How an Unlikely Plot of Land Will Transform Miami

Gabriela Ulloa
·3 min read

In 2013, Friends of The Underline founder Meg Daly had a bike accident and broke both of her arms. Unable to drive herself to physical therapy, she began taking the Miami Metrorail, an often overlooked means of transportation. But switching up her routine and taking on Miami’s limited metro system wasn’t the only new thing Daly encountered. Nestled under the train tracks sat a chunk of neglected land.

Mindfully designed green spaces are rare in Miami. It’s a city where beach became a word almost synonymous with park for guests and residents alike. What was lacking was quite obvious to Daly, a sales and marketing veteran: an interactive green space that would provide safety, culture, technology, wellness, and let’s face it, shade. “What we’re seeing are cities everywhere looking to revitalize public space in their urban fabric,” says James Corner, CEO and founder of Field Operations, the urban design and landscape architecture firm commissioned to bring Daly’s vision to life. “Cities are getting denser,” he continues, “and there’s a desperate need for open space.” The solution? The Underline, a 10-mile linear park connecting some of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Miami.

The Underline follows the path of an existing but seldom used light rail system in Miami.
The Underline follows the path of an existing but seldom used light rail system in Miami.

“We’re all strangers to each other,” Daly says of Miami’s individualistic nature. “The only time we get to know each other is when there’s a hurricane and we need to ask our neighbors for ice…then when the storm passes, we go back to being strangers.” What began as a relatively simple idea—a linear neighborhood park—has grown into a project that could transform the trajectory of Miami. From free health and wellness programs and vast trails for biking, walking or running to cultural events and an art gallery spanning the entire project, The Underline aims to enrich the day-to-day lives of Miami’s residents.

With equality in mind, Daly and her team (funded both privately and publicly) set out to secure a representative audience of each neighborhood The Underline passes through. “Currently, the corridor feels like what separates neighborhoods,” says Isabel Castilla, a principal architect at Field Operations. After extensive community outreach—around 27 meetings for each zone—it became clear that each neighborhood desired different amenities, and some even craved basic features. Wi-Fi, a luxury often forgotten, will be available throughout The Underline, providing free access and a new kind of workspace for children and adults alike. Brickell will be the first neighborhood to experience everything this project promises to be. After some major construction setbacks due to COVID-19, Brickell’s section of the corridor is set to open within the next few months. As for the rest of the project, only time, and patience, will tell.

The newly minted public space will be used not only for exercise, but also for cultural and educational purposes.
The newly minted public space will be used not only for exercise, but also for cultural and educational purposes.

Programming and amenities aside, The Underline will help tackle an issue at the forefront of Miami’s identity: climate change. “All of the planting we’ve selected is native to Florida,” Castilla explains. “We won’t be using irrigation—everything is drought-tolerant.” In addition to the permeability of The Underline’s ground, all rainfall (a Miami staple often leading to flooding increased by fast-rising oceans) will be directed into the planting beds. And while the project has placed notable emphasis on sustainability and environmental consciousness, one can only hope that the citizens of Miami will follow suit.

The Underline has been designed so that all rainfall in the area will be directed into the new planting beds.
The Underline has been designed so that all rainfall in the area will be directed into the new planting beds.

Built on the fundamental layers of safety, wellness, and resilience through alternative transportation, The Underline will act as a disruptor to a city where transportation has almost exclusively meant automobiles. “There will be a renaissance of how we experience our county,” Daly notes proudly of the project. “I hope The Underline is a catalyst in that.”

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest