Places I Remember with Lea Lane

Miami: Past, Present, Future -- & The New Underline Park, With Founder Meg Daly

April 06, 2021 Meg Daly, Founder and President of Friends of the Underline, talks of how that new linear park under the Metromover will change the city. Season 1 Episode 10
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
Miami: Past, Present, Future -- & The New Underline Park, With Founder Meg Daly
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

The Underline, a 10-mile linear park, urban trail and public arts destination, will meander from the Miami River to Dadeland South under the Miami Metrorail. With its first section, "Brickell Backyard" newly opened, Meg Daly, Founder and President of Friends of the Underline, talks with Lea about Miami's past, present and future.

-- Lea and Meg both grew up in  the Miami area a generation apart. Lea remembers Miami Beach of the past 50 years: no air conditioning, the airport not much more than a hangar, mosquitos sprayed from above with DDT, and much more.

-- Meg tells of growing up in an activist family in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables, in a vintage Spanish-style house. Her family came from Boston in 1960 and was active in keeping the gorgeous Biltmore Hotel from being destroyed.

-- At the beginning of the Millennium, when Miami still did not have a cultural center, Meg's father, Parker Thompson, who would later help plan The Underline, was involved in developing the Arsht Performing Arts center. It influenced an arts scene including museums, Art Basel, Wynwood, and new neighborhoods designed by great architects, spawning great restaurants.

-- Along with progress came heavy traffic  -- and that is where The Underline comes in, bringing us a 10-mile linear park by 2025, leading to a network of parks and trails with native plants, butterflies,  places to connect --"it equals life!"

-- Meg talks about the first section completed, "Brickell Backyard," from the Miami River through Brickell Village.

-- And the four thousand new trees and green design will help Miami get through climate change.

And last, Meg remembers how she conceived of The Underline --combining past, present and future in an engrossing memory.
Meg Daly is a full-time volunteer, Founder and President of Friends of The Underline,  transforming the underutilized land below Miami’s Metrorail into a 120-acre linear park, urban trail and public art destination spanning 10-miles in the urban core. (  

 A 30-year sales and marketing veteran, she held executive marketing and management positions in the television, public relations, advertising, technology, and real estate industries. Meg has a BA in English from Vanderbilt University and has served on numerous philanthropic boards.
Podcast host Lea Lane has traveled to over 100 countries, written many travel books, including
Places I Remember, and has contributed to dozens of guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter and  blogs about travel at  Contact her at
Please follow  Places I Remember with Lea Lane wherever you listen to podcasts, and review it on Apple! New travel episodes every Tuesday.

*Transcript edited for clarity.

Lea Lane  00:04

Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. Our guest is Meg Daly, President and CEO of Friends of the Underline. The Underline is the new 10 mile park, which will go from the Miami River under the Miami Metro rail. The first section just opened from the Miami River through Brickell Village. Welcome, Meg, and congratulations.


Meg Daly  00:44

Thank you. It's really good to see you. And thanks for inviting me.


Lea Lane  00:48

Well, I'd love you to tell us a little more about the Underline.


Meg Daly  00:52

Sure. Actually, I was out on the Underline this morning. We opened just under three weeks ago. And this first segment goes from the Miami River, which is downtown to about a mile about half a mile. It's 10 miles and 120 acres when we're done. And this morning, I was out with our horticulture intern and she was giving our entire team a tutorial on every plant we have in the first half mile which is 30,000 new plants and trees.


Lea Lane  01:25

Wow. And that means butterflies I'll bet.


Meg Daly  01:28

Well, I think you saw them out there, they did. We have a fresh crop of monarchs. We counted at least 20 cocoons and hundreds of monarchs. There's also sulfur butterflies. And a little bit south, there's an endangered species species called the Itala. And it's this little black iridescent butterfly, and so each area has its own guests.


