Homeless
7:45 pm
Mon March 17, 2014

Britto Meters Still Confuse Drivers, Passersby

Stephen Sawitz with one of his "Britto meters" in the parking lot of Joe's Stone Crab.
Stephen Sawitz with one of his "Britto meters" in the parking lot of Joe's Stone Crab.
Credit Wilson Sayre

It’s a cool Saturday night and Anthony Rolle pulls his blue Infiniti into the parking lot at Joe’s Stone Crab on South Beach, where he’s headed for dinner. He gets out and drops a quarter into the meter in front of his space.

Rolle starts to look a little puzzled. The meter is painted bright yellow with hearts, flowers and cozy-looking houses. This is not a normal parking meter. It's not actually a parking meter at all.

It's one of Miami Dade County’s so-called “Britto meters,” which provide a way for people to donate money to help the homeless without having to give to panhandlers -- a type of donation box. So far the project has raised $34,000 for the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, which sounds great until you realize at least some of that money comes from people like Rolle.

He exemplifies just how easy it is to overlook the tiny print above the coin slot that says “not for parking.”

“I thought I was paying for parking. I don’t understand, what are they collecting money for?” asks Rolle.

The money goes to a designated account overseen by the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, making sure it pays for things like beds and services as opposed to salaries and administrative fees.

“Well I don't have any problem helping the homeless,” says Rolle, putting in a dollar more. “I’m glad I know now. They need to make it clearer and let people know.”

Romero Britto's "slap you in the face" design for the meters.
Romero Britto's "slap you in the face" design for the meters.
Credit Wilson Sayre

Three years after this project launched, people don’t get it. And this is an attempt at a clearer version of the idea.

The “homeless meter” concept is not unique to Miami. Ron Book, chair of the Homeless Trust, first saw the meters in action in Denver.

“We walked by 10 of them before we realized what they were,” Book recalls. “I looked at these meters, and they were, like, nondescript. Nobody could see them. I missed them, and I [was] looking for them!”

Book’s solution for the Miami meters: “We wanted them to slap you in the face.”

Specifically a slap delivered by pop-artist Romero Britto, who agreed to design Miami’s version.

And Britto’s bright colors do help them stand out, especially in places like Government Center, where the meters are installed in the middle of a sidewalk.

Even though you couldn’t park in front of it if you wanted to, the meter still works like a parking meter — 10 minutes per quarter.

Designer Kristin Ross thinks the design sends too many mixed signals. The entire concept, she says, may have been flawed from conception, with the idea of a “parking meter.”

“If it doesn't have to look like a parking meter, don't make it look like a parking meter,” says Ross. “We have an archetype for what that object is. People have an automatic conclusion, and that's definitely creating confusion.”

Like the confusion Rolle felt at Joe’s Stone Crab. Even Joe’s chief operating officer, Stephen Sawitz, thinks the meters are a bit confusing.

“'Not for parking,' but what does that mean?” Sawitz asks, reading some of the fine print on one of the meters in his restaurant’s lot.

The location for some of the "Britto meters" around Miami-Dade County.
The location for some of the "Britto meters" around Miami-Dade County.
Credit Miami-Dade Homeless Trust

He acknowledges that at least some of his customers accidentally donate money to the Homeless Trust. But he’s not too bothered about the confused generosity.

“I’d rather just leave it,” he says of the current design scheme. “If someone says, ‘Oh, my God, I got ripped off for a dollar and I have to give it to charity,’ there’s no intention to be misleading. I’ll give them their money back if they’re really pissed off.”

As for the future of the program, Ron Book isn’t giving up -- in fact, it's kind of the opposite. He admits “slapping people in the face” with Romero Britto hasn’t worked perfectly, but he has a new solution: education by volume.

“I think the more of them we get out there, the more of the message gets spread,” he explains.

There are currently 85 Britto meters throughout the county. Increase that number by 600 percent, says Book, and people will start to get the idea. From this video below, it's clear they haven't yet.

To see the location of all the "Britto meters" click here.

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WLRN is co-presenting the Power of Design Festival with the FIU-Wolfsonian museum. The theme is complaints. Stop by our complaints booth Saturday, March 22 at 1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach 33139.  You can find out more here.