years ago, the site was bought from a resident because of repeated flooding. It has sat empty ever since.

The park’s design features a walkway around the edge of the pond that showcases the different South Florida environments, such as marshes and rain gardens. These additions to the park have garnered the attention of other cities, like Miami Beach, said Tanya Wilson, the city’s director of community planning and development.

“The small guy in the group actually became the teacher in the pack, which was very interesting,” she said.

The lot’s transformation began when the New York-based Van Alen Institute posed a challenge to cities around the world to come up with a project that addresses sea level rise. They wanted one that could be replicated around the world and was community-centered. North Miami jumped at the opportunity, said Wilson.

Officials proposed to turn the repetitive loss site, the term used for sites that frequently flood, into a stormwater management lot. To the city’s surprise, Van Alen selected the proposal, said Wilson.

“North Miami was on the international stage where climate change and resilience was concerned,” she said. “We can actually become a best practice, pretty exciting.”

The second phase of Van Alen’s challenge was inviting design companies from around the world to submit their ideas for how to transform North Miami’s sinking lot into a stormwater management pond and park. As luck would have it, out of the 62 submissions, a panel of judges chose a design firm based in Miami. 

The winners, Department Design Office, proposed to incorporate art into The Good Neighbor Park to bring an element of education to the project. Typically, stormwater capture basins are hidden underground and out of the public’s mind, but by bringing the pond above ground and exposing elements such as a pipe, they hope to get people to ask questions and learn about the issue of sea level rise and flooding, said Isaac Stein, the co-founder of Department Design Office. 

“Instead of packing away the issues with underground storage tanks of water or pumping it, I’m trying to highlight the issue so people can think about it, understand the risk that’s at hand and also become more creative in how to address these risks moving forward,” he said.

There has also been support from the residents of Northeast 144th Street. Elizabeth Sang, who lives up the road, said she hopes the addition will ease the flooding that regularly plagues the street and makes it hard for her to drive on parts of the road.

The Good Neighbor Park had an opening celebration on Dec. 15. 
“We want you to get the idea that we can be aggressive and forward-thinking about how to use city-owned properties to create these spaces that will help with issues like flooding, would help with issues like creating open spaces within the city,” Wilson said.

Originally from Auckland, New Zealand, Imogen Francis now studies journalism at Florida International University. She was a staff news writer at the student newspaper PantherNow and has experience writing about the LGBTQ community, women's rights and politics.