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Code Word: Update

What will Miami look like at the end of the century? Residents will have a good idea as Miami embarks on an ambitious two-year effort to plan the city's development for decades to come.

That endeavor, known as Miami 21 (as in 21st century), will include a complete rewrite of the city's zoning code after planners study growth patterns, transportation systems, park usage, historic preservation concerns and economic development needs. Backers say it will be the first document of its kind in the nation for a major city.

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who will seek his second and, by law, last term this fall, calls it his administration's top priority. "My overriding goal, and that for which I hope to be remembered, is to position Miami as one of the great cities of the world," Diaz says. "You can't do that without proper planning."Mayor Manny Diaz says updating the city's antiquated zoning code is his top priority.

Today, Diaz admits, the city's zoning code is a mess. Parts of it date back nearly 100 years, with volumes of complicated amendments, known as overlays, added over time. The result is an urban planner's nightmare: High-rise towers next to single-family homes, city parks with little public access, residential neighborhoods that favor cars over bicycles and pedestrians.

Leading the Miami 21 effort are renowned urban planners Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, co-founders of the New Urbanist design movement that favors mixed-use developments, walkable neighborhoods and other features that reduce automobile traffic. Other consultants will focus on traffic, parks and economic development. City officials say the teams, working together, will map out virtually the entire city, recommending zoning changes that will make each neighborhood more livable and more sustainable but also more interconnected. Diaz says changes will be adopted on a rolling basis, as they arrive at City Hall.

Citizen groups are approaching the $3-million project with guarded optimism. The city is in the midst of a high-rise building frenzy -- some 50 large-scale projects are in the works -- and many residents have complained that city leaders have done little to protect and preserve neighborhoods from rising traffic, crime and out-of-scale development.

Diaz begs their patience. "We hear their concerns, but with the way things are written (in the city's zoning code), there often isn't anything we can do. This will change that. And we want everyone who cares about it to be part of the process."