Ineffable Miami Spring 2020: Miami Beach by Jessica Horsham

Photo by Blanca Alcaraz CC by 4.0

BIOGRAPHY

Jessica Ann Horsham is a currently studying international relations at Florida International University, and is in her senior year as an FIU Honors student. She is heavily interested in pursuing a career in law, with current aims to focus on human rights and injustices within the justice system, she has recently been accepted into law school and will begin in the Fall of 2020. Though her career will eventually divulge her in tons of paperwork, Jessica loves to explore the outdoors, exercise, and be near the beach; traveling is one of her favorite things to do as she loves to emerge herself in different cultures and truly learn about what makes each place special. Her current endeavor, the Miami in Miami class taught by John W. Bailly, will take her on this journey of emerging her in her very hometown to discover all of its unknown and secret places. 

GEOGRAPHY 

The island city of Miami Beach is a coastal island city that sits between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay and is entirely separated, except for several large bridges, from mainland Miami. Beginning on 46th street and Collins Avenue and all the way down to South Pointe Park, Miami Beach spans about 7 square miles of land and about 11 square miles of water (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Due to its geographic location and extremely low elevation, as with the rest of Florida, Miami Beach suffers from tidal flooding throughout the year and is especially on the front lines when it comes to rising sea levels associated with global warming; it threatens to sink the entire island. From South Beach and the largest preservation of Art Deco buildings all the way beyond Condo Canyon and its impeding modernity, Miami Beach has it all.

HISTORY 

Despite being known for its nightclubs and beaches, Miami Beach’s history is one that reflects racism, prejudice, environmental degradation, and much more. Miami Beach, originally, had much of the same topography as the rest of Miami and much of Florida: swampy, mosquito-infested, mangrove field. Originally, the city was just supposed to be used for planting and harvesting, it passed through several hands before landing in the hands of John S. Collins, Thomas Pancoast, and their partner, arguably its biggest developer, Carl Fisher.

Before Fisher began developing the island, it was multiracial and multi-faith—Jews, blacks, and whites lived amongst each other. Fisher and Collins “built” the first bridge from mainland Miami to Miami Beach in 1913, it was one the world’s longest wooden bridge. Also, by built, we do know that it was actually many Afro-Caribbean and African Americans who worked on it. Once Fisher began to really develop the island, the divisions soon came; blacks were banned from beaches, the Seminoles were driven out, and the true development for Miami Beach as we know it today began. Part of the issue with this historical amnesia that continues to plague our society and Miami way too often can be reflected in the pictures of Miami Beach before the beaches, hotels, and lifestyles as we know it today. Many underprivileged people were often working long, hot, and miserable conditions as they destroyed South Florida’s most important tree and our first line of defense, the mangroves. Unfortunately, we continue to see the destruction caused by such reckless decisions today—global warming, stronger floods, and massive erosion. Yet, this part of our history, impacts we feel today because of these decisions, are not at all discussed. During the 1920s, at the height of the Art Deco world, many of the hotels preserved today began to be built in an attempt to further help the economy that was on a downward spiral. Through the years of the great Gianni Versace, Miami Beach experienced great growth—both culturally and economically. Gianni Versace pushed for a new type of openness, acceptance, and happiness for people through his clothes and his life. A true cultural icon, Versace helped to change the culture of Miami before he was tragically gunned down outside of his Versace Mansion which sits right on Ocean Drive. In 1979, the heroine who saved Miami Beach, Barbara Capitan, emerged on to the field determined to save and establish the Art Deco District. Without her, these buildings would have remained a thing of the past, memories in old photographs. Barbara fought hard against city officials to get the district defined and recognized, and without her efforts, who know where Miami Beach would today?

DEMOGRAPHICS 

Miami Beach has an extremely large population considering its limited size, with over 92, 187 people, Miami Beach is extremely populated. It has a median age of 42 years old and a median household income of about $50,000 according to Data USA (2020). The median property value is about $416,000 with home ownership rate at only 37.4%—this includes the vast number of apartments or condos from condo canyon; while it may seem affordable at first, one should note that the amount of space one gets for that price is significantly smaller than you can get in other places around Miami. But then again, the beach is your backyard. Similar to other places in Miami, Miami Beach has a majority Hispanic or Latino population, about 54.9%, 38.3% of white people, and only 3.03% of black or African Americans. This is a very stark contrast to when Miami Beach was being constructed and in its early stages where there was a majority of black or Afro-Caribbean people. The majority of the population tends to either be single young adults or retired couples, however, there tends to be very few families despite the number of playgrounds in and around the area.

