Miami Resolutions: Neighborhoods

In our final series of Miami resolutions, we checked in with local leaders from urban planning to real estate development to better understand our cities and neighborhoods. We asked them how they thought Miami-Dade County’s neighborhoods would change throughout 2016, and how they hope to be a part of it. Here are some of their thoughts.

Courtesy of Christine Rupp
Courtesy of Christine Rupp

Christine Rupp

Christine Rupp is the executive director of the Dade Heritage Trust, an organization that works to preserve Miami’s rich historical buildings and neighborhoods. She was previously the executive director of the Coral Gables Museum.

Miami’s neighborhoods are changing. There’s rising property values and space concerns, and with so much development in the Brickell Corridor, the logical choice is to push that density westward. Also, when you have a zoning code that allows for replacing single family homes and three to four story buildings with taller buildings, the look and feel of the neighborhood will change. Now you can allow taller buildings and still preserve the neighborhood, so long as you don’t wipe everything out in the process. Without thoughtful development, you’ll also displace people and widen that well-known income gap between the very wealthy and very poor.

Miami has so many great stories to tell, historically, about people who came here for a fresh start. Even from the beginning, people came here for a new start. The way property values are hiking up here, we have to be careful to not totally change the character of Miami.

The other thing that I think is problematic is in a place where the weather is so beautiful, there is such a lack of green space. With more thoughtful development, there can be great decisions that can be made so that quality of life does not diminish. For example, everywhere I go people are talking about the traffic. I think the reality is that there’s going to be more cars and more construction with all of these planned projects in the next year. People need to make more of an effort to take public transportation, ride their bikes, and be carless. I made the choice to go carless five years ago, and it’s very possible.

We’re also working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation on issues in Little Havana and trying to save the Miami Marine Stadium. By the end of this year, I do think that parts of Lemon City and Little Havana will be preserved. I think there are enough people that care about the historical integrity and fabric of the city and realize that buildings and spaces tell stories and those stories are why people want to live here.

-photo-paul george
Courtesy of Paul George

Paul George

Dr. Paul George is a historian and professor at Miami-Dade College. He gives history tours via HistoryMiami, including boat and walking tours throughout the city.

Miami’s neighborhoods are distinctively different — from Downtown to Little Haiti to Coconut Grove. They are resurging, gentrifying, and becoming vibrant and important again for a lot of people. I see the neighborhoods becoming more vibrant and attractive, with new businesses, new housing, and a more active street life in the neighborhoods.

Economic success makes the neighborhoods stronger and creates draws for more tourists and visitors. As they change, they should work to preserve historical buildings, keep parks a priority, plant more trees, and implement a stronger police presence to keep the neighborhoods safe.

Those are some of the key things they can do to be more attractive.

Some of the buildings I’d like to see preserved include the Sunshine Fruit Company building, which was built in the 1920s; the old meatpacking house in Wynwood behind Joey’s; and some of the historic buildings that go back to the 1920s on NE 2nd Ave. And some of those buildings actually should be restored and then preserved. I’d also like to see the house of the First Mayor of Miami in Little Havana preserved — it’s now the home of the Russian Orthodox Church.

By the end of 2016, in the course of a little less than a year, there’s going to be more businesses in the city center, development in Buena Vista, and the Design District will be booming. With new high-end stores, progress will continue, and Little Haiti will have more artists than it has today. So in little less than a year, you’ll see lots of changes in those communities.

Bernardo Fort-Brescia, FAIA (04) crop
Courtesy of Arquitectonica

Bernardo Fort-Brescia

Almost 40 years ago, Bernardo Fort-Brescia helped found Arquitectonica, an international landscape architecture, interior design, and urban planning corporation. He studied architecture and urban planning at Princeton University and received a Master of Architecture from Harvard University. He moved to Miami in 1975 to teach at the University of Miami.

I think that Brickell Ave. represents a city coming of age. It’s transformed itself from 20 years ago from a suburban district to a real city, with residents, a workforce, retail, and restaurants.

I think Brickell City Center is really creating a gathering place similar to Rockefeller Center in New York. You’ve got the people mover, so, in fact, it’s not a car-oriented solution, it’s an urban solution integrated within the neighborhood.

In this year, in addition to the opening of Brickell City Center, there are a couple of neighborhoods that are going to transform in radical ways. Wynwood has gotten its act together and passed new zoning laws very specific to Wynwood and I think that will make it evolve in the same way.

In Coconut Grove, there has been new development along the waterfront. There’re new residential locations along Bayshore Drive and new shops like Panther Coffee. The Grove is undergoing a transformation that’s quite different. It’s very homegrown and it’s very cool and I think that’s the other place you’re going to see. By the end of next year, it will will be hard to recognize, because a lot of what’s happening is transformational and it’s in a short period of time, as opposed to a 3-year wait.

Buildings are being renovated, new tenants are coming in, and I think you’ll see a lot more mixed-use buildings.

I think the public sector is lagging behind with things that would make the city more livable. We don’t have enough bike lanes, and this is a flat city. It’s the ideal place to have bike lanes. It’s something that needs to be incorporated as we develop for the safety of bikers and encourage the use of bikes. We have the perfect weather and geography to build bike lanes into this change.

