España 2020 Ineffable Miami: Key Biscayne by Alondra Estevez

Biography

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Photo by Amanda Estevez/ CC by 4.0

Hello, my name is Alondra Estevez! I am an Honors College student at Florida International University studying Public Relations, Advertising, and Applied Communications (PRAAC). I am also pursuing a certificate in Pre-Law Skills and Professional Values. My goal is to attend law school within the next year and become an attorney specializing in media law. I was born in Miami, Florida and have lived here my entire life. This is the final project for my Honors Class with Professor Bailly called Ineffable Miami; an academic travel guide on a particular city in Miami of our choosing.

Geography

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Photo obtained via IOS maps and screenshot by me/ CC by 4.0

Key Biscayne is a small island village located just off of Florida’s coast. It belongs to Miami-Dade County and is situated east of Miami and south of Miami Beach.  The island came to fruition due to sand that eroded from the Appalachian Mountains that was then moved to the coast by strong currents and rivers. According to the US Census Bureau, the island’s overall area covers about 1.4 square miles; 92% of those square miles being sand and 8% being water. In other words, Key Biscayne is about 4 miles long and 2 miles wide, which to put that into perspective— is about the size of a fifty-nine football fields lined up! The width of Key Biscayne is entirely beach front and in order to arrive at the island, you must travel via the Rickenbacker Causeway which connects the city of Miami to Key Biscayne and to Virginia Key. Although named after a “key”, Key Biscayne does not belong to the Florida Keys.

If you take a look at the above map of Key Biscayne, you will see that it is wedged between Crandon Park to the north and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park to the south, two of the island village’s main landmarks. Residents of Key Biscayne are able to enjoy the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, and then the sunset over Biscayne Bay. Although the majority of Key Biscayne is made up of greenland, the island has developed into an extremely urban area which now offers: a large variety of restaurants and shops, a couple of schools within the community, and top-ranked golf and tennis facilities.

History

In the late 1400’s and early 1500’s, Florida’s barrier island—Key Biscayne—was inhabited by the Tequesta Indians who used the land to hunt and fish. Because the island is only approximately 5 feet above sea level, the indigenous people built their villages on palm pilings; comparable to Florida’s modern-day summer homes that are lined up all throughout the coast.

In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon found freshwater and discovered Key Biscayne, presenting it as Santa Marta to the King of Spain, who then granted the island to Pedro Fornelis, a Minorcan native. The problem with this was that Pedro was not only intruding on the Tequesta people’s land, but also wanted to convert the “heathen Tequestas” into “good Catholics”, despite initially establishing friendly relations with the people. As one can imagine, the Tequestas did not take well to those demands. Later, throughout the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, many of the Spanish ships that came as backup to wipe out the Tequestas ended up shipwrecked due to the many reefs and shoals of the barrier island. Fun fact: the island became known as “Vizcaya” at some point, when a Spanish sailor ended up shipwrecked on the island.

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Cape Florida Lighthouse. Photo taken between 1900-1920/ Obtained via Library of Congress. CCo by 1.0

After the US acquired the state of Florida from the Spanish, the Cape Florida lighthouse (aka “El Farito) was built. The lighthouse, Key Biscayne’s most iconic landmark, was first lit in the year 1825. The purpose of the lighthouse was to help ships navigate the treacherous waters along Florida’s coast. Unfortunately, Indians forced into South Florida by the Seminole wars ended up burning and destroying the lighthouse in 1836. Thankfully, the lighthouse was re-built to its original height in the year 1847 and remains as bright and tall as ever.

Later, in 1908, William John Matheson purchased property in Key Biscayne to use it to grow a coconut plantation and an experimental fruit grove. He experimented with the land and ended up creating a community on the island where he opened up schools and even a zoo. When Matheson died of a heart attack in 1930, his three children decided to donate the northern half of Key Biscayne to the public. In exchange, Miami Dade County promised to build a form of transportation where visitors could reach the mainland; this is how the Rickenbacker Causeway was born.

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First phase of development for Bill Baggs Florida State Park. Photo provided by Islander News Archives/ CC by 4.0

The southern third of Key Biscayne saw a different fate when José Áleman bought Cape Florida from James Deering in 1948 (James Deering had owned the southern portion, as well as his brother Charles after his death, for about 35 years). In 1966, Bill Baggs who was editor of The Miami News at the time, successfully brought together the state of Florida and the Áleman parcel owner to purchase the land for what is now—Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Another fun fact?: In 1972, President Richard Nixon purchased his winter home in Key Biscayne which was promptly established as “The Winter White House.” Finally, The Village of Key Biscayne was incorporated in 1991.

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Photo provided by Islander News Archives/ CC by 4.0

Demographics

Key Biscayne’s current population consists of about 13,180 residents, with its population density at around 11,347% higher than the national average. The median age of residents is about 43 years old which explains why around 67% of the population is married. As far as gender, the island is composed of around 47% males and 53% females. In terms of the development of the island, there are currently 1,366 single family homes where the median household income sits at about $128,500, which is astounding when compared to the US median household income which rang in at $61,937 in 2018. Furthermore, the cultural diversity of Key Biscayne is quite mediocre considering the island is made up of 66% Hispanic/Latino’s, 33% White Americans, and a mere 1% Asian.

The Key Biscayne resident I have chosen to interview is Justo Rey, my mother’s previous boss and lifelong friend, who is Publisher of Islander News; Key Biscayne’s official print newspaper (since 1966).

Interview with resident, Justo Rey:

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Justo Rey. Photo provided by Islander News/ CC by 4.0

Tell me a bit about yourself. I was born in Cuba and have been working in publishing longer than you have been alive! I have an MBA from Barry University and have lived all over the place—in Sagua La Grande Cuba, Madrid, New Jersey, Albuquerque, and Miami. I have been in Key Biscayne for about 3.5 years.

What do you like most about Key Biscayne? I like the island’s generosity and the blend of Hispanic cultures that make up the island. I just love the island and its people.

What do you like least about Key Biscayne? 2 words—the traffic!

Any other interesting facts you would like to share?

  1. Key Biscayne is known for looking “inward”—residents are very protective of their island’s way of life and rebel against anything or anyone they feel threatens that. They describe it as “Key Biscayne Nice” to be friendly and social…. kisses on the cheek and hugs are the preferred salutations (except for right now of course with social distancing). It takes a while for outsiders to become truly accepted or feel like a true “Key Biscayner”.
  2. Government officials are very accessible to residents. The island was recently voted second safest city in Florida and residents take extreme pride in that!
  3. Something “unique” about the island is the proliferation of WhatsApp Chats. They are both good and bad because many do put out a lot of false information. Every ethnic group has one actually, and the most active one is the Argentinian one; it is called “Serucho Serucho”.

Landmarks

Although there are numerous spots in Key Biscayne worth writing about, I have decided to highlight four:

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Park Entrance. CCo by 1.0
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“El Farito”. CCo by 1.0

2 for 1 (Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park and The Lighthouse): This Florida State Park located in Key Biscayne is home to the Cape Florida Lighthouse, better known as “El Farito”. It remains the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County. Visitors can rent bicycles to cycle throughout the park if they prefer that to hiking, as well as dock their boats for a fee of $20 per night. Further, visitors can also fish, paddleboard and swim! It is important to note that each vehicle entering the park must pay a $5 fee.

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Coconut Palm Trees at Crandon Park! CC by-SA 3.0

Crandon Park: This park, located in the northern part of Key Biscayne, was donated by William John Matheson, who used the park as a coconut plantation in the early 1900’s. It is connected to the mainland via the Rickenbacker Causeway. Crandon park offers many different opportunities for its visitors including various ecosystems, rare plants, beautiful beach, and seagrass beds. Located inside Crandon Park is the Bear Cut Preserve which allows visitors to see some of South Florida’s most amazing plants and animals! The two-mile beach inside Crandon Park is considered one of the top ten beaches in the US. Additionally, when you turn left at the Crandon Park North Beach Entrance, you will see the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, whose main interest is to conserve the island’s local irreplaceable natural resources. But wait, there’s more—Crandon Park also houses an impressive 18-hole golf course, a tennis center, and its very own marina!

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The Neptune Memorial Reef’s underwater gates. CC by-SA 3.0

Neptune Memorial Reef: This reef is located just over 3 miles offshore of Key Biscayne and is said to be the largest man-made reef to be created. This reef is often referred to as “an underwater city for the dead” and is an artistic rendering of the Lost City of Atlantis. Many choose to have their loved ones cremated and placed in the Neptune Memorial Reef. These remains then form and mix in with the sea-life structures, which makes for a thriving ecosystem!

