Q&A: Francisco Garcia, city planning director, Miami

Four city planners, four different plans for the future. In a bonus series to our special package on the built environment, we ring major U.S. cities to find out what's next. Today's subject: Miami.
Written by Stacy Lipson, Contributor

Four city planners, four different plans for the future. 
As an addendum to our inaugural special package on the built environment, SmartPlanet take the pulse of what's going on across the United States -- through the eyes of four planners in cities across the country.

For the first edition of our four-part miniseries, we check out what's going on in Miami.

Francisco J. Garcia is the director of the Planning and Zoning Department for the City of Miami.

SP: How long have you been a city planner?

I am an architect, planner and urban designer by training. I have worked in city planning in one capacity or another since my graduation in 1994. I have been director of planning and zoning for the city of Miami since August 2010.

SP: How long have you worked in city planning for Miami?

In various capacities, a total of approximately 10 years.

SP: From a planning perspective, what is there to love about Miami?

It is the quintessential global city both by virtue of its demographics -- with myriad ethnicities and national origins in numbers sufficiently large to form colonies which contribute their own cultural imprint -- and, perhaps most importantly, due to the fact that there is no dominant group to eclipse others. They all thrive, creating a most fertile cultural milieu.

Planning and urban design are inherently cultural practices and the diversity of approaches and perspectives to this discipline in Miami make it both very challenging and very enriching to work here as a city planner.

SP: What are you currently working on to improve the city?

FG: Our efforts can be grouped into three categories.

[First,] processing development proposals under the new form-based code adopted by Miami, which requires proactive participation from review staff to ensure that pedestrian orientation, sustainability and well-defined public spaces are achieved pursuant to the standards set forth.

[Second,] working on district-wide master plans for those areas most eligible for redevelopment. Miami’s urban core is well-defined, properly zoned and well-equipped in terms of infrastructure to sustain high-density development. We next need to ensure that the subsequent layer of redevelopment in areas adjacent to the core happens in an orderly and well-planned fashion.

[Third,] regularly revising and tailoring the new zoning code, to ensure that existing low-density residential areas are adequately protected from adjacent commercial development -- as well as enhancing available public amenities in order to safeguard the quality of life of Miami’s residents.

SP: What else are you working on?

Significant infrastructural improvements are being made throughout the city which will support the next layer of development and redevelopment we are experiencing now.

SP: If you could change city law in one way, what would you change?

We are presently keen on exploring the implementation of planning districts intended to provide a finer-grained and more nuanced approach to city-wide zoning regulations.

The intent is to properly differentiate between areas that are well-developed and stable, transitioning or redeveloping, and failing or deteriorating -- and provide the necessary tools to foster their improvement and enhancement.

It has become clear to Miami as a result of our six-year long re-write of the zoning ordinance that providing “one-size-fits-all” regulations satisfies none and affects all adversely. A bespoke approach is clearly needed, and now that we have a solid foundation established with a new form-based code, a next layer of neighborhood planning is in order.

SP: How have urban planning efforts shaped the city of Miami?

This is very much a work in progress at present. Our new regulations are just now beginning to translate into tangible results as recent development incorporates the new regulations. The difference is certainly palpable -- and from an urban design standpoint, very gratifying.

Corollaries -- such as an enhanced dialogue with the development community due to a more interactive permitting approach, and greater consensus in the community resulting from an extended public participation process -- are also welcome benefits.

Legacy constraints, such as fragmented land-ownership patterns and urban block configurations -- which impede efficient building types -- are being studied carefully, and can only be addressed incrementally over time.

Make sure to come back tomorrow for the second edition of our four-part series: Houston, Texas.

Illustration: City of Miami Planning Department

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