"Miami Beach Red" Sidewalks It Is

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

"Miami Beach Red" Sidewalks It Is:

Commission votes to make red the default for all sidewalks

Despite maintenance and color matching issues over time, the City Commission this month voted in favor of making “Miami Beach red” sidewalks the default option, eventually replacing the natural gray concrete that has been used more recently. The color of the City’s sidewalks is a debate almost as old as the City itself.
 
Miami Beach switched to “the more economical natural concrete color, in response to the request by Frank Gehry, the architect for the New World Symphony campus, to install natural concrete sidewalks on 17th Street,” City Manager Jimmy Morales wrote in a memo. Since then, the City has used natural gray concrete for sidewalks in non-historic districts and left it to the Historic Preservation Board to determine the sidewalk color in historic districts, though as Morales noted there is a conflicting record of Carl Fisher’s intent to use red sidewalks throughout the City, given his “development of certain neighborhoods, such as the Palm View Historic District, with exclusively natural gray concrete sidewalks.”
 
In a 2010 memo for the City Commission’s Neighborhood and Community Affairs Committee, then City Manager Jorge Gonzalez raised the historical discrepancy issue. “For the period preceding World War II, staff has not been able to locate any type of concrete evidence or documentation regarding the implementation of a plan for red public sidewalks. A recurring theme in Miami Beach is that City sidewalks were often red because that was the way Carl Fisher intended for it to be because he believed red sidewalks would ‘cut the glare from the sun’ and would be symbolic of ‘putting down a red carpet.’”
 
“Ironically, one of Carl Fisher’s earliest residential real estate developments dating back to 1920, the area known today as the Palm View Historic District… has exclusively natural gray concrete sidewalks,” Gonzalez wrote. “Over time, these gray sidewalks have taken on a patina and character very similar to weathered keystone. These natural concrete sidewalks are still seen throughout the Palm View Historic District today in the same locations they appeared in both the 1927 and 1941 aerial photographs. Their ‘aged’ color has remained uniform in appearance over time and no residents of this historic district have requested that their natural concrete sidewalks be replaced by Miami Beach red sidewalks.”
 
Gonzalez’ memo illustrates the back and forth of City Commissions over time on the sidewalk color issue. In 1957, the Commission directed red sidewalks be installed within Biscayne Point. In 1971, the direction was for all new sidewalk installation to be natural in color. 
 
Somehow green was thrown into the mix for the “5th Street Project” in 1973 but after discussing the additional cost, the plan to change the color from red to green concrete was scrapped and red prevailed on 5th Street.
 
In 2010, the City made the move to gray sidewalks with red sidewalks continuing to be maintained where they already existed and where the HPB “determines that the red sidewalks are historic and should be replaced in kind by new Miami Beach red sidewalks.”
 
And now comes the present day discussion. City Manager Jimmy Morales noted the maintenance issues that occur over time “as the red oxide is partially or totally worn off from foot traffic and weather, exposing the sidewalks to patches of gray concrete adjacent to highly concentrated patches of red oxide powder, resulting in aesthetically unattractive irregularities.”
 
“Since the 1990’s the City has exercised diligent efforts to correct and manage the patchwork and maintenance issues by thoroughly integrating the red pigment into the concrete mix for the full depth of the sidewalks in all new construction projects, utilizing a controlled color mixing formula to the cement batching plants,” according to Morales. “Notwithstanding the City’s color integrity efforts, sidewalk color can still vary significantly from concrete batch mix to batch mix, when new sidewalks are poured by utility companies while conducting ongoing repairs and upgrades to their systems. In addition, frequent pressure washing removes the top layer of the color cement exposing the aggregate which cannot be colored.”
 
The Administration recommended the City’s remaining gray sidewalks “be replaced gradually over time as new neighborhood projects are implemented, when an entire block is to be replaced, so as to ensure a cohesive sidewalk color pattern is maintained within each street,” according to Morales.
 
“The Administration maintains the reservations stated above regarding the wholesale conversion to red sidewalks however we can work within the parameters of the Resolution as presented,” he wrote.
 
City Commissioners expressed a preference for the “Miami Beach red” sidewalk color at their Goals Conference in January. The resolution to formally ratify the color was discussed at the Commission meeting earlier this month.
 
Public Works Director Roy Coley told Commissioners the red concrete costs the City $5 per cubic yard more than the gray which typically costs between $60-70 per cubic yard. 
 
“The red concrete’s biggest challenge… is just logistics,” Coley said. “Sometimes the concrete companies don’t want red concrete in their trucks today because once they deliver red to us, they have to go clean the trucks before they can haul gray to someone else so there’s just logistical challenges that we just have to work through if that’s your direction.” The City has its own small truck for smaller sidewalk jobs and repairs, Coley said, but for large jobs multiple trucks are needed making it less expensive to have outside contractors with their own trucks do the work.
 
Commissioner Micky Steinberg said, “When you look [at the sidewalks], you know you’re in Miami Beach, because you see that color. I think it’s special. I think it’s something that makes us unique unlike some other municipalities.”
 
Commissioner Ricky Arriola noted the issues delineated by staff, “[I]t  gets discolored and there’s just no ability to make it uniform and so it became a maintenance issue plus it’s more expensive to lay down so, despite what we think of red versus gray, when it’s first laid down red may be more appealing but over time it gets discolored and you can’t have uniform matching color and it gets very expensive.”
 
Coley said the City is experimenting with dying the sidewalk on Washington Avenue as an option for keeping the color uniform.
 
“The problem then is pressure cleaning, you chip it away,” Arriola said to which Coley agreed. 
 
“If it was pure efficiency, it would be gray but aesthetics matter as well,” Morales told Commissioners.
 
Arriola responded, “I happen to think when it’s first laid down that it is more aesthetically pleasing but over time it’s not.”
 
Commissioners voted 6-1 to go with the Miami Beach red default. Arriola voted no.
 
A side note: In the GO Bond update during the same meeting, Miami Beach CFO John Woodruff said 25% of the City’s sidewalks will be replaced with bond money. City Spokeswoman Melissa Berthier wrote in an email, “[T]he 25% of the city’s sidewalks that are being repaired are those that were found to be deficient in a citywide sidewalk condition assessment. The remaining 75% are in good enough condition where repairs are not needed at this time – these pose no hazard or safety threat and are structurally sound.”
 
“Public Works does have a small budget outside of G.O. Bond [money] to repair sidewalks as-needed (like if a contractor cracks a sidewalk during construction work or if a hurricane damages pavement areas),” she said.
 
Photo at top: Miami Beach red sidewalk in front of the Woman’s Club
 
Photos below: Maintenance issues with the red sidewalks over time
 
[Updated to include cost of the natural gray concrete]
 
 

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