Lea Lane  01:53

Well, it's very exciting. The Underline is a real game changer for Miami. And I thought since we both grew up in Miami, during different eras, it would be very interesting to discuss how Miami has changed in our lifetimes in other ways. And since I'm older, I'll start with some memories. That quote, they start after World War Two, I go way back. I remember when South Beach was hot. And I mean hot because it didn't have air conditioning. It was otherwise not so hot. There were a lot of retirees sitting on the porches on Ocean Drive. But you had to go to the movies to get cool. That's how how far back I go. You would just get a movie, whatever it might be, you didn't really care. And you went and you sat there and you cooled off. And I remember even when Eastern Airlines was the only airline and the airport was just kind of a big hangar and you walked outside to the planes. And I remember when mosquitoes were a bad problem and they sprayed overhead with DDT, which was probably poison. They didn't do that for very long. But I do remember that as a child. And I remember driving movies and drive in restaurants, where the servers would bring you hot dogs to your car on roller skates. The hot dogs were on the roller skates servers were but they put the food on a tray and set it up in your car window. That was really fun. Do you remember a place on the 79th Street causeway called Funfair? Had lots of games? Was it open? 


Meg Daly  03:27

Oh, we didn't go that far north. 


Lea Lane  03:29

You were from Miami. I know I'm on the beach. Well, that was really fun. That was one of our, we didn't have you know, iPhones and all that. So we we go there to play games like pinball and stuff like that. And I remember when the Everglades was considered just a big swamp, and we went to the parrot jungle, the monkey jungle, the serpentarium where they note the snake. They said they milked it, but I don't know what that it was it was them. And the owner later died, unfortunately was poisoned by the snake venom. I don't know how long that was going on. I moved to New York area in I moved out of Miami actually in the 1960s. So you'll have to catch me up on some of the later memories. These are old time memories. I do remember the Cubans arriving in 1960. And I remember cabanas at hotels where you would go for the summer to cool off again because of the heat. And it would be these big shows with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. It was a really exciting time for for entertainment around here. And let's see, I remember a dog track across from Joe Stone crabs, where the Greyhounds would run after a motorized rabbit. And then the people would all cross the street and eat Stone crabs. That was a real Miami evening. And let's see, I remember something I don't like I remember as a child I purposely drank from a water fountain that said colored because I didn't like the idea that I knew even as a child that was wrong. And I remember sitting in the back of the bus in my little 10 year old protest, because Miami was segregated for much of my childhood. But for you, that's all I can think of at the moment. Yeah. What about you, you can pick it up? 


Meg Daly  05:12

Well, as you moved away in 1960, my parents moved us here from Boston in 1960. I was six months old. And your memories of Miami Beach, Coral Gables, for those listening is one of the early suburbs designed by George Merrick who also came from Boston, little town of Duxbury. And we settled in this beautiful old Spanish from 1926. And my memories are leaving the house in the morning. And if I came back before lunch, my mom would show us out of the house. So we were these rug rats kind of stomping around the neighborhood, jumping in our neighbor's pools, because we didn't have one was hot. But my family, we were a big activist. So my mom, we had five children. And so my parents would always sort of stuff petitions in our hands, and tell us to go get signatures, which is one of the reasons the Biltmore Hotel is still here. Really, so we talked about past and, and present. So, my parents, my dad was an attorney. My mom was a housekeeper, but very active in many causes. And so the Biltmore Hotel, you know, really one of the gyms of South Florida, I think, modeled after the heat, Alda in Spain, was going to be redeveloped. And so they preserved it. And at that time, it was a VA hospital. And then no one knew what to do with it. So then it was called a white elephant. It's now beautifully restored. And just a treasure on the Biltmore golf course.


Lea Lane  06:44

It absolutely is. I didn't know you had a connection to that. I thank you for that as well, the family and you, which kind of brings us up to the present a little bit because your father, Parker Thompson, was one of the founders of the Performing Arts Center. And from 2000 to the present. Miami just became a cultural haven, it had very little culture when I was growing up, per se. I mean, I don't remember it beyond the boom, boom room of the Fontainebleau hotel was where we would go to hear music, or you know, that kind of thing. But since 2001, since I moved back here. It's been incredible. This is a real cultural center right now. So tell us a little bit about the art and how it's started and when it started.


