Why do we not learn from the past? We have lost the art of urban planning that creates great spaces for people to work in, live in and enjoy – you only have to look at the redevelopment of Vauxhall. In the UK, we have a reactive system, though there are some bright spots such as King’s Cross in London, with a masterplan created by one guiding hand into which the different projects fit.
Coral Gables is almost a city within a city, so different is it to the rest of Miami in Florida. Planned by George Merrick in the 1920′s it has many fine historic buildings including the Venetian Pool, created out of a rock quarry in 1923 and fed by natural springs, the Congregational Church built in Spanish Baroque style by Merrick and, facing it, the luxurious Biltmore Hotel built in 1926 with guests including Al Capone, Judy Garland and the Duchess of Windsor. The tower is modelled on that of Seville Cathedral and its swimming pool is where the hotel’s swimming instructor Jonny Weismuller (better known as Tarzan) set a world record in the 1930′s.
As a city, Coral Gables was carefully planned with spacious avenues and landscaping, and the essential style of the city is still protected today in the design and scale with new developments in the historic area. Compare this to the main development areas of Miami itself where tall building jostle uncomfortable alongside each other, sometimes with hardly a gap between them and the pedestrian realm taking second place to the car, except along the beaches, all of which proves the benefits of good thoughtful urban planning which is respected over time, to create districts which are great places in which to work, live and relax.
Coral Gables was also a great financial success, albeit it was developed during a land boom. By 1926, the city of 10,000 acres (4,000 ha) had realised $150 million in sales, against over $100 million spent on development.
Things also go round in circles. The original plan had an electric trolley system, which was superseded by the American love of the car, but is back in part with a new free trolley tram in the central avenue, the Ponce de León Boulevard.
Today, it remains a popular place in which to live, with its unique character and high quality shops and art galleries in the commercial areas. George Merrick’s vision remains in place, with modern developments around the edges, almost a century later.