After years of anticipation and fundraising, the first phase of the Underline in Miami officially opens today. Dubbed Brickell Backyard, the $16.5-million, half-mile project is the first section in what will eventually be a 10-mile-long linear park with 120 acres of open space.

Located in one of the densest areas of Miami-Dade County, Brickell Backyard faced "complicated construction conditions," says Irene Hegedus, Underline project manager at the Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works. In addition to accommodating all transit lines with traffic improvements, the seven-block section required the installation of electrical lines and soil remediation-two of the biggest cost contributors-as part of its transformation into a safe, open public space.

The idea for the project stems from an unfortunate incident-in 2013, Meg Daly broke both of her elbows in a cycling accident. Unable to drive, she began taking the Metrorail to physical therapy and, while walking on a threadbare asphalt path beneath the tracks to the train, wondered if the underutilized space could be transformed into a park for the community.

Inspired by the success of the High Line in New York City, Daly left her job as the owner of a marketing agency to launch The Friends of the Underline, a nonprofit that advocates for the project and has secured over $120 million of funding for construction.

The Underline will include over 30 redesigned crosswalks, separated bike and pedestrian facilities, lighting, and enhanced wayfinding.

Dedicated off-road pathways for cyclists and pedestrians encourage alternative modes of transportation.

"Miami-Dade County is one of the most dangerous places in the country to walk and bike-it’s a young city that is built based on car travel," says Daly. "The Underline is reimagining our streets for all modes of transportation-whether that’s walking, taking mass transit, biking, or driving-which is a task that takes investment and vision."

James Corner Field Operations (JCFO), the design firm behind the High Line, won a competition held by Friends of the Underline to create a framework plan that envisions a sustainable multimodal corridor inspired by the arts, culture, and flora of South Florida and the Miami region.

The planting palette, created in collaboration with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, focuses on native species that provide habitat for pollinators such as butterflies.

JCFO also designed Brickell Backyard as one of the masterplan’s demonstration projects. Completed in December 2020 after two years of construction, the seven-block northernmost section of the Underline connects the Miami River to Coral Way with a procession of outdoor "rooms," each with unique programming.

The rooms include the River Room with views of the Miami River; the Gym, an active recreation space with sports courts; the Promenade, a public walkway with dedicated pedestrian and bicycle paths punctuated by community-oriented spaces (including a performance plaza and a 50-foot-long communal table); and the Oolite Room, a naturalized area with four butterfly gardens that highlights the existing oolite boulders.

The River Room, located between the Miami River and SW 7th St, provides a lush setting.

Individual tables for chess, checkers, and dominoes are located in the Promenade’s Game Room along the east side of SW 1st Court.

In addition to serving as a linear park and urban trail, the Underline is expected to be a catalyst for economic growth and healthier lifestyles.

"Research has proven that choosing to get around via walking or biking instead of driving can have a bigger impact on one’s health than even going to the gym," notes Daly. "We will also be offering free health and wellness programs along the Underline throughout the year, such as yoga, meditation, basketball, soccer clinics, and more."

A yoga class takes place on the Promenade’s Sound Stage Plaza, sponsored by Florida Power & Light.

"The Underline is truly a 10-mile neighborhood park, in which each section adapts and reflects the neighborhood and community in which it’s situated," continues Daly. "The first half mile responds to its community by offering gathering spaces for families, friends, and pets; an outdoor gym; access to nature with native plants and a butterfly garden; and a sound stage with free cultural, health, and wellness programs.

Phase 1 of the Underline was designed by JCFO. Phases 2 and 3 will use a design/build approach that follows JCFO’s master plan and Brickell Backyard’s design precedents.

The Underline’s custom stencil-styled typeface and spray-painted wayfinding references street art and graffiti.

The second phase, which extends to SW 19th Avenue with a length of 2.14 miles, is currently in the predesign stage headed by LEAD Engineering, and is expected to be completed by 2023. The third phase will add an additional 7 miles, stretching up to Dadeland South Metrorail Station, and completion is slated for 2025. The third phase will be bid out within the next few months.

The three-phase Underline will connect eight Metrorail stations and stretch 10 miles from the Miami River in Brickell to the Dadeland South Metrorail station. The linear park, which is located entirely on county-owned land, will also be the "spine" of a future 250-mile network of cycle and pedestrian trails.

"In planning for the second phase, we heard from the community that the priorities are safety and nature. In Phase 3, which will be near the University of Miami, we will adjust to that community and its needs by providing areas to exercise, play, and socialize."

The Underline is targeting completion by the end of 2025 to meet the deadline set by a $22 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant.