The room was tense. Developers and residents said their piece. Now the public sat in the commissioner’s chambers, eagerly waiting. Halfway through the 10-hour meeting, city officials decided: Little Haiti would finally be put on the map.
It was a big win for a local community threatened with displacement by gentrification all year.
All over Miami, long affordable, culturally rich communities, from Liberty City to Coconut Grove, are being threatened by rapidly rising property values as the population in the urban core booms. This is a win not just for Little Haiti but for many similar communities across the county, which is why we’re declaring the official designation the biggest neighborhood win of 2016.
The name honors the many Haitian-Americans who call the neighborhood home — many of whom fled or have families who escaped the brutal François “Papa Doc” Duvalier regime in the 1980s.
“The Little Haiti community had sought to formally designate their neighborhood as such for more than a decade,” wrote Commissioner Keon Hardemon in an e-mail to The New Tropic. “The official designation is an extension of that effort and will hopefully encourage private property owners to preserve the distinction that Little Haiti offers.”
By the mid-1980s, almost 50,000 Haitians lived or worked in the neighborhood. Local and activist and journalist Viter Juste wanted to commemorate this community and wrote an article in the Miami Herald calling the area from NW 54th Street to NW 62nd Street “Little Port-au-Prince,” drawing inspiration from Little Havana. But editors at the Miami Herald thought that was too long. They suggested Little Haiti instead.
Now, three decades later it’s a permanent legacy, with the area running 54th Street north to 79th Street and from NW 6th Avenue alongside I-95 stretching east toward NE 2nd Avenue officially known as Little Haiti.
“It’s a gift,” said Miami Herald photojournalist Carl Juste, the late Viter Juste’s son. “My dad didn’t do it for himself or recognition, he did it because it needed to be done.”
But Juste says this isn’t the end.
“Just because we have the name doesn’t mean we’ve arrived,” he said.
“We’re a step closer to being incorporated into the identity of Miami but this is not the last step, and this is not the mountaintop. We’re moving towards the right direction in trying to establish [ourselves] and be a part of this great city.”
[Editor’s note: A few weeks ago a couple of development projects were announced in Little Haiti, which could mean big changes to the neighborhood.
A 15-acre mixed use development project known as the Magic City innovation district is headed to the neighborhood, as well as the pending redevelopment of the 22.5-acre Design Place apartment complex from two story buildings to 28-story condos. With Little Haiti officially being designated as such, now local community members have stronger standing to advocate for themselves in conversations about the direction the neighborhood is headed in. ]