MIM Ineffable Miami – Miami Beach: Beyond the Beaches by Blanca Alcaraz

Student Bio

Blanca J Alcaraz is a 20 year-old senior at Florida International University. She is double majoring in international business & finance with a certificate in Spanish translation and interpretation and will attend law school next fall, which goes to say she’s pretty busy all the time. Nonetheless, Blanca loves to try new things, she loves to immerse herself in new experiences and she loves to learn therefore this class has been a perfect fit for her. Banca is a Disney loving, chocolate cake eating, curly-haired girl ready to eat up the world and this class is getting her one step closer to that. John Bailly is the professor of the class titled Miami In Miami which takes on the challenge of exploring a city many call “home” yet are complete strangers to it. The class focuses on the hidden gems of the city of Miami, the art that was inspired by its rich culture and the places of historical meaning that now serve as a reminder of what started it all. Blanca doesn’t fear change or getting out of her comfort zone an is excitingly awaiting what life has in store for her.  

Geography

The city of Miami beach in southern Florida is a coastal city that was incorporated on March 26, 1925 and it lies on man-made barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay. The city boardwalk begins at Indian Beach Park on 46thstreet and Collins Ave and according to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 18.7 squared miles of which 11.7 squared miles are water and the other 7 square miles are land. The city is dominated by its beaches and the businesses located right on its coast making it one of the most coveted coastal cities in the world. Miami Beach is ground zero and thus faces tidal flooding annually which presents a problem for many of the residents in the area. The good news is that the city, moving forward, is being engineered for sea level rise and other potential threats climate change can bring them. The streets of Miami Beach are narrow allowing for only two lanes the majority of the time and this creates traffic jams that can last up to 2 hours, which is why many people resort to other means of transportation to avoid this. 

The city’s architecture is extremely unique and ties into its historical background. The different styles speak of different decades and many of the famous buildings remain functioning today as a reminder of what once was. Miami Beach is not like most Miami cities in which “walking distance” means 30 minutes to get there and 30 to come back, instead this city is one of the few that still witnesses pedestrians very frequently. People walk everywhere, from the restaurant to their hotel to the beach and to the store mainly because everything is close in distance. 

Certain districts in Miami Beach are famous worldwide and are known for either its architecture, historical value or high end brand shopping stores. Districts like the Art Deco Historic district, constructed from 1923 to 1949, is the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world! Collins Ave which runs north of 41st street is 13.1 miles in length and it is also known as “The Shopping District” and neighborhood runs along the beachfront and is comprised of a mix of hotels, nightclubs, restaurants, and retailers.

History

Miami Beach, the resort city, was originally a town incorporated on March 26,1915, that later became a city in 1917. The Tequesta Indians were the first settlers of the region that would later become Miami Beach and they were able to fend off invaders up until the 1800’s.  The city originally began as an 165-acre plot of land that was supposed to be used for planting and harvesting coconuts but the land was sold in 1970 to Henry and Charles Lum for $0.25 an acre. They then sold the land to John S. Collins and Thomas Pancoast which later became partners with Carl Fisher and together they saw Miami Beach as a potential residential and hotel boomtown. Fisher and Collins together built the first bridge from Miami to Miami Beach in 1913 and that the time that became the longest “wooden wagon bridge” of the world. 

The city saw two world wars right after the elegance and extravaganza or the 1920’s which would allow the city to see great growth. During the depression many hotels along lower Collins avenue and ocean drive were built, these would eventually help bring the city out of the depression. During world war II however, many cadets passed through Miami Beach, as it was a training center, and businesses like the “Cadet Hotel” housed many of them in 1941 and still remain standing today, giving the city a unique historic value. 

In 1979 Miami Beach received nationwide recognition for its Art Deco District, a movement led by Barbara Capitan, and to this day it remains one of the greatest sites to see. A statute of recognition of Barbara Capitan has been placed along the beach in an act of thanksgiving for all that she did for the city when it was developing. In 1996 Miami Beach celebrated its 100thanniversary and it has definitely come a long way since it was first established. 

Demographics

Miami Beach is a growing city that is as diverse in culture as it is in architecture and it is home to people from all over the world, whether it be for a couple of days or for the rest of retirement. The city has a population of 92,187 people and it is growing at a rate of 0.5% annually. The culture of Miami Beach is deeply embedded in its afro-Latino roots and you hear the salsa music playing in almost every store alongside reggaeton and Caribbean music and its everything you can except from a coastal city. The median age is 42 years old but a pattern exists in regards to the type of people that live in this city, the majority of them being single young adults or retired couples however, the few families that are seen on the beach or walking the streets of this city tend to be tourist who are exploring what we can call “the eighth wonder of the world”. 