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View from the Cape Florida Light House. CCo by 1.0

Stiltsville: Stiltsville is a tiny neighborhood of floating houses/buildings that hover above the shallow waters that are a part of Biscayne National Park. This neighborhood was started by Eddie Walker during the Prohibition era. At the time, the houses/buildings were merely shacks that residents could gamble and drink alcohol privately in. Due to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Stiltsville was left with only 7 structures. Keep in mind, you can only access the neighborhood by boat!

Green

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Greenery. CCo by 1.0

Key Biscayne is predominantly greenland and is home to some of Florida’s nameworthy state parks. As mentioned various times throughout this guide, the two main parks are—Crandon Park and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.

The Green Committee of the village has developed a sustainability plan to guide Key Biscayne on the eco-conscious direction that it should be taking. The plan includes waste reduction (reusing and recycling), energy conservation measures, village wide green buildings to be constructed, programs on water conservation, eco-conscious transportation, and funding measures that enhance climate adaptation and resiliency. They developed a green initiatives survey and sent it out to residents to further evaluate where their strengths and weaknesses are, and in order to reduce the island’s carbon footprint. As these short and long term plans come into fruition, the benefits will include a better quality of life for Key Biscayners.

Transportation

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Electric Shuttle Service. Photo taken by Justo Rey/ CC by 4.0

Freebee on the Key Shuttle Service: This is Key Biscayne’s free on-demand ride service. Freebee uses electric vehicles, so it is environmentally friendly. Users can download the free mobile app and set up their pick-up and drop-off location. Uber is shaking in its boots!

Metrobus: Perhaps the most common form of public transportation, the metrobus makes various stops throughout Key Biscayne including: the Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami Seaquarium, Crandon Park, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, and many others. The traditional fare is about $2.25 per ride, however frequent users can also purchase a metrobus card for discounted rates. Not only is this form of transportation good for the environment, it also significantly reduces traffic congestion.

LimeBike: LimeBike is a bike sharing program in Key Biscayne and an eco-friendly alternative to driving and traffic congestion. LimeBikes are GPS enabled and users are able to download the free app, unlock the nearest bike, and use it for as long as they please! Once the rider is done using the bike, they simply lock it using the app (to avoid improper use of the bike from others) and leave it wherever their heart desires. Thankfully, the island’s entirety has designated bike lanes for those that travel this way!

KB Art Transportation: This is a company that offers airport and seaport departure and arrival services from Miami International Airport or Ft. Lauderdale Airport for residents of Key Biscayne. Their services include taxis, cabs, chauffeur service, and executive car hire.

Free on-island Transportation for Seniors: Available Tuesdays, Wednesday, and Thursdays from 9am to 3pm specifically for senior residents of Key Biscayne to travel around the island as they wish.

Food

Here are three amazing options for a night on the island:

Boater’s Grill ($$): This restaurant is located inside of Bill Baggs State Park in No Name Harbour. It is one of South Florida’s most unique waterfront restaurants. Customers visit Boater’s Grill to indulge in the island’s most fresh seafood as well as authentic Cuban cuisine. Order an ice cold beer with your meal and enjoy the island breeze!

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Photo taken by Justo Rey/ CC by 4.0

Kazumi Modern Japanese ($$$): For those seeking to really treat themselves on the island, Kazumi is the place for you! This restaurant consists of Japanese fusion modern cuisine and customers can expect a creative and exquisite presentation from each plate. Kazumi is a family run restaurant, so you can expect to be treated like family there!

Lightkeepers($$$): This cocktail bar is located inside the Ritz Carlton and is founded on Florida sourced ingredients. Customers can expect to overlook the beach while eating premium quality meats as well as freshly caught seafood paired with premier cocktails. This is the perfect couples night out!

Businesses

Due to Key Biscayne’s unique island life, you will find almost exclusively non-chain businesses. Here are three that I have selected:

Key Biscayne Tennis Association: The association has been around since 1978 and is a place where tennis enthusiasts from all around Florida come to indulge in good company and their favorite sport. Although there is a competitive atmosphere, it is a family-friendly environment where people of all ages can come join in on the fun. It is a full-practice facility and according to their website, “a good neighbor to the Miami Open” which has attracted many famous tennis players.

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Yoga class being taught. Photo by Mood LifeClub/ CC by 4.0

Mood LifeClub: This is a yoga and fitness studio with a heavy emphasis on improving the mind and spirit. It is unique to Key Biscayne and offers a variety of different classes for the public— from HIIT training, to pilates, to more types of yoga than you probably even know the names of! Taking classes at the studio has proven to improve one’s mood substantially as well as posture and flexibility. Try it out next time you’re in the area.

