You don’t have to work as an urban planner to know about designing parks and public spaces. The best ideas often come from the residents who use these community spaces every day. They are community organizers, students and artists like Ileana Collazo, who wanted to bring art outdoors to her Little Havana neighborhood. She applied to The Miami Foundation’s Public Space Challenge to make it happen.

“Our art should not be hidden,” said Ileana, a 2013 Challenge winner, of why she submitted her idea to bring art-filled benches and planters to Calle Ocho. “I wanted to infuse a little bit of the flora of Miami and Florida and the art into the community that was being visited by an incredible amount of tourists from all over the world.”

That’s why the Challenge exists, so that anyone can have a chance to win a slice of $305,000 for projects that activate, create or improve Greater Miami’s parks and outdoor spaces. In fact, the application is simple by design. It has just two fill-in questions: “My idea to improve this place…” followed by “so that people could…”

For the last five years, individuals have taken on their winning project as a personal passion, finding time between jobs and families to bring their idea to life. A love of art drove Ileana to apply. Eighth-grader Noah LaFleur wanted to encourage more people to recycle.

Noah thought the way to get adults involved was through their kids. He applied for funding to make recycling bins that look like kid-friendly animals. Last October, the Town of Cutler Bay received six new dolphin-shaped recycling bins thanks to Noah’s $5,000 2016 Public Space Challenge grant.

 “Growing up, I was always taught to love the environment,” Noah, now a ninth-grader, told the Miami Herald. “I want the next generation of kids to start recycling more.”

Pictured above: Eighth-grader Noah LaFleur stands next to one of six new dolphin-shaped recycling bins in Cutler Bay. Noah received funding to create and install these bins through the 2016 Public Space Challenge.

Juan David Rey, a 2016 Challenge winner, submitted an idea as a senior at FIU. He assumed he would leave his West End home after graduation and move to Brickell or downtown to enjoy Greater Miami’s cultural life. Then, former Miami-Dade County District 11 Commissioner Juan C. Zapata, for whom he interned, changed his mind.

“He was really pushing this idea of why do we have to leave the area to enjoy the benefits of Miami-Dade? That resonated with me,” Juan said. “Why can’t we have nice events on the weekend in our own backyard?”

This spring, he used his 2016 Challenge grant to launch the West End Concert Series, drawing local favorites Locos Por Juana (several band members had grown up in Kendall but had never performed there) and the Spam Allstars.

“One main thing everyone kept saying is ‘It’s insane I only had to drive five minutes to get here,’” Juan said of the crowd. “That’s the idea; that’s the mentality we want to spread in our neighborhood and amongst our community: to get people to rethink that they have to leave to enjoy themselves.”

Next up, he plans to put on more concerts. Juan also created the nonprofit Friends of the West End to bring other ideas to the neighborhood, including a Kendall restaurant month similar to Miami Spice. “We want to bring those nice community ideas out west,” he said. “Hopefully we can do it.”

Have an idea for improving or activating public spaces? Join us at a Challenge workshop and submit your project to the Public Space Challenge by April 6 at

Marika Lynch is a Miami-based writer and communications consultant for foundations and nonprofits.

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