For Coleman public housing residents Annie St. Juste and Lanston Williams, the street is the key public space in front of their homes in Liberty City. Neighborhood kids play outside, walk home from nearby Charles Drew Elementary and take advantage of the outdoor basketball courts and playground. Then at night, everything goes pitch black and it becomes unsafe. Annie and Lanston propose that simply adding streetlights will unlock their neighborhood’s front porch as a safe, accessible community gathering place into the early evening and night.

“We want our children and neighbors to be safe and have walkways where you don’t have to look over your shoulder every minute,” they wrote in their application for this year’s Public Space Challenge.

Today, their idea is named one of 48 finalists in the 2017 Challenge through which we’ll award $305,000 to projects that create, improve or activate Miami’s gathering spaces and parks.

Pictured above: 2017 Public Space Challenge Finalist UrbanaSpace, a project to create a green space near Miami Dade College's Little Havana Campus

We asked applicants to use Miami-Dade County’s Open Space Master Plan’s guiding principles on how to improve and connect Greater Miami’s public spaces to shape their ideas. You’ll see that nearly half of the finalists are ideas like Annie and Lanston’s project, seeking to make our parks more accessible and unlock potential in the many wonderful gathering spaces we already have. Many of them propose altering existing public spaces, with suggestions like lighting, seating, shade and Wi-Fi, and adding or improving pathways to make them easier and safer to get to.

At West Dade’s A.D. Barnes Park, one applicant wants to build a new crosswalk to help residents more easily get to its 65 acres for picnicking, swimming and bird watching. So many of the neighbors moved there to be close to the park but, as Caroline Parker Santiago noted in her application, “The sad thing is that most of them drive there, because they are afraid to cross the street with their kids,” particularly across heavily trafficked Bird Road. Her proposed solution? Create a crosswalk at Southwest 72nd Avenue and 39th Street to make it safer to walk to the park.

We’re also excited to have Target as a first-time partner on the Challenge. Their funding will help support ideas that encourage healthy eating and active play. Plenty of the finalists address that, too, from building a Tamiami playground for kids who are physically disabled (pictured above) to creating new soccer fields and skate parks.

“We know wellness is important to our guests and we want it to be easy and inspiring for everyone every day,” said Alden Kooken, group vice president of South Florida stores for Target. “Target is committed to helping communities overcome barriers to wellness – such as access to play spaces – which is why we’re so excited to support these Public Space Challenge ideas and make healthy living a more achievable goal for Miami residents.”

This year, we had a record number of submissions – 441 – for projects from Little Havana to West Kendall, Flagami and Opa-locka, and even more, thousands liked and commented on these ideas.

Pictured above: 2017 Public Space Challenge finalist Frost Netting Pods, a project designed to create shelter between the Frost Museum of Science and the Pérez Art Museum Miami

You can see all finalists on the map at Because the Foundation’s goal is to ultimately get a public space within walking distance of every Miamian, all of them fit into one of four categories outlined in the Open Space Master Plan. Miami-Dade County, which is a partner in the Challenge, and all 34 municipalities within it have approved the plan in concept. County officials will look at Challenge submissions as a way to inform the master plan’s implementation on a block-by-block basis and will work with winners to bring their ideas to fruition.

We will announce the 2017 Public Space Challenge winners in September, and look forward to what they’ll do to improve Greater Miami – for all. We know they’ll add to the momentum that 70 previous winners have built over the past five years. We’re constantly impressed by winners’ ingenuity, passion and tenacity. Perhaps most importantly, they have become a strong network of champions Greater Miami needs for our public spaces.

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

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