About two years ago (circa 2012) a new Publix Supermarket came to town, right on the corner of Biscayne Blvd and 17th Terrace. The store was built on a mostly vacant lot and features a more urban-styled design than its suburban counterparts. The development includes more than a Publix. There is also a bank, a vitamin shop, a hair salon and a few other stores plus a parking garage.
The thing that has made this particular Publix stand out is the contribution it has made to the vibrancy and energy of this burgeoning neighborhood (Edgewater). The store is located just a couple of blocks from a series of popular high rises, including Quantum on the Bay and Cité, as well as Margaret Pace Park. Most of these condos were around for a few years before the Publix was built, back when real, live people were seldom seen walking in the area. The level of pedestrian, bicyclist and general people traffic has risen dramatically since the supermarket's arrival. On some evenings, passersby may even happen upon a local busker playing the sax or guitar.
Interestingly, travel a block or two north, south or west and the pedestrian traffic noticeably diminishes. Even on nearby blocks where there are plenty of people visiting shops, cafes and restaurants, there is no where the same volume of people walking to and fro along the sidewalks and crosswalks. Cars approaching this intersection seem to be more cognizant of the need to pay attention and slow down. The trolley stop located directly across the street adds to the mix of more people and slower speeds.
The store's success, both in terms of its own business volume, and with regards to its activation of the street is hardly sexy. Indeed the entire plaza is made up of chain retail stores that are not necessarily unique or iconic nor is there any special programming happening here to draw the crowds; just a supermarket that was designed to relate well to the street and meet a local need.
Thereby comes our lesson, especially for us urbanists: often we get stuck in the mixed-use prescription as the panacea for all that ills an urban block. The 1/2 mile radius around, and including, this Publix is certainly a mixture of residential and commercial, but the key point is that of a meeting an important local need; one that is not met by simply haphazardly providing random retail opportunities at the ground level of a condo or office building. The sidewalks are walkable, the street is moderately safe, and there are plenty of places to secure a bicycle. Automobiles are accommodated too, but interestingly they don't dominate the surrounding space. The character and vitality (not to mention perception of safety) on this block is literally palpable.
All in all, this one store has brought more activity to the street, at all hours of the day, than what one would see in several parts of the central business district [downtown Miami]. We hope that this is a glimpse of what is to come on as many blocks as possible in and around the downtown area.
Check out this time-lapse video of the plaza as it was constructed: