Maximizing Miami

With an operating budget that hovers around $12 million and more than 100 properties to maintain, Miami has its feet squarely planted in the future, and the past.

As oxymoronic as that seems, the secret to Miami Parks and Recreation is to stay with and ahead of the trends while maximizing the city's history. The trick is tying the two together effectively and consistently with the aim of providing both traditional and alternative recreation and creating more educational opportunities.

Miami's inventory and programming includes numerous multi-use facilities, a beachfront park, three tennis centers, six nature parks, 45 mini-parks, ten outdoor swimming pools, five daycare centers, a disabilities division for the disabled and elderly, a summer camp program and more.

Day by Day

Miami's future plans include three new skateparks in existing parks, splash parks adjacent to existing pools and a separate water park. The city also has three dog parks and has been busy developing flexible neighborhood parks that can accommodate special events and programs.

"I see a major interest in history and historical parks and historical structures that are in our parks. I've noticed a big demand for historical tours and other programming," says Santiago Corrada, director of parks for the City of Miami.

"We're looking at renovations to those properties, getting the schools involved, having art displays, and providing things like haunted-type tours."

The educational focus is no accident, as Corrada's background is in education. He worked in a Miami high school prior to becoming the city's director of parks less than a year ago.

"We have so many kids who come into the parks, and some of them are not athletically inclined. They want to be there and use the parks, so we're trying to meet the needs of those kids as well," explains Corrada.

"We garnered quite a lot of attention with the summer instructional program, and how we were able to partner with the school district, Reader's Digest, a number of the book suppliers, NASA for the science programming and other partners.

"We ran a nine-week program at a time when the school system was cutting back on their summer school program. We really filled the void, and served over 30,000 additional lunches this summer in the parks compared to last year. Our numbers increased dramatically, because the schools were closed or had limited programs. We had pay and non-pay programs, such as learn-to-swim, sailing, arts and educational programs. But without us tapping the school board for some funding, it would have been very difficult to do."

Stay in Touch

Corrada emphasizes networking, and has worked hard to bring in partners representing the scope of the city's civic groups. Given Corrada's experience with the school district, creating teacher and administrator networks were relatively simple. Beyond the school district, Corrada says there are a lot of people outside the schools willing and able to help. It's a matter of taking the time to find them and tap that enthusiasm.

Corrada ticks off a litany of recent examples -- such as ball field adoptions, a children's baseball league with the Florida Marlins, and holiday programming with a local radio station -- that point to both an active and latent volunteerism residing in every community.

"Network, identify and execute," says Corrada. "Sometimes that means going before the commission to accept a contract or agreement to assure them that you're within legal boundaries, that you have the appropriate documentation, and to make sure you go through whatever security steps you need to take, because you don't want to expose children to the wrong types of adults or unnecessary risk. Then evaluate the program and see if it worked. Were the kids taking advantage of the opportunities? Was there a lot of support?"

This past summer, for instance, Miami utilized more teachers than usual for its programming. Follow-up surveys of park users and park employees showed that this approach worked.

"You can't please all the people all the time. Someone will find fault with what you're doing, no matter how good your reasoning is. You may think a skatepark is a good idea at this one location, and have a group of people adamantly opposed who can make the process a nightmare. You really need to go out and sell what you want to do to a majority of people," explains Corrada.

"There's another city that's having a hard time with a dog park -- you have the dog lovers and those who want it and others who think it's a waste of green space. I'm seeing a lot of talk in the media about it, and that happens all the time. I've trimmed palm trees and gotten complaints about it."

The Right Stuff

The important thing, says Corrada, is to quantify the reasoning behind a decision. Issues like safety and accessibility are integral tie-ins to any park development plan.

"There comes a point when you have to bite the bullet, do it, and deal with the outcome. You're never going to get 100 percent consensus, so you just need to move forward," says Corrada.

"Moving from one field to another, I've found that leadership is leadership no matter what you're doing. The way you deal with people -- by being fair, consistent, flexible and open to new ideas -- does a lot for moving an organization in any one direction."

Any organization is open to the pitfalls of bureaucracy, and Corrada's emphasis is on avoiding those pitfalls, which are typically a resistance to change and innovation.

Corrada recommends looking closely at successful private businesses and how they handle customer service. After all, most of what parks and recreation districts do falls under customer service.

Toward that end, Miami has a renewed emphasis on training using what Corrada calls a "consistent and structured" system. What that means is the type of training that realizes the foundation of park management.

That foundation, in part, is a detailed eye on customer relations, regular maintenance and park cleanliness and program quantity and quality. "It's all reflected in the actions of the department," says Corrada.

The recent development of Margaret Pace Park is a realization of those goals. It's unique and flexible, located on the water at Biscayne Bay, complete with volleyball, basketball and tennis courts, a bay walk, sports fields, a playground, exercise equipment and a main entrance plaza.

The city has hosted a fashion show and a short film festival, among other special events. "Ultimately, you need input from the folks in the community, because what works in one may not work in another," says Corrada.