Once more I ask myself what it's all about. In the macro, it's about people moving to cities, and cities doing their best to attract the right sorts, because, perhaps, their leaders have grown tired of trying to manage the unsightly problem of poverty. They want people who have more money, and are willing to spend and earn it. The cities grow their tax bases. Poorer neighborhoods get developed into desirable areas for newcomers and wealthier residents, and most folks cheer. "Upzoning" can provide greater density along corridors that provide easy access to the job hubs. Bars and cafes cater to the new upscale residents. And of course, implicit in it all, actually EXplicit if your head's on tight, is calming the fears people have of personal violence. So there are the requisite assurances to the newcomers that they will be safe walking to and from their cars (since only the poor and hookers walk anywhere) despite the constant bombarding of evidence to the contrary provided by the News at Eleven. Do you watch the local news? I rarely do but it's beyond shocking. It's one horrible story of psychopaths doing horrible awful things, as if the anomalous is now commonplace, and you deserve a medal for choosing a lifestyle where these horrible awful things don't happen to you every single day. It's almost always Blacks doing the horrible awful things with a smattering of Latinos, and the stories come one after another, and if you were just a bit cynical you might call it propaganda, not news, feeding the very fears that create and then reinforce a neurotic, fucked up city. The brochure and the reality could not be more at odds.
Because yes, Miami has a very, very significant and populous underclass and with it, an extraordinarily high crime rate. Miami's upper class has designed its super-chic neighborhoods with crime at the very top of the priority list. So, much like Brooklyn, the wave of not-so-rich newcomers is highly correlated to peoples' sense of personal safety. (I say "sense" because it is still much more likely you will be a victim of violent crime if you live in one of the poorest neighborhoods.)
So yes, there are two very, very different Miami's. One, the glitzy party-hearty expat capital of Latin America, built on a mound of cocaine and commerce, which in Miami are sort of one and the same. Last night I was talking to a lawyer, originally from Nebraska, very successful I suspect, who hasn't a single native English speaking client. He deals in wills and trusts and estates of wealthy Cubans and Nicaraguans and "residents" of the Cayman Islands. Miami is the place to park your money, buy a place and hold, in case all hell breaks loose back home. Sound familiar? Multi-million-dollar condos, sitting vacant most the year. And art. Moving down for the winter, out for the summer, over borders, sometimes to avoid taxation, sometimes to launder money. An art handler we met says that business is booming for those moving priceless artwork around, storing it, showing it, hiding it. And some of that work is strictly no-tell cash, benefiting those on each side of the transaction. Internationally famous Art Basel is HUGE business down here - it's grown wildly since hatching in 2001, just after 9/11. The whole neighborhoods of Wynwood and the Design District rely on its cache and its annual influx of wealth and polish. Some residents make most of their annual income during a couple weeks in December.
So it comes as no surprise to read this from a local rag:
A battle is brewing for the soul of Miami's most iconic neighborhood. Little Havana, the spiritual home of the Cuban diaspora that populated the area in droves following the 1959 revolution, is still mostly a blue-collar immigrant neighborhood. But proposed zoning changes for taller condos and more commercial development have activists worried those residents could be pushed out. Developers and city officials backing the changes argue they would revitalize an economically depressed neighborhood, but critics are pushing back.And the "artists," who once "led the way" in South Beach, then the Design District, then Wynwood...some say they're actually skipping over iconic Little Havana and heading right for Little Haiti. With development happening so quickly, why not just bypass the next "hot spot" altogether? So maybe, unlike Wynwood, the "artists" won't be needed. Build enough gated condos and perhaps you don't need the art. Artists, it appears, are seeing through the scheme and heading right past the next hot nabe to the NEXT hot nabe.
"The war is going to begin," Yvonne Bayona, a longtime resident and activist, tells New Times. "These high-rises are going to come, and they're going to eat us if we don't act quickly."
But talk about bull, this whole "artists" nonsense. There are never more than a few dozen ACTUAL, WORKING artists in any of these transactions. Many of the new residents called artists are really classic Bohemians, unshaven and unruly, searching for mates of the same temperament, that they might ultimately create children none-too-beholden to gramma and grandpa's politics. Being an "artist" is often about what you're not, which is mainstream, corporate, khakis with tucked in shirts, but it's still about getting laid and making babies, just like the rest of the species (I know, I know, cynical Q. I was once one of those, so like a Borscht Belt comedian, I feel comfortable viciously mocking my people.)
