Last year, New Florida Majority members in several neighborhoods began to organize for the preservation and renovation of their local parks. 2018 begins seeing some of the seeds of that Occupy the Park Movement bear fruit.

That’s because this week, after an active debate, the City of Miami’s Historic Preservation Board agreed to designate parts of Morningside Park as historic, forcing any future changes to have to be reviewed by the board.

Community residents say that the historic designation is important because it will not only preserve the unique architectural features of the 42-acre park, but also ensure that the park continues to be publically accessible to all.

Though the park’s features have been enjoyed by many in the area for decades, recent efforts to renovate the park have sought to alter or eliminate areas that are heavily used by locals, including a basketball court, the pool and a scenic road that connects a series of small parking lots throughout the park. These proposed changes, say locals, would be to make the park less convenient and accessible for folks, including lower income residents in nearby neighborhoods like Little Haiti.

Community Voices Win Out

Tuesday’s Board meeting was the latest in a series of board and public meetings that provided community residents an opportunity to voice their concerns. NewFM members like Ms. Debora Carter and Devonte Willis and allies Michael Mundy, have attended previous public meetings on the General Plan, and spoken up to protect the park’s existing assets, which are threatened by some. 

The Jan 2nd meeting opened up with renowned Miami historian Dr. Paul George, who with local activists like Elvis Cruz and Alexandra de Lara, had requested historic designation of the park, including the original 1953 buildings and especially the pool. A dozen or so speakers echoed his request, including NewFM-EF intern George Perez, who presented a petition with 1,053 signatures from park users that requested preserving the park.

Perez stated that this victory shows what can happen when a community comes together for an important cause.

This victory reminded me of “the power of a passionate and mobilized community. This was a victory for both community engagement and Morningside park,” said Perez. 

The debate went back and forth, with a handful of Morningside neighbors asking the city to delay the designation pending completion of a General Plan. Photos were shown depicting many families enjoying picnics, birthday parties, memorial services and even a wedding in the park, all made possible by the convenient access of the loop road, which the opposition wants removed.

Eventually, Historic Preservation Board member Lynn Lewis made a motion to amend the designation report to list the original buildings as contributing and have changes to the park subject to Historic Preservation Board review.  While initially resisted by some city officials, her motion ultimately prevailed.

It’s an exciting victory for community involvement and engagement. From petition signers to those who made in-person presentations, it wouldn’t have been  possible without the contributions of a number of Morningside residents, park goers, and New FM members  fighting to keep their rightful piece of public space.

“This victory will ensure that the park’s integrity, ambiance, and accessibility will be preserved in the years to come,” said Perez. “As I sat in city hall and listened to my fellow neighbors speak I could not help but be reminded of the power a passionate and mobilized community wields in the face of the government. This was a victory for both community engagement and Morningside Park.