Alejandro Lindo is a resident of Miami Beach who has lived in the city for 11 years and owns a business that tables on the shore of Miami’s beaches and he has lived both the good and the bad of what this city has to offer. He says that one thing that cannot go unnoticed in this city is the selling and consumption of drugs, and unfortunately it is something seen daily. He supposes that because it is something many tourist come seeking, this city has established itself as key point for its consumption. Alejandro says that you will not see the  traditional family living in Miami Beach, and that is because this city does not offer the “white picket fence” stability and peace of mind that these families search for, he has noticed that many families that live in Miami Beach do not stay long, instead the first chance they get, they move out of the city and into a more family-oriented environment. 

When asked whether he thought living in this city was expensive, Alejandro said that it depends on what you do, if you live within Miami Beach and work in another city life is not as expensive considering your annual can sustain the lifestyle of a city whose median property value is $416,700. Now, if you simply work within the city and live outside of it, it is a living nightmare, traffic is horrendous and the parking situation is “a bestiality” in Alejandro’s words. The parking is completely underregulated so a good parking garage can go for $8 dollars the hour which is extremely expensive, the cheap parking garages never has availability and the parallel parking on the streets is a scam. According to Alejandro, parking on a metered spot can be economic but tow trucks are in the business of towing your car regardless of if you pay the parking fee or not and they’ll take it away if they feel like it or if it’s just a slow day. Now when you go and try to get your car back  they might not charge you with a citation they will charge you for the towing services which comes out to about $140 and having had to pay it a couple times, Alejandro now prefers to walk. 

Alejandro acknowledges that although Miami Beach is a very rich city, the amount of indigent people who roam the streets has become a problem. Sadly this is witnessed in every area of Miami Beach, you will find indigent people in most shopping centers, along the beaches and in the parks and with a poverty rate of 16.6% Miami Beach has not allocated its fund in the best way possible. The city does have programs like the “Homeless Outreach” located on 17thstreet and convention center drive but too many of them are roaming the streets and making the place less attractive for tourist. Sometimes as you walk down the streets you find yourself walking by places that reek of urine, streets Alejandro has learned to avoid through the years of being a resident of this city. 

Another trait that Miami Beach has acquired recently is their high rates of theft that happen on the beaches in broad daylight. Alejandro says that the difference with the thieves in this city particularly do not look like thieves but like well-dressed residents who are just going about their day with a towel over their shoulder in case they feel like going for a dip in the sea. What many people do not know is that this is the strategy that the thieves use, they walk around the beach looking for unaccompanied items, purses, wallets, designer glasses, and they’ll approach the items and drop their towel over them meanwhile the owner is in the ocean and all he sees is a regular guy who “accidentally” dropped his towel by their stuff. This however is far from true because as the thieves pick up their towel, they also pick up the purses and wallets and it all happens in the blink of an eye. Working on the beach, this is a strategy Alejandro has been able to identify and warn others about as they enter the beach but this is something that is ever televised or advertised so unfortunately the city is not all they make it out to be. 

To the surprise of many, Miami Beach is also home to a thriving Jewish community with 16,000 residents belonging to this community. The city has 3 Jewish Temples, including the Emanu-El pictured above, and tasting tours dedicated to Jewish owned restaurants, this community has heavily impacted the city for over 100 years. 

Landmarks

If there’s a city with unique landmarks, it has to Miami Beach, they are found everywhere and what they represent is definitely valuable to the city and all those who visit it. The city has an ongoing program called “Art in Public Places” and it is known for curating and commissioning public art. The entire city has a theme and in every block you will find pieces of art big and small, flat on street wall and rising from the ground in magnificent forms and each art piece is a landmark, some are just more famous than others. The program was created in 1984 it has stretched throughout the entire city and above two of the main ones are pictured. The Blue Bent Poolcreated in 2019 by Elmgreen & Dragset is located right in front of the Miami Beach Convention center and it will definitely take you by the surprised. With no plaque or sign next to it, many will have to guess what this creation is but the title of the work is clear “Bent Pool” and the two things that give it away are the turquoise blue interior and the its climbing ladder. Another prominent art piece of this unique city-wide collection is the Mermaidcreated by Roy Lichtenstein and it is located on the south lawn of the Fillmore Theater and its creation pays tribute to the Pop Art styles that became popular in the early 1960’s. 

