Naturalized Highways | Palmetto Expresway

Miami-Dade County, FL

FLASLA Award of Excellence

At Curtis + Rogers we believe that we have the ability and responsibility to positively impact our cities, people, and environment through thoughtful design. So when we were presented the opportunity to re-landscape three interchanges within a 3-mile portion of the Palmetto Expressway/SR 826 (an iconic piece of infrastructure that embodies many of the negatives associated with American highways) our challenge became clear. The task was to take what had previously been viewed as a liability and re-frame its presence as an asset.

 

Our design strategy sought to create biologically diverse “eco-patches” to counteract the monotony of the urban-industrial matrix that defined the surrounding landscape. By using the interchanges along SR-826 urban corridor as a starting point, our landscape design naturalized the roadway to create a more interconnected habitat for migratory birds and pollinator species to thrive, as well as an aesthetically pleasing viewshed for a motorist’s journey.

In the design of the “eco-patches,” we wanted to follow one of the main tenants of landscape ecology- using convoluted shapes with coves and lobes, rather than a linear and round boundary between the patch and surrounding turfgrass. This, coupled with high vertical and horizontal structural diversity across the landscaped area, creates a perfect setting for species to thrive. Another element integral to the success of the “eco-patches” was the development of a diverse palette of native plant species arranged by the following plant communities: Hardwood Hammock, Wildflower Prairie, Cypress Swamp, Depression Marsh, Flatwood Pond. In mimicking the collection of species that would exist in the natural environment, we sought to create a biodiverse space with high species richness and even distribution. 

Now, after 5 years since the project kick-off meeting, our naturalized roadways are finally beginning to take form. By numbers, our final design incorporated 35 different South Florida native species; restored over 22 acres of native habitat, and captured approximately 6 tons of carbon dioxide and 771,000 gallons of rainfall each year by newly planted trees.