Read more of the extended Q&A with Ana Gelabert-Sanchez.
In the late 1990s, Miami was booming like never before, with massive new developments springing up seemingly overnight. But the growth was all over the map. Twenty-story apartment buildings shot up next door to single-family homes. High-rise parking garages sprouted in residential neighborhoods like mushrooms. Blank concrete walls stretched along sidewalks for entire blocks.
Ana Gelabert-Sanchez knew something had to be done. Tapped as the city's planning director in 1998, she saw that the unchecked growth was an issue. "It was pretty much anything goes," she says. "There were really no guidelines, and there was no way to control how the development happened."
The real problem, she found, was the city's outdated, "one-size-fits-all" building code, which treated commercial property the same throughout the city, regardless of the surrounding buildings or neighborhood. So Gelabert-Sanchez began working with then-Mayor Manny Diaz on a new code. What they came up with was Miami 21, a form-based code that formally incorporates walkability, sustainability and neighborhood context for new development, as well as the preservation of existing structures. Gelabert-Sanchez then spent the next four years doggedly selling the plan to residents, developers and the city commission. "She never wavered, and she never gave up," Diaz says. "No one could ever doubt her commitment to making Miami a more sustainable place to live."
The hard work paid off. The plan was approved in October 2009, and this spring Miami became the first major U.S. city to implement a form-based code citywide. Gelabert-Sanchez, who has now left city government after 25 years of service and is currently working on a planning and design fellowship at Harvard, says she's confident that Miami 21 sets a new path for her city. "It will transform the way that Miami builds and shape the way we grow for the next 50 years," she says. "This gives us a blueprint for the future."
— Zach Patton
Photo by Tom Salyer