I just wrapped up a four-day trip to Miami. To be perfectly accurate, the little and lovely suburb of Miami Lakes, which is a few miles northwest of the city proper.
Miami Lakes started as a master-planned community and has since spread west of the Palmetto Expressway to include lots of neighborhoods with conventional tract housing, and the corresponding parks, schools, and roads. My hosts’ home is in the original portion of the town, near the traditionally planned center.
The “town center”* of Miami Lakes has been completely built out over some years (I don’t know how many), so in theory it is an excellent place to complete your daily routine by walking. Which we as planners tend to smugly tell people should be desirable, and in theory it is. And we have strong evidence that walkable neighborhoods also correlate with higher property values. In the case of Miami Lakes, there are two banks, a grocery store, police station, two churches, several restaurants, medical offices and a pharmacy, a multiplex, and a few more tiny businesses I’m forgetting in a fairly compact center, all within less than a quarter-mile square. Hundreds of detached houses and apartments are arranged in concentric circles around that, and there is unusually good sidewalk coverage for a community in Florida. And the weather was pretty darn nice throughout my visit.
Yet almost no one was walking, and most people here never walk from home to nearby destinations on foot. Why?
Miami Lakes has the same issue that most master-planned developments like this suffer from: they are of course much too small to contain the job sites and schools that their residents need, and it’s not as though all of my hosts’ family and social circles lives in the same bubble. Being connected to the rest of the area is a necessity. Thus it isn’t practical to live there without a car, and when the rest of the city around you is car-dependent, so are you. The older folks that can’t drive are largely dependent on others to drive them, save the occasional walk out to the Publix.
My impression from several visits there? The folks that live in Miami Lakes and similar master-planned centers like the proximity of all the stuff, but because it comes with parking and most folks own cars anyway, walking just doesn’t occur as an option. All in all they still drive very short distances compared to neighbors in the newer neighborhoods to the west, so the master planning wasn’t for naught. But the differences from places that are organically walkable are clear: the presence of transit, fewer parking spaces and fewer car owners, a greater density of all needs (especially schools and job sites) to make “alternative” transportation the best choice.
* I have to admit I hate that term. And my company was founded by a guy that built “town centers” for a living.