When speaking with a colleague and frequent visitor to the beaches, Gianmarco Agostinone, he had this to say about its people: “Lately, Miami Beach has become a place tailored for the convenience of tourists at the cost of the locals.” When asked for a further explanation he said, “We always have to drive further from home or take a long public transportation ride to truly have an authentic experience. The entire city of Miami needs to redo its public transportation system to make it easier for locals to get around and also needs to look back towards its roots. Something that makes Miami Beach stand out is that it is home to the world’s largest Art Deco collection, this is so unique to Miami and should have preserved better. This authenticity can be seen in bits and pieces throughout the city but simply is not preserved at all. Also, the parks in Miami Beach are much more high scale than any in my neighborhood. It is so ridiculous that to really enjoy the outdoors, with shady areas, or nice spots to hang outside, we have to travel so far. The city invests much more into Miami Beach than any other area—yeah, it’s more profitable but what about actual citizens who live here and call Miami home? It is so hard to navigate many places without a car and its hard to enjoy all of these cool areas around the city.”

Many seem to share these same sentiments as calls for better public transportation has been a plea heard many times. However, with such low user rates, who knows when these will be taken seriously? As far as his comments towards the authenticity of Miami, I believe that that has been an issue for all of Miami’s history—it is always searching to develop its own culture and mixing with the variety of cultures that belong to its people, Miami is simply a true mixture.

LANDMARKS

Miami Beach has many unique and different landmarks that are found throughout the city—from “Art in Public Places” projects to a variety of museums to the entire Art Deco scene, there seems to be something for everyone in this city.

Museums

The Jewish Museum  

The Jewish Museum of Florida, associated with the best university in the state of Florida, Florida International University, is the only museum dedicated to over 250 years of Florida Jewish history, art, and culture (Jewish Museum of Florida – FIU, 2020). Located within an actual synagogue, visitors can learn about the history of the Jewish religion, see unique art, and hear many of their stories.

Art Basel

If you are lucky enough to experience Miami Beach during Art Basel, in the month of December, and attend any of their satellite fairs, you are lucky. Art Basel is like none other; it truly encompasses the entire city. From the beach to the convention center, there is no place where you could go wrong to see and purchase great art. Primary and secondary pieces, up and coming artists from across the world, art that is meaningful and impactful, Art Basel transforms the city.

Bass Museum

Miami Beach’s leading contemporary art museum sits in a 1930s art deco building and aims to connect international contemporary art to all of its visitors. As with most contemporary art, at The Bass, you will find a variety of art forms, designs, architecture, and exhibitions. Much of the art presented here is to provoke thought about our current world. The Bass has multiple educational programs, guided tours, and various options for its visitors to enjoy. Not only this, but The Bass is extremely involved in the community around it as it partners with Miami Dade County Public Schools on a variety of projects.

Holocaust Memorial

A must-see landmark is the Holocaust Memorial dedicated to the six million victims who died, to honor those that survived and continued to fight on, and to serve as a reminder to all that we cannot allow such a tragedy like this to occur again. It was founded in 1984 by a group of Holocaust survivors who decided that Miami Beach would be the best location due to its high Jewish population and survivors. Its massive walls are covered with the names of victims; people who were mistreated, abused, and succumbed to the failures of society.  In the center, there is a massive, towering sculpture depicting victims reaching for one another, in pain, and clinging to one another. Around the statue there are different bodies spread out, the elderly and young alike, all frail and fragile. This memorial is extremely moving and also speaks to a community in Miami Beach that many do not know about.

Art Deco Scene

Miami Beach’s Art Deco scene arguably helped to put the city in the spotlight. Its eclectic collection of early twentieth spaceships, toasters, and ships, have helped to separate Miami Beach from Miami. Art Deco had given birth to a new era and aura of Miami Beach that had not been seen before and have been thankfully preserved due to the hard work of Barbara Baer Capitman. Art Deco is comprised of several purely aesthetic devices that are key: the law of three, pastel colors, eyebrows, ziggurat rooflines, neon, and terrazzo floors. Three stories high, facades divided into three, the law of three is present in almost all Art Deco buildings, especially those on Ocean Drive. Another defining feature are the pastel colors and neon lights that highlight each building, similar to the buildings in cities such as Lyon, these palettes were meant to reflect their natural environment around them. Neon was added later as it was a new style that was developing alongside art deco features in this time. Terrazzo floors are aimed to redefine their spaces and as a common theme in Art Deco, provide symmetry inside the buildings just as its outside. My favorite aspect of these buildings has to be their eyebrows, which serve no real structural purpose; while they were used to help provide shade for the window, these funny features are all for the aesthetic. In the gallery above are some of the great Art Deco buildings found nearby.

