Maria Cruz: MIM Ineffable Miami Project (Spring 2020)

This post is dedicated to Maria Cruz’s Ineffable Miami Project she had to complete for her Honors course in the Spring of 2020. Acting as a tour guide for the prominent area of West Kendall these are her findings.

Student Biography

Photo by Jessica Horsham (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

Located near the Everglades, West Kendall has come to epitomize what suburbia life in Miami is like. While its geographical boundaries are very limiting, most citizens overlook it and also classify the larger surrounding area as “West Kendall.” Littered with strip malls, school zones, and housing developments, I am one of the many that get to call it home. While I have lived here for less than a decade, I have witnessed great changes during this time as the natural environment was overtaken by the suburban world. It seems as if wherever you go here, the work is not complete — with development signs and construction sites littered throughout the entire area it is quite clear the neighborhood still has plans to expand. This continous growth is a great contrast to the established communities in Miracle Mile and Coral Gables, which was the study of my project for the previous semester. West Kendall does not represent the glamor and gaudiness of the city’s richest, rather it reflects the average life of most of its citizens.

Historical Insight

In terms of historical insight, there is not a lot to say about West Kendall. There is no official founding date, designated business center, nor museums dedicated to documenting life here before the 21st century. In comparison to my project for last semester, I had a more difficult time doing research for this project. Unlike Miracle Mile, the last neighborhood I explored, Kendall is not littered with memorial markers that provide pedestrians with the historical background of the area. Moreover, the archives of the Coral Gable and HistoryMiami Museums, two accessible sources that provide information about Miami’s past to the public, do not provide much data, if at all, about how West Kendall came to be. Thus, much of what I know about my own home is based on conjunction from other historical tidbits of Miami. For example, since this was one of the latest sections of the city to be developed after being bought by the State of Florida in 1883, a century ago all you would find here were swampy marshes and other natural habitats of the Everglades. 

I could not find the specific date the boundaries of this community were established nor when development of suburban areas began, but this area started to gain traction the latter half of the 20th century. Additionally, with the population boom and growth of the city, it is predicted that this neighborhood will be expanded to accommodate for even more residents. As a result, housing units have attempted to maximize their space to fit in as many residents as possible and with the houses and apartment buildings beginning to resemble even more West Kendall has lost its individuality. This showcases the socioeconomic standards of this area because in more affluent areas, like around Miracle Mile, the houses are known for their distinct styles as their owners show off the extent of their wealth.

Geography

Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

Similar to the rest of Miami, there is not a lot of geographical diversity here. All around you will find flat plains of land (that are more often that not marked for construction), palm trees, and the occasional man-made lakes. One of the more distinctive “features” are the small stretches of land of native forests. While most of West Kendall has eradicated the natural environment that once flourished, it would not be the suburbs if each housing community did not have space for jogging, walking dogs, and other family-friendly activities that require open spaces. These observations are also applicable to Country Walk, The Hammocks, The Crossings, and the other surrounding “unincorporated communities” that Miami residents agree are also part of West Kendall. In addition to this, sites and places are spread far from each other to make room for shopping centers and housing sites, making getting around this neighborhood complicated if you do not own your own car.

Additional notes on greenery

There is not a lot of open greenery to admire in this area; however, as you drive around you will find small areas being visited by families or individuals looking to enjoy the outside. However, they are not as frequented as one would hope as our culture is not big on spending much time outdoors. This is a true shame because Miami’s biodiversity is truly unique and it would be amazing if more people began to appreciate the beauty of our tropical environment. There are a few recognized parks and public areas, such as the Kendall Indian Hammocks Park; yet, they offer limited opportunities for us to appreciate our surrounding nature as a lot of its features are man-made or minimized to make room for further construction. Often, some of these parks will be by school and viewed as an “extension” of these institutions as the limited space of this site calls for “dual purpose” areas. This leaves us with little to appreciate as we are overwhelmed with the city’s desire to develop shopping locales and property complexes. Over time, some residents have raised concerns about the environmental impact these practices have, yet these criticisms are often overlooked by city developers.

Additional notes on transportation

Transportation: Some of the biggest issues of living in West Kendall that ALL its residents agree upon are traffic congestion and lack of adequate access to public transportation. As this is one of the most populated areas of Miami you will always find yourself coming across some traffic on 88th street, no matter where you are planning on going. Even when you attempt to beat it, for example, me planning for an hour commute to and from school every day, you will never get to your destination when you expected to. This is one of the reasons we are accustomed to “running on Miami time.” Moreover, even though there are some stops for buses they are located in traffic-heavy areas that are dangerous to walk to and from, far from a people’s destinations, and a major inconvenience to access if you do not already own a car. 

Demographics and Interview

As previously mentioned, West Kendall is one of Miami’s most populated areas. Due to its appeal to those looking to settle down, the neighborhood has exponentially grown in the 21st century as people seek to settle in more “reasonably priced” and family-friendly areas. By living here, you get to experience the city without committing to the staggering costs of rent in downtown or the chaos of life in South Beach (the two major metropolitan areas that most people think of when they hear Miami). Nonetheless, as the price of living has gone up in the city its residents are still faced with similar socioeconomic issues found in other neighborhoods. While not as discernible as when you drive out from Coral Gables, it is still apparent that not everyone here lives a perfect suburbia life.

Miami’s society is known for its diverse cultural makeup and for my interview I wanted to get in touch with someone who fit this profile to get a more accurate depiction of life in West Kendall. As a Cuban immigrant I know my background reflects many of the neighborhood’s residents; however, I know my experiences are not universal and there are people that have different perspectives based on their own experiences. Thus, I contacted Izka Edmond who moved here from Haiti in 2010 and has now moved to New York to attend college there. I was especially interested in her insight as she is someone who has intimate knowledge of living in both the suburbs and the city.

What was your first impression of West Kendall? Was it difficult to get accustomed to your new home or was the community inviting?

My first impression of Kendall was of Hammocks Middle School. I had landed in Orlando the day before after flying in from Haiti because of the earthquake. I remember thinking it looks different to what I was used to [and that] it was clean too. It was difficult moving at first because I was living with my aunt and her family. After we were signed up for school my mom and dad returned to Haiti and my brothers and I had to stay with her for about six months. She immediately immersed us in our culture as much as she could in Miami, from Haitian- American Alliance clubs to going to other family members' houses, I think she did her best to keep us grounded. I struggled at school but it was because i was getting labeled the “earthquake kid” along with my friends rather than getting a chance to acclimate to my new surroundings.  I made friends on my first day of school and I still talk to them. So to answer your question, I think that in a way the community was welcoming but a lot of people wouldn’t get past their prejudices.

Growing up here, did you appreciate the suburbia life or did you prefer the bustle of Downtown and South Beach?

I never went to South Beach until I was, like, a senior in high school. I was so used to Suburbia that I was shocked that this was so close to me. I think suburbia has its charm but there is something about a city that creates a sort of freedom. Living in New York now (pre-Covid) it is easy to be entertained at all times.

What were the most memorable places that you frequented? Would your friends and past classmates also agree?

I really liked my ballet studio. If I’m honest I didn’t go anywhere much but my house because my mom was so protective. I remember Mcdonald’s after school in middle school and the Ice Arena. I really loved going to Tutti Frutti with friends. That shopping center where Publix is saw more of me than anywhere else in Miami I feel like. I think if you went to Hammocks and Varela there is a familiarity with those areas and I feel like there is a nostalgia that comes up when I go there. When I go there now I feel like I'm looking at it from an outsiders point of view. 

Do you hold any opinions regarding the recent boom of housing developments and continuous growth of the neighborhood?

To be honest, not really. I mean living there from 2010-2016 I definitely was curious seeing the new construction sparking up around town. 

Do you ever envision yourself moving back or do you think you’ve outgrown the place? Do you think this is a widely held sentiment amongst the kids that grew up here? 

