Allapattah is not a ‘blank slate.’

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In 2015, Amy and I went through an exhausting search for a reasonably priced single-family home that would be convenient to where we work on Miami Beach, in Downtown and in Little Havana. Pickings were slim. It’s tough out there for folks in our income bracket to afford a home in Miami.

For months, promising homes were snatched out from under us by cash offers from anonymous developers. We were finally fortunate to find a sympathetic seller in Allapattah (a longtime resident) and lucky enough to place the first offer on our current home. We now can’t imagine living anywhere else.

We found ourselves incredibly frustrated by the article published in March by The New Tropic titled, “Allapattah: Miami’s Next Wynwood?” In it, our neighborhood was described as a “blank slate.”

Far from it. Did you know Allapattah is one of the largest neighborhoods in Miami? With a population of 54,289, it trails only Downtown and Little Havana. Did you know Allapattah is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city? William Wagner, credited as Allapattah’s first homesteader, built his home here in 1855. Surprisingly, his house still stands. (It’s just not in Allapattah anymore. Due to construction of the Metrorail, it is was moved in 1979).

Allapattah is home to Miami Jackson Senior High, which has operated since 1898. It was home first to white farmers, then Cubans following the revolution in the 1950s, then blacks forcefully relocated after Overtown was destroyed by I-95, then an influx of Haitian refugees, and now a large contingent of Dominicans. We have beautiful parks, ridiculously delicious bakeries and restaurants, tons of feral chickens, a colorful commercial textile strip, and most importantly, a REAL multicultural community. And it has been that way for decades.

Blank slate? No sir. To consider Allapattah as such is to be willfully ignorant of the people, businesses and culture that have been there for more than 100 years.

Amy and I have been Miami residents for just over 10 years. Perhaps the most important thing we’ve learned in that time is that even though this is a big city, individuals can play an important role in civic matters. Our county and city commissioners are accessible – it just sometimes requires an unholy amount of persistence to get through to them.

Our dream for Allapattah is development that caters to the needs and hopes of current residents, not just the financial goals of incoming developers. We wish to implement a long term cultural plan for the benefit of all with input from residents, business owners and landowners.

Our first step was to find out if a neighborhood association existed and if not, how to form one. Amy and I walked over to our local NET office to meet with the administrator, Celso Ahumada, a 20-plus year veteran of the NET program.

The Neighborhood Enhancement Teams (NET) are neighborhood offices operated by the City of Miami that act as liaisons between residents and government services. They help with distributing information about health and human services, first time homeowner loans – tons of good stuff – while also relaying feedback and ideas from the community to commissioners. Celso walked us through the process to form an association, but also connected us with the recently formed Allapattah Neighborhood Association (ANA). We opted to join ANA.

ANA is a board of six Allapattah residents (including Amy and myself): Pat Gajardo, Kaiser Castro, Michael Hepburn and Cynthia Aracena. Each has lived in Allapattah for a long time and represents the broad diversity of the community (Dominican, Honduran, Bahamian). We are inspired by these passionate young community members and their advocacy for their neighbors. Immediate plans include informational sessions throughout the neighborhood, canvassing residents to get a real sense of their hopes and fears, and producing celebratory events on July 4th and Halloween. It’s a great foundation for bringing residents together to influence the evolution of Allapattah.

If you are an Allapattah resident, join us. If not, consider joining a similar effort in your own neighborhood. Only through engaged citizens will we get the Miami we want and deserve. It is important that we remain vigilant during a time of such rapid change.

Amy and I understand that we are part of the gentrification happening in Allapattah, but also that there’s a right and a wrong way to do it. Communities will change. But how they change should be in our collective hands, not just developers. What is happening in Miami neighborhoods today echoes historian Margot Ammidown’s description of the late 1800s: “There was also something different about many of the people who were moving to take up homesteads. Many of them were not so much pioneers as investors and they guarded their property jealously.”

We have chosen to integrate rather than build walls around our lives. We are learning Spanish. We are walking rather than driving through the neighborhood. We are patronizing local businesses.

And now, through ANA, we hope to help push the priorities of our neighbors to the forefront of public discussion. We do not want to be the next Wynwood. We want to be Allapattah.

Video footage courtesy of Lynn and Louis Wolfson Florida Moving Image Archives. 

Amy San Pedro is a dancer, originally from Lexington, KY. She is a founding member of WholeProject, a contemporary dance company directed by Brigid Baker. She currently works as an artist, administrator, archivist and community connector to strengthen the fabric of Miami’s cultural identity. She also is a co-founder of Buskerfest Miami.

Justin Trieger is a composer, multi-instrumentalist and experienced recording engineer. During the day, he acts as the Director of New Media and Distance Education at the New World Symphony. He is a co-founder of Buskerfest Miami, a Miami-based nonprofit dedicated to improving civic life through artistic performance in public space.