Maria Cruz: MIM Ineffable Miami Project (Fall 2019)

This post is dedicated to Maria Cruz’s Ineffable Miami Project she had to complete for her Honors course in the Fall of 2019. Acting as a tour guide for the illustrious are of Miracle Mile these are her findings.

Student Biography

Photo by Alex Gutierrez (CC by 4.0)

Maria Karla Cruz Velazquez is currently a senior at the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in International Relations and minoring in Marketing. Fresh from her study abroad trip she completed this past summer in France with Professor Bailly she is in the midst of completing her final year at FIU, greatly looking forward to graduating in the Spring of 2020. Her travels abroad have reignited her interests in the arts, inspiring her to pursue a career focused on the intercultural aspects of international relations through non-traditional forms. Through her academic and future professional endeavors she aims to bring a holistic awareness between arts, politics, and cultural dynamics of the global arena. While her studies are a major focus of her life, outside of school she loves traveling, new places to eat, and hanging out with her friends — all things that can be found in FIU’s Honors College new course Miami in Miami and are bound to make for an exciting semester.

Overview

Photo by Google Maps (CC by 4.0)

Located in the very center of Coral Gables, or what some people refer to as the “downtown” area of the city, Miracle Mile is one of Miami’s most distinguished sites. Stretching just 0.5 miles of the entirety of Coral Way, this section of the road perfectly embodies the affluent environment of the surrounding neighborhood. While it was initially founded in 1922, it was not until 1949 that Miracle Mile developed to be one of Miami’s leading centers for business and commerce, and garnering the interest (and investments) of the richest in the city. This statement is still relevant to this day as the area is known for its expensive boutiques, parking garages overrun by foreign luxury cars, pricy restaurants, and the leisure lifestyle of those with the highest socioeconomic status.

Historical Insight

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

Recognized as one of the main streets for both the city of Coral Gables and the county of Miami-Dade, Miracle Mile has played an important role in the development of south Miami as it has transitioned to be one of America’s leading metropolitan areas. While Miracle Mile is merely a smaller portion of Coral Way it has its own distinguished history and has gained notoriety amongst locals and tourists alike.

Real estate developer George E. Merrick, who’s most well-known project was the establishment of the City of Coral Gables, had the original vision for Miracle Mile, laying out the design for it when he originally found Coral Gables. However, it was after the conclusion of World War II, in 1949, that the concept of Miracle Mile that has been preserved throughout the decades was “conceived, developed, and implemented,” by City Commissioner Rebyl Zain and her husband George K. Zain. The couples were able to transform Merrick’s earlier aspirations of introducing a successful commercial district to the area to what it currently is today. Acting as one of Miami’s main hubs of shopping and dining, attracting individuals of all ages as it provides a relaxed and leisure environment during the day and later changing to a more exciting atmosphere for its bustling nightlife. Therefore, whether its families looking to take their kids out on for a fun day or college students hoping for a fun night out there are plenty of activities to do in this small boulevard and its surrounding areas. 

While I had visited Miracle Mile before starting this project, I had never been as observant of my surroundings nor spent so much time there. All of my experiences, like many of my friends, have been limited to merely driving by as we are heading to another destination in Coral Gables or stopping by to dine at the latest trending restaurant. Yet, after my prolonged time there I came to the realization that it is one of the few areas in Miami that I have found throughout my months of re-exploration of the city with the class that makes it a goal to share their historical significance and preserve its original mission. Still despite all the plaques of its grand successes and innovation Miracle Mile, and Coral Gables in general, largely ignores its impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods. Being one of Miami’s richest neighborhoods, visiting the city feels like being in a completely different state. There is wider access to public transportation, more open areas for walking, cleaner streets, less intense traffic (aside from U.S. 1), and more local businesses — all things not associated with the average Miami experience. It is quite evident that the resources allocated here are not equal to other places throughout the county. The realities of their residents and those that frequent the shopping boulevard is so distinct from a majority of Miami’s residents that one can not help to be equally amazed and disillusioned.

Geography

Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

Much like the rest of Miami, Miracle Mile is a completely flat stretch of road that is at the mercy of the surrounding mercurial, tropical environment. Many (like myself before the start of this project) assume that Miracle Mile encompasses the entirety of the main road, but it is in fact just the portion of the Coral Way between Douglas Road and Le Jeune Road. This designated section was officially named “Miracle Mile” in 1955, its name referring to the hope its developers had for this new venture to bring economic revenue to the area following the Great Depression.