I don't envision myself moving back. I do think I’ve outgrown Kendall and I don’t think I’m anywhere near the person I was when I lived there. Moving to New York for college was the best decision for me to make. I got to just experience life on my own and build opinions outside of those held in Kendall. I don’t think this is held by a lot of people. I see a lot of the people I knew in high school having kids and just settling down in Kendall but I also have friends who have moved away and are planning to start their lives elsewhere. I think it depends on the person and on their willingness to explore. 

Following this conversation I began to rethink my past observations and consider the validity behind others’ claims that this is one of the best neighborhoods to live in Miami. Despite my own bias, I can recognize that people’s experiences, no matter how different from mine they may be, deserve to be addressed as well. For example, as an immigrant from a developing country I was also amazed by the differences in my living situations in both countries; however, I always felt welcomed here and like my own ethnic background was respected. Throughout my expeditions with this class and follow-up reflections I have noticed a similar theme — no matter how picturesque an area may appear, there are always criticisms that need to be addressed due to the dynamic nature of different social environments. 

Observations

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

Life in West Kendall is what you expect from the suburbs; however, this tranquility and peace have their limits. As development throughout the area increases and more people have started to relocate here, noise pollution from construction, traffic, and other daily life activities are a constant nowadays. Well, at least in our pre-quarantine days. 

As someone that spent their teenage years here, there is still not a lot that can be said about activities or must-see places. While this may sound boring, and do not get me wrong it definitely can be when things get repetitive (i.e. when you have been in your house under lockdown for over a month because of a pandemic), at night it is a nice reprieve from the chaos of everyday life in Miami. Sometimes, we forget to appreciate just how nice the mundane can be.

Additional notes on landmarks

In terms of “landmarks,” the most interesting places to visit are the shopping malls that have varying shopping and dining options. However, if you are looking to get more active you can visit affordably-priced golf courses, a roller OR ice skating rink, skate park, arcade, or one of the local community parks. During the weekends you can find teens hanging out at the Kendall Ice Arena, meeting up at the closest Regals Cinema, or catching up over dinner at Panera. Pretty tame in comparison to the usual tales of Miami, right? 

Additional notes on food and businesses

One of the most unique things about West Kendall are their local businesses. As this area is populated mainly by immigrant families there are a lot of people that are looking to make their dreams of owning their own business and making a name for themselves. From food to shopping, there are more options than you would think of thriving independent businesses. While there is still the competition with national chains, such as Costco, Starbucks, and Target, you still see people going out to support food trucks, independent restaurants, and small businesses. For food, some of my top recommendations are: Tacos and Tattoos, Amici’s, Latin House, Bonjour Bakery, and Finka (this one is a bit further North but I have loved everything I have tried from their menu, and trust me I have tried a lot). There are also a variety of food trucks along 88th street that will be open on different nights of the week and people highly rave about!

Reflection

Admittedly, there is not a lot that can be said about West Kendall; and thus, there is not a lot I can give my opinion on. Yet, despite the ultimate mundaneness of the area I cannot help but miss it every time I go away on long trips. Or how often I look forward to the quietness of my neighborhood when I am in bumper to bumper traffic on the Turnpike. While I would have loved to have further explored West Kendall, my time in quarantine has allowed me to appreciate this neighborhood like no other. Despite all the other uncertainties and problems I am facing because of this pandemic, I am still very blessed that I get to spend my time in such a safe and beautiful place like this. Despite all of this, I acknowledge that this is not the “perfect” nor the “best” place to live for all despite my own positive experiences. For example, there are still microaggressions that people from marginalized communities face from their own neighbors because of widely held preconceptions. There is also the matter of the declining health of our environment that despite the looming threat of climate change is going largely unaddressed as the county looks to develop more housing zones. Moreover, there can be improvements to how the locals socialize with one another, with there being more activities that promote community building and support. Needless to say, there are still opportunities for improvement that can be made to make others’ feel as welcome as I did. Miami is one of the country’s most dynamic cities, and as it continues to grow it is important for us to acknowledge and embrace the uniqueness of our cultural makeup.

Works Cited

https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/neighborhoods/kendall

https://www.miamidade.gov/zoning/library/reports/west-kendall-corridor-planning-report.pdf

https://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/real-estate-news/article35678418.html

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