Versace

While the Versace Mansion is not an Art Deco building, it is impossible to discuss Miami Beach without mentioning the icon Gianni Versace. Gianni Versace embodied the reimagined ideals and aura of Miami Beach—it was eclectic, unique, open, and simply beautiful. Versace encouraged people to be glamourous and happy and forever changed the fashion world with his prints, colors, and beyond this world personality.

GREEN

Photo by Jessica Horsham at South Pointe Pier, CC by 4.0

Miami Beach has miles of beaches but what of its green spaces? Mayor Dan Gelber has expressed his intent to expand Miami Beach’s green spaces and include more parks throughout the island for tourists and locals alike, however, there are various notable parks already established on the island.

Lummus Park

From 5th to 15th street, Lummus Park hugs Ocean Drive and the water just beyond it. The park has a long “boardwalk” path where you can often find people riding their bicycles, rollerblading, or skating along its walkways. There are various volleyball sand courts, two gym areas for people to get an outdoor workout, two playgrounds, and lots of grassy areas for those who want to lay out and enjoy the ocean breeze. Lummus Park also hosts various events throughout the year such as an artisan market over the weekends, satellite fairs for Art Basel, air and sea show, SOBE Wine and Food Festival, and even group workouts, and yoga. Lummus Park is always bustling and provides entertainment for locals and tourists alike.

Soundscape Park

Located in front of the New World Center, home to the New World Symphony, SoundScape Park mixes a unique urban design with brilliant landscaping to replicate the flexibility and developing center of Miami Beach. Palm trees, shady areas, benches, walkways, grassy picnic areas, and structures that turn the plants into true art, it is no surprise that this new park is becoming increasingly popular. Similar to many of the parks in this area, it not only serves as a green space but also as an entertainment area for all; the city projects weekly movie screenings, or even symphony screenings.

Flamingo Park

With over 35 acres, Flamingo Park is undoubtedly one of the larger parks in Miami Beach, and it definitely has something for everyone. The park has multiple pools and water areas for children and adults, multiple bark parks for your favorite furry friends, a baseball field, multiple basketball courts, handball courts, a football field, running track, soccer field, softball, tennis, and an interactive playground for children. This park has undergone multiple renovations as it dates back to 1950—one of the reasons why it also encompasses a ton of land.

South Pointe Park

At the southernmost tip of South Beach is South Pointe Park. It has great views of the shoreline, a pier, cruise ships leaving, walking and biking trails, and multiple small spots for children. This is absolutely one of the best spots to watch the sunrise, the cruise ships sail out to sea, or head for a more family-friendly beach area. 

Miami Beach Botanical Garden

One of the lesser known spaces, Miami Beach Botanical Garden, showcases various aspects of Florida’s natural land; it is home to various native plants and even limestone water fountains, similar to those found at Vizcaya. As is typical with many of the Miami Beach greenspaces, the Botanical Garden hosts various events annually and a variety of environmental educational programming throughout the year. Whether you want to do your own individual tour with a free self-guided audio system, a guided tour, or simply to lounge in the Garden’s shade, you can enjoy the garden for free (and give the suggested donation of $2).

TRANSPORTATION 

Accessing Miami Beach from other parts of Miami is a bit more difficult considering it is an island. However, once in Miami Beach it becomes very inefficient to drive in one’s car—something unusual for many other places in Miami. The narrow streets, influx of visitors, and easy flooding can stall and create traffic hours to just travel a few miles. In efforts to alleviate such traffic issues, the city has installed multiple spots to rent bicycles and have added bicycle lanes onto all streets and even has a multiple citywide free trolleys to transport you all across the city—from 88th to 1st. This environmentally friendly option is rather reliable and is a great option for those who are travelling longer distances or prefer to use this instead of walking, which is another option for many people. Once you have made it to Miami Beach, the transportation around the city is much easier. If traveling from far, you can access the Miami Dade Metro and after a few switches and travel on bus, you can make it to almost any destination on the beach. One of the main issues for parking always derives from ridiculous prices, however, if you stick to official City of Miami Beach parking garages or happen to find one of their lots with space, you are sure to save several dollars.