My initial interest in Miracle Mile and desire to further explore it for this project is mainly due to the fact that it is one of the few places I know of in Miami where you can explore its entirety by foot and in a reasonable time. Even more importantly, it is one of the few developed areas in Miami where you can freely walk without fear of running into a crazy driver. Despite us being so advanced, Miami was never supposed to become the grand city it is; therefore, the original city plans that were built upon throughout the decades of development are often criticized for the spacing and public transportation it has caused. As someone who has lived a majority of their life in the suburbs, Miracle Mile is especially interesting because it offers the complete opposite to what I am accustomed to.

Additional notes on greenery

Unsurprisingly, aside from the palm trees lining the road there is not much greenery to be seen in Miracle Mile. This is just one of the many areas of Miami that have been overrun with buildings and paved roads, where the expansive landscape of mangroves and other natural habitats have been sacrificed for the sake of modernity. The most noticeable patch of green is by the City Hall where there is a small park for children; however, this is by no means a significant amount of land, especially when compared to how many concrete and limestone structures dominate the remaining streetscape. 

Additional notes on transportation

As previously mentioned, Miami does not have the best track record with public transportation — a commonly said phrase amongst its locals is that “if you do not have a car, you are not getting anywhere.” However, this is one of the few areas that can actually be accessed through public transportation, both through the Metro Rail and city trolley, if you choose to not drive over. Moreover, there is plenty of space for those who wish to ride bicycles, scooters, or any other form of pedestrian-vehicle along the sidewalks and open streets.

Interview and Demographics

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

During my time exploring Miracle Mile, I had two guests with me, Victoria Suarez and Gustavo Tovar — two students of the University of Miami and are frequent visitors of Miracle Mile. Their short distance from the area means that they often frequent it and have vastly more knowledge than me on the latest activities and trending spots. Below are some of the highlights of my interview with them.

As college students what stands out the most to you about Miracle Mile and Coral Gables in general?

 V: I would say the sense of community that defines the neighborhood because even though these places that are off-campus everyone always frequents them, so it’s become this “campus off-campus” site. Like how we just saw Ameer (a friend of theirs from the same university we ran into earlier in the day), and he was stepping off-campus to unwind for a bit before going back. So it’s a very welcoming environment for a lot of people.                                                                                                                                           
G: I think for me I like the rich history the most. Like I find it beautiful that the buildings are still very much old and historic, I love the limestone and mixture of architectural styles for the buildings... It’s also not often that you see so many preserved locations, such as the old movie theater and city hall, in Miami.

Now that you have pointed out the differences, does this area remind you more of Miami or places outside of the city (or states)?

V: I still think it’s very much Miami.
G: I think for me this place is definitely an anomaly in the sense of what Miami is made up of, because if you go to [the suburbs where we live] it’s not historical or well kept like this.
V: Right, so that’s why [Miracle Mile] is seen as the center of the city, because it’s where you see the best of what we have to offer manifest itself.
G: I understand that perspective but I think it’s equally important to note the dichotomy between the old and new, and how that influences our community’s (as a whole) perspectives on these locations. So, Coral Gables and similar areas are seen as “the real Miami” and everywhere is else is kind of like a background.

In comparison to the suburbs where you live and grew up in, do you prefer this area or your home?

G: I like this place better because I feel like there’s a lot of walking distance you can cover on your own and a variety of associated activities... as opposed to where we live where you need a car to get anywhere.
V: It’s like a good middle ground between the city and the suburbs, you get a good mix of both so it’s easier to both navigate and live in.
G: My only issue is how horrendous the parking situation is.
V: And the city planning as well, like we were just talking about how this city wasn’t built to be as big as it is now. So while these are some major downsides it’s justified.

Off the top of your head, what is the top place you recommend visiting in Miracle Mile?

V: Coral Gables Art Cinema, the local theater, and Books & Books are at the top of my list. I think these are places a lot of people will enjoy visiting. I also know they host a few festivals near the main street throughout the year, like this art one that’s put up in the Spring, so that’s something I would recommend as well because of it’s accessibility.
G: Those are my top recommendations as well, but every time I come to try a new restaurant here I always have a good time, so I would tell others to explore the restaurant options based on their preferences. Even if you’re a local and frequent the area, Miracle Mile is an area where there’s constantly something new to try out.                                                                                                      

Aside from the candidness of their responses, what was most interesting to me was how their individual answers resonated with my own observations and thoughts. Living in Miami, there is always so much going on that it is impossible to pay attention to it all simultaneously. As a result, many (including myself) stick to their daily routines and forget that there are more people than just yourself and your small bubble of friends, family members, and acquaintances. This disconnection from your local community makes you think that you are alone in your experiences, which I have felt many times before, but it is important to remember that this is not the reality. This is definitely an idea I have reconciled throughout our different class expeditions this semester and my individual explorations for this project.