The war that Ms. Bayonda describes will be, as it will be elsewhere, short-lived. And if she's fortunate enough to own real estate, the end of the war will come with a consolation check. She cites the fact that she will fight because she is entitled to equal rights, but we all know the reality. An individual is not afforded rights that trump Trump. And in the case of Wynwood, the Trump is named Goldman. Tony Goldman. Or rather the David Walentas is named Tony Goldman, because Wynwood is a storyline ripped from Dumbo, a fabricated neighborhood, now one of the wealthiest in the nation. In a striking twist, Shepard Fairy, friend of Banksy and one-time outsider, actually used Tony Goldman as the centerpiece of one of his Wynwood murals, toasting the Goldman family thusly:
|Kinda Creepy - the Artist and Patron; which is the Developer?|
Largely portrayed as the redevelopment of underused urban neighborhoods, there's always another story under the surface, that of displacement, denial and disempowerment. For the greater good, mind you. In Wynwood, the good news, so we're told, is that less than 1,000 full-time residents have been herded out. That's only in the fine print of course. Read a great conversation about the dueling Wynwood narratives, if you're interested.
Listen, I'm a modern, moderately trendy guy. I have a Zipcar card! So I dial up the app, and find a Zip just a few blocks away. I note on my short walk that this old industrial "fashion district," mostly one-time wholesalers and sweatshops, has been re-conceived as an ultimate party destination neighborhood for tourists and the locally Hip. A far cry from the louder, skimpy-dress, jacket-and-jeans, cocaine and high-heels South Beach, you can actually wear your Brooklyn-like urban gear here while sipping a Kraft Beer. (I actually had no idea that the originators of instant macaroni and cheese had become the brew of choice for the young generation, but people just can't shut up about their Kraft Beer. Whatever happened to Michelob Light? And wine coolers?) The businesses have been curated to perfectly match the up-is-down rich-is-poor-is-rich curated murals, and the overall effect is both wildly impressive and soul-crushing at the same time. It's hard to tell which music wafting out of bars is ironic and which is for real, meaning you might as well just like what you like because no one over 30 really cares anyway. The concept of guilty pleasure has sort of dried up for me. It's all just pleasure. Or not. Maroon 5 song "Sugar?" Pleasure. Maroon 5 generally? Extreme displeasure. That lead singer in Moron 5? Way, way Miami.
I'm actually surprised when the Zip Lock clicks, and now I'm in, blasting the air conditioning in honor of the near-certain demise of this booming City, since even a couple feet of sea-rise will surely destroy the barrier island itself, and most of the rest of the area. The highest point in Miami is 12 feet above sea level. A massive hurricane will surely be devastating (for football buffs, I'll remind you the nickname of the local college team). The Great Hurricane of 1926 cost the City more than $100 billion in today's currency. Expect the massively upscaled Miami Beach to disappear. Expect the rest of Miami to drown. There is no system of locks to protect it. No political will to do anything but wait for the inevitable. Sheer luck is responsible for getting it this far.
As I drive north along 2nd Avenue, I enter Little Haiti. An elevated highway quite literally divides it from the Wynwood enclave. I drive through probably a couple miles of dilapidated houses, unsafe-looking cinder block structures with handpainted signs, many of the side streets are either unpaved or riddled with potholes to the point they'd be preferably dirt. The public housing is quite attractive in contrast, mostly low-rise, and lots of folks are hanging outside on steps and on sidewalks. Check-cashing, liquor stores, bodegas, hair places, cafeterias with signs written in Creole, store front churches and botanicas, it feels very much like a foreign country. Clearly most cars don't take this strikingly direct route to Midtown Miami and other points north. It's not a pleasant reminder of economic and racial disparity, though it's certainly not shocking to my Clarkson Avenue eyes. Still, the space between houses, like Compton (was? is?), and the sporadic palm trees and littered old tires remind one that it ain't the denser Northeast. There's a different look to the poverty. Some homes look unloved, even garbage strewn about, but every third is decorated and painted to the nines, a sign of serious house pride, flowers in the windows and cheerful decorations of mixed religious origin. People are laughing. Kids are playing. Life happens despite the disparities.
What's that on the horizon? One of America's many Martin Luther King Blvds, and a veering to the right puts me on 79th Street, headed for the Causeway. We're coming near the water now, and on my right I see the familiar barriers of gated communities, too close to the poverty I guess, and too close to the public transportation (diesel-spewing buses mostly) for comfort. The bridge over the Waterway is probably 20 feet above sea level, higher than the highest point of land in the entire City. What's that? A Citibike. A tourist has taken one from the Beach and ridden it up the bridge, providing a bit of real exercise. He'll be heading back to the docking station soon. Citibike only exists in Miami Beach and Downtown, so I'm told. A brave commuter living in one of MB's many high-rises could ride to work. I imagine a few actually do.
Except for the actively managed public beach, it's actually quite difficult to get to the sand in Miami, since there are so few points of public access. I've only got an hour, so I'll just head south on Collins to the next causeway and back over to the mainland. I can see Fisher Island now, one of the most exclusive addresses in the country. You get there by boat. Talk about gated community. More like moated.
I got the Zipcar back within an hour...two minutes to spare. It's cost me, with tax less than $11. Welcome to Miami, indeed.