FOOD & BUSINESSES 

Miami Beach may as well be synonymous with restaurants and retail stores. On every single corner you will either find a restaurant, possibly a high-end retailer, or just about one of the same “I love Miami,” souvenirs. It seems as though the city struggles to maintain its high-end reputation while appeasing the thousands of tourists who pass through each year. Collins Avenue and Lincoln Road both have its fair shares of high-end retailers as well as tourist hotspots right nearby. There are various beachwear stores, such as Beach Bunny Swimwear, selling swimsuits and other “Miami” clothing. There are also an increasing number of medical marijuana stores popping up around the city. Also, there are many hand-crafted goods that are sold by people with just a table and a tent alongside the beach. If you’re lucky enough to catch one of their farmers markets, there are a variety of handmade jewelry, hats, dresses, fresh produce, overly priced acai “smoothie” bowls, and tons of other goods—these markets are amazing but unfortunately, they do not happen all the time.

As previously mentioned, Miami Beach is known for its amazing food. One of the best food spots, that is not too pricey and gives you a ton for the price you pay, is the Big Pink. Opening in 1996, it has been serving Miami Beach and its residents ever since; it is open all hours of the night, serving those leaving the nightclub scene, lunch, dinner, any time you want. It is a unique play on an old school diner and with a menu of over 200 items, it definitely has something for everyone. Another top choice is La Sandwicherie, a French-owned restaurant that began serving Miami Beach in 1988; it reminds me of my days studying abroad with its incredible fresh ingredients, and tasty combos. Lastly, one of the newest “restaurants” I wanted to highlight is the new Time Out Market Miami. Right off of Lincoln Road, it is in an extremely busy location. There are 17 different kitchens, 3 bars, and a video wall to provide Miami Beach with a true taste of Miami. Time Out Market has some of the biggest chefs and restaurants under its roof to help create a united food and culture experience. Some of the recognizable names here are: Azucar, native to Little Havana, Ms. Cheezious, which first began as a food truck, Kush, now famous for its burgers, and even Giorgio Rapicavoli, who is head of one of my favorite restaurants, Eating House. Time Out Market Miami is a great place to try dishes from some of the biggest and up and coming restaurants in Miami for some affordable prices. Its atmosphere is extremely inviting and often times there’s a live band playing your favorite salsa tunes, or a big game being projected on the screen. Either way, it is a great place to try out some new food and have a great spot to just hang out with friends.

SUMMARY 

Despites its privilege, this neighborhood is extremely rich in culture and history, this may be the reason why so many people are constantly attracted to it. Miami Beach is incredibly beautiful and unique; from its secret parks to the beach to its nightlife to all of its amazing eateries, there is always something to do and it truly is a unique aspect of Miami. However, it is more than just the glitz and glamour portrayed on the T.V. and known by most people. Its rising poverty and homelessness rate is alarming, its history of prejudice, whether that be against the Jewish or the same Afro-Caribbean or black people who built the island, it most definitely has its own issues. Prices continue to increase throughout the city, making it more difficult for the locals and residents of South Florida to experience some of the amazing things about Miami Beach. Not only this, but our manmade beaches are suffering due to global warming, rising sea levels, and erosion—the literal beaches are washing away. These issues cannot continue to be swept under the rug or patched up by a few tons of imported sand from Orlando. We must protect our environment and Miami Beach should be doing more. Nonetheless, Miami Beach has something for everyone—from the life of luxury to those who simply live for the beach and parks, everyone has a place in this city.

CITATIONS & RESOURCES

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://gis.miamibeachfl.gov/Html5Viewer/Public/index.html?viewer=EC

About: Jewish Museum of Florida. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://jmof.fiu.edu/about/

About: The Bass, Miami Beach’s contemporary art museum. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://thebass.org/about/

Big Pink. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://mylesrestaurantgroup.com/big-pink/

Citywide Free Trolley. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.miamibeachfl.gov/city-hall/transportation/trolley/

Eat & Drink Archive. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.timeoutmarket.com/miami/eat-and-drink

Flamingo Park. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.miamibeachfl.gov/city-hall/parks-and-recreation/parks-facilities-directory/facility-info-flamingo-park/

Flamingo Park in Miami Beach: South Beach, FL. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/thing-to-do/parks-recreation/flamingo-park/2982?category=30

La Sandwicherie. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.miaminewtimes.com/location/la-sandwicherie-6410683

Miami Beach Botanical Garden in Miami Beach: South Beach, FL. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/thing-to-do/parks-recreation/miami-beach-botanical-garden/2126?category=30

Miami Beach, FL. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://datausa.io/profile/geo/miami-beach-fl/#about

SoundScape Park Miami Beach FL. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nws.edu/new-world-center/rent-new-world-center/soundscape-park/

South Pointe Park in Miami Beach: South Beach, FL. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/thing-to-do/parks-recreation/south-pointe-park/2966?category=30

Visit. (1970, January 1). Retrieved from https://www.mbgarden.org/visit

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