I also chose two college-aged individuals to interview because when I have visited Miracle Mile in the past it was very evident that it is an area frequented more by those in younger generations, and the statement still stands. While there were some families out together, when I was there researching for the project I saw a lot more people around my age range. This may be surprising to some as Coral Gables as a whole is seen as a very family-friendly residential area and higher price points of the luxury boutiques and popular restaurants tend to repel younger people; however, there is no doubt the proximity of UM has skewed the demographics of the city’s most known locations. This is especially discernible at night where you will find the crowds from open businesses spilling out into the sidewalks as hundreds of people are trying to get into the trendiest spots. Therefore, while they may not visit Miracle Mile to shop or drop obscene amounts of money, they still show up because of their attraction to its bustling environment and desire to partake in the many ongoing activities. 

Observations

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

When you first arrive at Miracle Mile the most notable thing is its extensive space for pedestrians and recreational activities alike. This open planning allows for a casual and relaxed ambiance for the day before enhancing the dynamic energy of the boulevard at night. There are barely any areas left in Miami that have preserved this type of versatile environment, choosing instead to adapt to the rules of uniformity of modern urban planning — much to the dismay of our community and local businesses. Overall, this section is very reminiscent of Europe to me as streets just like it are found all throughout and getting the chance to explore them was one of my favorite activities during my travels there. From seeing friends riding bikes together to artists painting en plein air in the sidewalks my time at Miracle Mile was a very refreshing break from the chaos that my Miami life is. This is one of the key reasons why this road is one of the remaining developments of its type that has “maintained its original purpose and significance” in the continental United States.

Additional notes on landmarks

Due to the short length of this road there are not many notorious landmarks around; however, the ones that are present are important in adding to the cultural richness of the street and by default the city. Of political importance is not just Coral Gables’ historic City Hall but the various embassies that are found near the main street as well. These locations have played significant roles in Miami’s development in both the domestic and international arena, and as a result, have made the local area even more illustrious than it originally was. Moreover, there are several markers located along the street that informs visitors of past figure and events that were major contributors to forging Mr. Merrick’s dreams into a reality. There are also places like the Coral Gables Art Cinema and Books & Books (as previously discussed in the interview) that are well known in our local community. These are hallmark places that through the widespread appreciation of Miami residents have been embedded into the image of Miracle Mile.

Additional notes on food and businesses

As the heart of the Central Business District there are constantly new locales to visit, even more so since the boulevard’s redesigning to attract more tourists and keep up with the modern demands of locals. Still, the original beauty and elegance of this street are standards that have been upheld by local merchants, adding a layer of authenticity to the surroundings that many developed cities are currently lacking. The businesses on Miracle Mile are more than just luxury boutiques and pricey eateries; despite, the superficial beliefs of consumer culture their presence reinforces they have played an equal role in creating a distinct neighborhood that has allowed them to preserve this sense of community so many desperately seek.

Reflection

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

The term “ineffable” refers to a concept that is “too great or extreme” to be merely described in words, something I definitely think is applicable to my findings of Miracle Mile. For example, for me, my personal exploration of this sector was a great reinforcer of past societal and cultural judgments I have made of my home city, Miami. As a thriving downtown boulevard, this reality of the people that live in this area is vastly different from my own, from the resources allocated to there to peoples’ perception of its cultural value. Solely by traveling to and from there, you can see the substantial economic disparity between residents from that area and the rest of the city. Miracle Mile is merely a microcosm for a much larger issue that plagues our home, and these are topics that have barely been acknowledged by those in power that are capable of introducing the necessary means for change. While spending a day there is fun for all that go, I could not discuss the beauty of it without recognizing the many problems that are widely ignored because of the illusions of refinement and excellence centers like this cover up. It is important to remind visitors, like I have been thanks to the themes tackled in this class, that there is much more to our original appreciation of a location.

Works Cited

https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=83130

https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/thing-to-do/shopping/miracle-mile-downtown-coral-gables-shopping-district/2904

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_Mile_(Coral_Gables)

https://www.miaminewtimes.com/arts/walk-through-miracle-miles-history-at-the-coral-gables-museums-latest-exhibition-8315270

Leave a Reply