Meg Daly  07:31

So that was a 23 year odyssey for my father. He was involved with the local arts council, with Michael Spring, who still overseas art in public places. And, you know, Fort Lauderdale, Naples. You know, even in Palm Beach, and even Orlando, had a beginning of a performing arts center in mind. You didn't. You talked about the Jackie Gleason theater, we had these smaller facilities, but certainly not a facility with the kind of sound I think, capacity that we really needed. And so dad said we need a performing arts center and 23 years later, we got one and it's rural class. He was responsible for the Miami Herald donating the land on one side of the street and Sears donating the land on the other side of the street, which made the two halls a lot of people don't know why we have the two, the concert and the Opera House. And you know, and now with Art Basel. I mean, we have we are I had lunch with a New Yorker yesterday in Chicago in and she said, You know, I really think that Miami has gained its reputation, its place in the sun for the arts. And I think a lot of that was from the Performing Arts Center.


Lea Lane  08:49

Absolutely. We have also the museum's you have the PAM Museum, and you have the Science Museum and you have Winwood with the beautiful walls, the New World Symphony. I mean, Miami, I used to say, well, it's wonderful weather. And I'd have to stop after that. When I was, again, younger, and I there wasn't much else to say it was a beautiful place to live, but there wasn't much culture. But now it's absolutely terrific. Of course that has spurred on restaurants, amazing restaurants,


Meg Daly  09:21

Well, there weren't that many when I was growing up, we would usually go to a salad place. When I was a kid kid, my parents would get us to fill up and hopefully go to sleep. And that was right on us one where you know, we had, you know, maybe a Denny's. It just wasn't much offer here. And that's actually where we're extending the underline all the way down south to today land. And now we have these announcements of these great New York restaurants coming here. And then there's really a lot of young talent. And we also had remember, we had the Wynwood you know sort of pop up where you had all the great new restaurants and now they've moved up to Doral. So there's a lot of creativity and a lot of, I think, a lot of opportunity here. 


Lea Lane  10:09

There are many, many new neighborhoods and then their wonderful neighbors, Brickell, Midtown, Edgewater. And now along the Miami River, which has been a under use and underappreciated area, it's becoming very, very chic right now. And great architects have come by we have Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, I pooted, the artist, it's, it's exciting. But there's also heavy traffic, bad drivers, I have to say, we have some public transport. But we just got the bright line, which is a very fast moving train. But that brings us back to the underlying, because you are taking us to the future, which is hopefully more safe, pedestrian oriented, and green. So tell us a little bit about that.


Meg Daly  11:02

So you brought up really good points. We're a young city, and it was built in the 50s. Really around the car. So we'd like to think that we have to sort of re hard wire, our city, which is infrastructure, which is expensive and takes a long time to do. So the underlying goes from downtown to South Dade. So it's with it's this long stretch within the urban core. And it has many purposes. One is its walkability, bikeability connection to mass transit, which is our metro rail. It runs through eight transit stations, early studies show that we could reduce traffic by at least five to 7%. If people just drive it don't drive a short distance to the train station, and walk and bike instead. And it's really about like, I remember riding my bike to school, we talk about those memories. And you know, we're trying to create this network of trails. So of all ages, whether you're older or younger, you feel safe walking and biking. Recent report just came out saying that this is one of the most dangerous places to walk in the United States. And so we have work to do. But I think that we have some leadership and certainly the support for the underlying which is fully funded for construction. For the 10 miles, you know, we now what else is going to connect to that? How can it be sort of this backbone of a larger system? And what we're working on now we have to complete the 10 mile project by 2025. complicated but tied to our grants. And what does that mean? What does that look like? So it really is really a 10 mile neighborhood park. I was telling you before we just did this tour this morning with all of our plants. So the layer of resiliency and sustainability through plants that are all native, we're adding a technology component. There's a health and wellness and Recreation component with basketball, soccer, and all these facilities are just in this first half mile. It's crazy busy and so much fun to see. But also places to connect. Because you've met you mentioned those distinct neighborhoods, right, but they don't really communicate with each other. So how do we bring a place that everybody feels welcome. And so put put that all together. And I think you, you add it all up and equals life equals life for today. And hopefully like for the future and for generations to come.