In terms of buildings, some of Miami Beaches landmarks include the New World Center, Miami Beach Convention Center, The Fillmore Theater, the Holocaust memorial and Art Deco District, just to name a few. The new World Center is the campus of the New World Symphony – America’s Orchestral Academy and it is under the direction of 11-time Grammy award-winning conductor and cofounder Michael Tilson Thomas. The building itself is an architectural gem located right next to Soundscape park. The buildings customizability is what enhancing the experience of the guest, the spaces can be accommodated to fit a range of 20 (for a private dinner) to a 900 people audience. The Miami Beach convention center was originally called the Miami Beach Exhibition Hall and its located in the heart of Miami Beach. Opening in 1958 the venue was proposed as a project to help increase the commence along with the budding tourism of the city, it now serves as an auditorium, a convention hall, ad a sports arena and it has seen some celebrity faces through the years. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at this center during a youth Lutheran convention, the venue was the site of the Miss Universe pageant from 1960-1971 and then again in 1977 and it hosted a Billy Graham crusade in 1961. 

The Fillmore Theater is a like  looking at a blast from the past in the middle of such a modern city. The concert venue was originally known as the Beach Municipal Auditorium and it opened up in 1957 gaining instant popularity during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s because it became the home to many television variety shows such as “The Jackie Gleason Show” and the “Dick Clark Show”. The building’s façade ties into the Art Deco design that is so popular in the city and now it only opens when a concert or a show is playing, but they are more than welcoming to interested students and anyone who wants a tour. 

If there’s one landmark you have to visit when at Miami Beach it has to be the Holocaust Memorial, built to remember the lives of the six million victims of this dark time and to serve as a reminder that as a human race we must never allow for such a tragedy to occur again. Founded in 1984 by a group of Holocaust Survivors who joined together to develop a permanent memorial for the victims who perished and Miami Beach was chosen as the perfect destination due to its high population of Holocaust survivors.  The sculpture of an outstretched arm extends 30 feet into the air and comprises vignette of family members trying to help each other in a final act of love. The memorial walls are covered with the names of many of the victims from top to bottom and each name you read carries behind it a story, a feeling of having loved and lost, of unjust death and fear. 

Green Spaces

Miami Beach is currently working on expanding its green space in the city for the benefit of its residents and the current Mayor, Dan Gelber, plans to build over 30 acres of new parks and green space but some currently exist and can be visited throughout the day. Lummus Park is a 74 – acre public park and beach space on the eastern side of Ocean drive. The park has grassy areas and volleyball courts as well as a wavy pedestrian walk that goes by the name of “The promenade” and it’s the only thing that separates the beach from the green space. 

Soundscape park is a 2.5 – acre urban park that captures the spirit of the city, it is a flexible multi-use space that serves both as a gathering place and an urban oasis. The park has running vines and shady stands of palm trees that give the park a relaxing air while allowing for support of running vines. The park can be reserved for private events but it is open to the public and the city hosts free weekly screenings of family friendly films from October to May and it fits from 300-400 guest. 

Transportation

The city of Miami Beach is different from many other cities in Miami due to the fact that its small streets cannot keep up with the rapid growth of the city therefore many people walk from place to place. Those that do not enjoy walking resort to other means of transportation like riding a bike or the trolley around the city. This has become very popular, you will find bicycles parked along restaurants, parks and beaches ready to be rented by the residents and tourist walking along the streets. The citywide free trolley is another great source of transportation as it is reliable, reduces traffic and it is environmentally friendly. The frequency of the trolley depending on your destination can be anywhere from 15 minutes to 40 minutes and it runs from 6 a.m. to midnight from Mondays to Fridays and from 8 a.m. to midnight on Sundays. The regular public transportation busses are also available throughout the city but their stops are not as frequent or as close in proximity to your final destination

Food & Business

If there is one thing Miami Beach is known for, it has to be for the restaurants and high end stores that line up its main avenues and roads like Collins avenue and Lincoln road. Because Miami can be described as “tourist central” there are way too many stores that sell Miami souvenirs , whether that be “I love Miami” shirts or the purses that have the city’s name written all over them. There are very few cities in Miami that count with this kind of business and believe it or not it’s a great source of income for the city. The stores range from high-end brand names stores found in Lincoln Road Mall to very cheap and practical souvenirs found in stores like Alvin’s Island. Miami Beach is known for its nightlife, the clubs, the parties, the drinking… and because there is so much drinking involved you are guaranteed to find one liquor store every three blocks. Alcohol sells and it sells high with a single bear retailing for $8.00 and a cocktail glass retailing for $20.00 but people don’t mind therefore there’s a huge market for its consumption. 

