Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Miami's "Walking" Neighborhoods

After my stint raising a kid in suburbia, I promised myself I would move back into "town" to a neighborhood where I could walk to stores, restaurants and parks.  A neighborhood that had a "street life" that went beyond retail, that included a pedestrian culture of strollers, dog walkers, bicyclists, joggers and the like.  A place near parks and landmarks.  Miami, until recently, has very few neighborhoods that fit that description. Thankfully that is quickly changing. There was a time where these neighborhoods were so few, that developers, investors and retailers were quick to overdevelop them and destroy their original character.
Coconut Grove: Perhaps Miami's original "walking" neighborhood.  Once known as a funky hang-out for hippies, bohemians and Bahamians the area was famous for its bars like the Hungry Sailor.  UM students would hang out and party. Then it developed into a nightlife scene and was overrun with shopping centers and hotels. The scene died with the arrival of South Beach and there are a lot of empty storefronts.
Still, it is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Miami. Located in a hardwood hammock along Miami's "silver bluff" oolitic limestone ridge, "the grove" gives that hot tropical vibe that is Miami. Shrouded in live oaks with lianas creeping up them you get the feeling of a village ensconced in jungle greenery.  The dense tree canopy filters the sun onto the sidewalks giving you respite in the shade on hot summer days. There are still great eateries and hangouts in the business district. A walk from Miami's City Hall along the Marina and Peacock part and the historical Barnacle state park makes for a pleasant afternoon stroll.
South Beach: There are very few places in the world where you can live, work and play within blocks of each other. South Beach is truly one of the best "walking" neighborhoods in the world. The efforts of the preservationists were rewarded and the Art Deco District showed that lovely old neighborhoods can pay off a lot more than tearing everything down and putting up maga-casinos. In the 80's South Miami Beach was slated for the same treatment as Atlantic City. A few visionaries saved the Art-Deco buildings from demolition and South Beach was born.
South Beach has done a good job of preserving the old character of the area, however you can see where developers are anxious to capitalize on it with huge retail and condo developments all around it. Some of it is good, some of it is schlock all of it increases an already crowded area with more people. But again, a long walk from South Point Park to Lincoln Road will put you through beautiful beaches, parks and people.  Art Deco buildings punctuate the landscape like so many pastel cupcakes.
Newer "Walking Neighborhoods" in Miami:
Wynwood:  Wynwood originally was a small Puerto Rican barrio and warehouse district. It is proof that art can change an entire neighborhood. Punctuated with galleries and restaurants, the area is crawling with hipsters and bohemians anxious to see the latest art offerings, murals and restaurants.
Mimo District: MiMo, for Miami Modern, district was a run down area north of downtown. Once known more for it's hookers than for it's architecture the area is close to being defined as "gentrified" other than "gentrifying".  Strong neighborhood associations in Belle Meade and Morningside have managed to keep most developers at bay by demanding height restrictions on new buildings.  (3 stories only)  Still the area is bustling with several top notch restaurants and a rapid increase in diverse retail especially apparel and furniture.
Design district/Midtown: Mostly an area known for retail, there a few quaint neighborhoods along the periphery.  Developers have recently demolished a lot in favor of uber-high-end retail like Prada  and a Wal-Mart. Why not? It's Miami.
Mary Brickell Village: Once a quaint collection of restaurants adjacent to Miami's financial center, a massive influx of high rise buildings and Argentinians give the area the feeling of a Buenos Aires with palm trees and tropical forests. Here the sing-song Spanish of the porteƱo is heard more often than the rapid fire Cuban. Still it's very much a newly developed shopping area catering to yuppies that have moved into the newly built high rise condos nearby.....good food and eye candy, but lacking in charm.