Lea Lane  13:26

It really helps climate change as well, because all of these things you're talking about, help the land and help to make us greener. And we are going to have a problem with the sea. And we are preparing for that with sea walls and pumps and all kinds of infrastructure but having fewer cars and being able to walk and thinking of that is a major component of a better future in terms of climate change as well. 


Meg Daly  13:53

So I'm really glad you brought that up because part of the resiliency piece for the underline is we're introducing green infrastructure. So you have hard infrastructure like those sea walls, but green infrastructure is bioswales. So it's using this sort of soft, the soft drainage systems throughout the 10 miles so that the water can percolate into our unique, our unique system, which is a very shallow aquifer. We're built on limestone. If you have people from New York, they're built on granite, which is why they can support so many skyscrapers and big buildings. And and so how do we use plants to really help us be more resilient? You mentioned co2, so a lot of Miami is a big hot spot because of asphalt and heat gain. So adding more tree canopy, we're adding 4000 trees. I mean, this is all just things I love because I love green, but it's also just a really, in the long term, a very inexpensive way to offset heat game.


Lea Lane  14:53

It's terrific. Thank you again. We've covered the past or the future, but the name of the podcast is Places I Remember. What's a favorite memory of yours of Miami?


Meg Daly  15:05

I think you've heard this story before. But seven years ago, I had a bike accident and I broke both of my arms. That's very humbling, because I couldn't do anything for myself. But it was also a great lesson that I could you know, lean on the people who I love. And like, is it can you drive me to physical therapy three times a week. And after a couple of months of healing, I realized I could take the train the Metro Rail near my house, near University of Miami, and just a coconut grove. And then I walked below the train tracks the rest of the way, July, Hot in the Shade of the train tracks, and I've driven past this, this sort of stretch of land, that's a big scar cutting through our county. And being in the space, I realized how wide it is and how much space there is, it's 100 feet wide. And again, I mentioned 120 acres for the 10 miles and I thought, why don't we turn this into a park. And so anyone who's been to the highline we have the same design team, you talked about great design coming to Miami, James Corner Field Operations. And, and we said, let's just embark on that idea. And I remember the moment of slowing down and walking in a space that I've driven by my whole life. And it woke it woke me up to opportunity. Instead of saying that's bladed, I said, Well, we can do something with this and turn it an asset for the community. So it's a great memory, and it just keeps on giving because we keep on getting more of the underlying every day.


Lea Lane  16:42

It's fantastic. I thank you so much for that. And for coming here. Miami will be better and even more magical now. And in the future, because of your vision of the underlying. Thank you. We all thank you.


Meg Daly  16:55

Well, thank you, Lea. And you know, I have so many people to thank, we're probably at a time but I do want to recognize our partner in Miami Dade County. This is their land. They've trusted us with the with the planning and visioning and cope and partnering on building it, and the 1000 Hundreds of volunteers who help us every day. So thank you for your interest in the underlying


Lea Lane  17:17

I love it. I walk it, I live it and I walk it all the time now. It's wonderful. So thanks again. Bye Bye bye. Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and in bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.

About The Underline -- Game Changer
How Miami Beach has changed, post WW2-1960
How Miami has changed since the 1960s
Biltmore Hotel history
The beginning of culture in Miami
Art Basel and a new cultural flowering
Heavy Traffic
The Underline will "re-hardwire the city"
Climate change in Miami
Meg shares a favorite memory, bridging past, present and future