In the midst of Jackson Memorial Hospital’s sprawling urban campus lies a small, vacant plot of land.  This underutilized lot caught the interest of folks at Agorascape, a local philanthropic landscape design studio.  They looked beyond the empty space and envisioned a lush healing garden, one that would serve as a refuge for patients, families and staff to escape daily stresses and immerse themselves in natural surroundings.  Beyond adding much-needed green space to a highly urbanized part of Miami, the permanent garden will provide access to nature, a proven treatment that will help Jackson patients get better faster for years to come.

Agorascape’s project is just one example of the lasting impact this year’s 18 Public Space Challenge winners will have on Greater Miami.  They will share a total of $305,000 to bring their ideas to reality.  With half of this year’s winning submissions being permanent installations, these projects will drive long-term improvements to our city’s landscape.

When The Miami Foundation began the Public Space Challenge in 2013, we put the power to build a more vibrant Miami in our residents’ hands.  Miamians stepped up and re-envisioned their neighborhoods.  With a more limited grants budget in the first two years, many early projects used creative demonstrations to prove the importance of creating and activating public spaces. As the Challenge has grown, we are able to support more of our residents pushing for permanent investment to improve their local gathering places. This year’s 330-plus Challenge submissions clearly shows Miamians’ demand for significant, enduring parks, plazas and lively outdoor areas where they can connect with the community they call home.

This year’s winners are a great mix of individuals, organizations and government leaders.  Their ideas range from activating crosswalks in West Miami with public art and poetry to installing solar panels powering nighttime lighting at Wynwood Greenhouse.  David Hazim saw an opportunity in his neighborhood at the largely undeveloped Homestead Air Reserve Park.  He will be installing an 18-hole disc golf course and creating a meet-up group to engage his neighbors.

Thanks to the generous support of partners Health Foundation of South Florida andBaptist Health South Florida the Challenge has continued to expand on it’s focus on projects that promote healthy lifestyles like the Village of El Portal’s Nature Trail Community Park expansion to include outdoor exercise equipment.with funding from.

The Public Space Challenge is part of a growing ecosystem of platforms and advocatespushing for greater investment in our parks and local gathering places. On August 26th, we’re helping activate that network to encourage civic leaders to make these important spaces a funding priority.  Since 2010, county parks funding shortfalls have reached $18 million, causing reductions in recreational programs, backlogs in maintenance and the closing of park facilities. Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s $13.5 million proposed increase for parks funding next budget year is a step in the right direction – we need more civic leaders to follow his lead.

Parks and all public spaces are critical to the quality of life for everyone who lives in Miami-Dade.  As we celebrate this year’s Challenge winners, we hope you’ll join us in advocating for the world-class parks system that every resident in this community deserves.

Stuart Kennedy is director of program strategy and innovation at The Miami Foundation.

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