The flashy restaurants that line the cost of Miami beach do not fall short and neither do their gross earnings which range from $37 million to $13 million annually. Miami Beach has restaurant or all kinds and their service is impeccable. They have gorgeous waitresses and serve glasses of alcohol bigger than the size of your head. Some restaurants are historically important and others have luxury vintage cars parked by the entrance, some offer live music and others have hookah pipes as center pieces for customers to smoke as they enjoy their meals. Now flashy meals is not all they have, you will find some cheap chain restaurants and some more economic cultural restaurants like “Taco Taco” a restaurant at the entrance of Catalina hotel that is open to the public and to its guest. They serve traditional Mexican food with an American twist and have a bar inside the restaurant with a DJ for those who enjoy a rowdy atmosphere and a bar inside for those who enjoy having a nice conversation. 

When it comes to the stores in Miami Beach , they are unique and very stereotypical at times. You have a lot of self-owned business that sell the typical tiny gold and silver bikinis among other swimwear as well as beachwear for tourist and you also have a lot of tour agencies that offer tours around the landmarks of Miami beach and the famous places that were used to record sold out movies or music videos. In addition you also have stores owned by people who one day had an idea and found their target market in Miami Beach and have slowly established themselves as businessmen. Antonio Dumas is a retired veteran who lives in Miami Beach and has a business called “Take one Smoke one” that focusses on selling different strains of medical cannabis. His sister is a living testimony of a terminally ill breast cancer patient who began to smoke a synthetic strain of cannabis that did not get her high but rather activated certain receptors in her body that healed her from cancer and because of this decided to open a shop that could potentially help others like her. Antonio says that business for him isn’t about making money off of anyone that comes in looking for drugs or simply to get high, his business is about bettering the health of individual through natural means and he says that his business is doing very well. 

Alejandro Lindo is another businessman who’s craftmanship has helped him make a living, he owns a small business of hand threaded jewelry he makes and sells on the beach for tourist that and locals. Because he doesn’t have a storefront but a tabling business they have designated spots given to them by the city and these spots are changed every three months through a lottery system, therefore sometimes he’ll be on the beach sometimes further down the boardwalk or sometimes on Collins avenue and although some businessmen mind, he says that he makes a profit regardless of his location. Because Alejandro has been doing this for 11 years, he has developed a relationship with various customers, both locals and tourist, who will only come to him for merchandise and if they are tourist that visit often, every time they come they call him up to purchase some of his creations. 

The opportunity that Miami Beach offers businessmen is incredible because it is a city that has a market for almost anything and everything therefore your chances of success are very high. You’re almost guaranteed a profit and a solid cliental simply because of your location, but this does come at a price and the leasing rates for any ocean front business in Miami Beach are double the rates in any other city in Miami with a regular sized space costing you approximately $12,300 a month in Miami Beach and only $6,100 a month is any other city. 

Summary

Overall this neighborhood is extremely rich in culture, in its people and in it what it has to offer. It’s a city that never sleeps, you’re out on the beach all day and enjoying the nightlife all night. The amount of restaurants that exists could take you a life time to get through and the hotels lined up along the coast give you the experience that will surpass your expectations. The city does have its downfalls and its poverty rate is one of the most alarming ones. As you walk down the most extravagant neighborhoods and pass by some of the most expensive restaurants, across the street you’ll see indigent people who haven’t had a plate of food in days and the disparity that is witnessed in this moment should not be brushed off. This unfortunately is what happens most of the time and people ignore those in need and go about their day as if they weren’t there, as if they weren’t people. The increase in taxes to its residents and the increase in prices this city has experienced has made it the experience of Miami beach unattainable to most residents of South Florida and that to me is preposterous.  The city does have a lot to offer as well, its Art Deco District will amaze you for hours, the beaches and crystal clear waters will make you fall in love and the diversity in culture will enrich you. The city of Miami is deeply rooted in its culture and that is expressed very clearly, but the city also thrives in luxury and extravagance meaning  that there is something for everyone. 

Sources

“Citywide Free Trolley.” City of Miami Beach, https://www.miamibeachfl.gov/city-hall/transportation/trolley/.

“History of Miami Beach.” Miami Beach | Latin Chamber of Commerce, http://miamibeach.org/directory/living/history-of-miami-beach.

“Miami Beach, FL.” Data USA, https://datausa.io/profile/geo/miami-beach-fl/.         

“Miami Households Earn Less than the National Average.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-5/eating-and-drinking-in-miami-consumer-expenditures-2010-14.htm.

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