PADL: PADL is the world’s first automated paddle sports rental system where users can download an app to rent paddle boards and enjoy Key Biscayne’s waters! The app has special discounts for its users to enjoy as well as monthly and yearly memberships.

Summary

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Key Biscayne sunset over the bridge. CCo by 1.0

On another note, it is important to discuss some of Key Biscayne’s drawbacks. The economic disparity between the island and other cities in Florida is extremely apparent. The average Floridian income is just over $50,000, meaning that most cannot experience the luxuries of living there full time. Moreover, the only sort of diversity on the island is within the Hispanic community. There is not much flavor in terms of cultural roots.

Nevertheless, Key Biscayne has found great harmony with their eco-friendly transportation services, urban lifestyle, and authentic food/ businesses. Residents of the island can enjoy the sea breeze while indulging in many outdoor activities such as bike-riding, paddle-boarding, or even visiting some of Florida’s greatest parks. The island has a very good grasp on the importance of reducing its carbon footprint and the residents love to live there. It is truly one happy island!

Works Cited

“About Us.” Kazumi Restaurant, 10 May 2018, www.kazumirestaurant.com/Kazumi/about-us/.

“Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.” Florida State Parks, 2018, www.floridastateparks.org/index.php/parks-and-trails/bill-baggs-cape-florida-state-park.

“Boater’s Grill Waterfront Dining in Key Biscayne.” Boater’s Grill | Waterfront Dining in Key Biscayne, 2019, www.boatersgrill.com/.

“Crandon Park.” Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce, 2020, www.keybiscaynechamber.org/crandon-park/.

“Fitness and Yoga Studio in Key Biscayne, FL.” Mood LifeClub, 2016, www.moodlifeclub.com/.

“Freebee on the Key Free Shuttle Service.” Village of Key Biscayne, 2013, keybiscayne.fl.gov/index.php?src=gendocs&ref=FreeBee_OnDemandShuttleService&category=About.

“History of the Island of Key Biscayne.” History of the Island of Key Biscayne – Village of Key Biscayne, 2013, keybiscayne.fl.gov/index.php?submenu=_island_history&src=gendocs&ref=IslandHistory&category=About.

“Island Life 2020 Island Life 2020 Page 78.” Island Life 2020 Island Life 2020 Page 78, Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce, 24 Feb. 2020, bluetoad.com/publication/?m=62401&i=651359&p=78.

“Key Biscayne Public Tennis Courts.” Key Biscayne Tennis Association, 2017, www.tennisbiscayne.com/.

“Key Biscayne Sustainability Plan.” Keybiscayne.florida.gov, 2014, keybiscayne.fl.gov/clientuploads/Boards%20&%20Committees/Green%20Committee/KB%20Sustainability%20Plan_version4-7-14.pdf.

“Key Biscayne.” The Beacon Council, www.beaconcouncil.com/why-miami-dade/cities/key-biscayne/.

“LimeBike.” Key Biscayne Community Foundation, www.kbcf.org/resources/key-transportation/limebike/.

“Luxury Hotels & Resorts: The Ritz.” Carlton, 2020, www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/miami/key-biscayne/dining/lightkeepers.

“Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center.” Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, Crandon Park, Key Biscayne Florida – About Us, www.biscaynenaturecenter.org/about_us/about_us.html.

Miller, Mike. “Key Biscayne, Florida: From Coconut Plantation to Richard Nixon.” Florida Back Roads Travel, www.florida-backroads-travel.com/key-biscayne-florida.html.

“PADL.” Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce, 2020, business.keybiscaynechamber.org/list/member/padl-5968.

Services, Miami-Dade County Online. “Crandon Park.” Miami, 2018, www.miamidade.gov/parks/crandon.asp.

“Transportation.” Village of Key Biscayne, 2013, keybiscayne.fl.gov/index.php?submenu=_transportation&src=gendocs&ref=Transportation&category=About.

“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Key Biscayne Village, Florida.” Census Bureau QuickFacts, www.census.gov/quickfacts/keybiscaynevillageflorida.

Ugc. “Stiltsville.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 22 Dec. 2010, www.atlasobscura.com/places/stiltsville.

“What Is the Neptune Memorial Reef?” Neptune Society, 22 Mar. 2017, www.neptunesociety.com/cremation-information-articles/what-is-the-neptune-memorial-reef-and-how-can-i-visit-it.

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