Mitzi Napoles selfie

Fall 2021 FIU Real Florida Landscapes Design Challenge

Before this project, I was unaware of the importance of the type of plant chosen and where it is placed in a design. Very few people know how important native plants are, and the connection these plants have with the environment and wildlife. I know now. And I am without question inspired and motivated to keep learning, and to share and apply my native plant knowledge in my future projects.

Mitzi A. Napoles, Fall 2021 FIU Real Florida Design Challenge Award Winner
Mitzi Napoles, a graduate student in landscape architecture at Florida International University in Miami, designed 100% native plantings for the campus that support people and pollinators.

In 2021, we had the opportunity to work in “the Magic City,” Miami, with landscape architecture students at Florida International University (FIU). As part of their graduate design course, the students developed all native planting designs for areas on campus. Miami-Dade County is home to some of the most unusual Florida native plants, including plants of the pine rockland and tropical hardwood hammock ecosystems unique to southeast Florida. The students were able to visit a native plant nursery and talk to native plant professionals to learn what is involved in selecting, sourcing and maintaining native plants. One student’s plan stood out.

This beautiful design considers all the benefits of a native, sustainable landscape and pays keen attention to traffic circulation. It feels welcoming and user friendly …” These are just two of many positive comments from the half dozen Florida native plant growers and landscape experts from Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Naples, who evaluated student submissions and selected Mitzi Napoles’ plan as the final winner.

Mitzi focused on the potential for outdoor classroom experiences for faculty and students, and chose plants, pathways and seating structures accordingly. Her planting design is inspired by the existing architecture onsite, the interaction of students with the space, and her analysis of foot traffic and key moments. The plan clearly separates space for both humans and for plants and animals, specifically pollinators. Shrubs, trees and groundcovers work as walls and create designated spaces for interaction. Seating structures are large enough to support outdoor lectures. The circulation reflects the linear elements of the site’s built structures, and supports foot traffic with walking paths through and within the gardens.

Born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico, Mitzi moved to Miami in 2006. Coming from a city where pollution is a big problem, she grew up with an eco-friendly mindset and the desire to integrate sustainability into daily life. Always interested in architecture and urban planning, it wasn’t until Mitzi came to FIU that she learned about the field of landscape architecture. She now feels that she is finally on the right path for making a real change in the way that nature is incorporated into urban design.

As the mother of a 9 year-old little boy (“my main inspiration in everything I do”), Mitzi knows how to get things done. She works full time as a branding manager and graphic designer, is enrolled as a full-time student in the masters program at FIU, and has never let the pandemic stop her. She hopes to graduate in the summer of 2024 and would like to be involved in the creation of public spaces, green infrastructure and eventually, helping to transfer knowledge to future generations. We can’t wait for the transformations Mitzi will bring to our world.  

Shout out to adjunct professor and landscape designer Bryce Donner, who helped us extend our Real Florida Design Challenge program to Florida International University (FIU) in Miami, where the landscape architecture program focuses on design, planning and management of tropical and subtropical regions. FIU attracts students from around the world and we so appreciate the opportunity to help these future landscape leaders develop a deeper understanding of native plants and how to use them.

Our Florida native plant industry partner, FANN, recruited their professional members from South Florida to volunteer, consulting on campus with students during the conceptual design process and then painstakingly evaluating final plant selections. Feedback from professionals that have been working with native plants every day, in a variety of settings, for years, can help jumpstart a career with native plants.

Learning about plants is a lifelong process. Spend time outdoors. Diversity is good, even if today, no one knows how to maintain it.

A few stand-out generaL RECOMMENDATIONS from Among many detailed plan- and site-specific comments made by thE FIU COMPETITION judges.
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