Another thing we need to work on is mass transit. We have not focused on mass transit for almost 40 years. We’re a growing city that needs more public transport to avoid gridlock. We need connectivity between all of these great neighborhoods.

I feel that only Brickell is fully served, and that’s why it’s done well. This is also a year to make a decision to connect the city to Miami Beach in other ways than just the Causeway. I think there is an initiative to build the Baylink and connect Miami Beach and Miami with some form of mass transit. Overall, I think developers have done a good job to activate and make the city more livable and in tapping other places that are nice, entertaining, and beautiful, but that’s not enough. We have to start thinking of the big picture of connectivity.

Courtesy of Art Wynwood
Courtesy of Art Wynwood

Grela Orihuela

In 2015, Grela Orihuela became the director of Art Wynwood, an international contemporary art fair based in Wynwood. She is also the head of exhibitor relations for Art Miami’s seven other art fairs across the United States.

Miami is very vibrant and busy, certainly much more so than it used to be. In early the 2000s, Wynwood was a totally different neighborhood. Although there were great things going on then, now there’s just so many more days of the week and so many more hours of the day. The city is so much busier and vibrant.

In this next year, I just want to continue having the forward motion we’ve been having, and continue to do that organically. There are a lot of different people who are coming here to explore and investigate how they can participate and contribute. With continued collaboration between artists, retail, and restaurants, there will be even more growth and forward motion. By the end of this year, I would expect to see a lot of people in the neighborhood, enjoying the art, bars, and restaurants, and that’s the direction we’re headed in.

I’ve been in Miami for a long time, and have been part of the art community for a while. We moved our central office to Wynwood, and we hope to contribute to the growth of the neighborhood.

By next year, I would expect to see the community continue to grow and collaborate, and maybe bring in the surrounding neighborhoods, and start to have that conversation all around us as well.  

Carlos Rosso
Courtesy of Brett Hufziger

Carlos Rosso

The president of The Related Group’s Condominium Development Division. Carlos Rosso moved to Miami more than a decade ago, and has lived all over the world, from Buenos Aires to Cairo.

I think in Miami you have very different and distinct neighborhoods, starting south from Coconut Grove, to Brickell, to Downtown, to the Design District, Wynwood, and Midtown. They all have different characteristics. Then you go north from Bal Harbour to Fort Lauderdale, and each neighborhood has a different taste and flavor. Related is very excited about most of these neighborhoods. This year, we’re working on developments in Brickell, Edgewater, Midtown, Wynwood, Sunny Isles, and Hallandale Beach.

We think Miami can improve in a lot of ways. Transportation needs to be addressed — we can improve public parks and have a more pedestrian friendly city and grow as a city. We can grow more density, have more people Downtown. Right now, Brickell City Center will create a tremendous shift of lifestyle in Brickell. You can walk to shopping centers, cinemas, and the mall, and that is a big change.

I think next year people are going to learn how to walk again — that’s going to be the biggest change. By the end of 2016, I would expect to see Brickell City Center open, cinemas operating, restaurants in Bal Harbour open, SLS LUX and Brickell Heights finished, Michael Schwartz and Jose Andres restaurants, a new 30,000 square feet Equinox gym, and a lot of new buildings in a short period of time.

You will see people continuing to buy in Brickell, which is a shift away from what we had before. That’s a very important cultural change. Buyers in Miami have to really bet on the growth of Miami, so it’s good that we’re seeing things we never saw before.

Courtesy of Nir Shoshani
Courtesy of Nir Shoshani

Nir Shoshani

Nir Shoshani is one of the principals of N.R. Investments Inc., a real estate investment company focused on commercial and residential real estate. Among other properties, they are invested in the A+E District and Canvas Miami.

Miami’s neighborhoods are not interlinked. I’d describe them as individual pockets with no real connection, neither on concept, transportation, planning, or culture. They’re all very individual.

A couple of years ago, we started the A+ E District, and I believe that it stands the chance to be the link between Wynwood, Edgewater, Midtown, and Downtown Miami. It’s not only a matter of location, but also substance.

We’ve started to put together an urban village concept, like bike lanes, thinking about walkability, and a Metromover stop. We’ve hosted almost weekly free events that are meant to push all of those issues I described, and build the community.

We hosted Soul Train on the Metromover to push people to take advantage of public transport. We did the Miami Flea and hosted bonfires. It’s more than community building — it was trying to bring people from different pockets and create a link between them.

I think that one of the major problems with the development of this city is that there’s no serious comprehensive plan, and that’s what allows those pockets to exist. Until there is a holistic approach to the different neighborhoods, I don’t think we’ll see a major change.

What I’d like to see is Miami change its economic engine. I’d like to see Miami step out of tourism and real estate, and into technology. I’d like to see it step from 5-digit salaries to millennials making 6-digit salaries, circumventing economic engines that historically don’t pay much. There’s a lot of potential in this the city and a lot of great things have started, but in pockets. You have The Lab, The Hive, Emerge, all of these great things, but there’s nothing linking all of them into something that on a Miami base could be significant.

In 2016, I don’t want another band-aid. I think there’s real problems and I think that we need to think about real solutions. Just forming another small incubator or pocket or neighborhood is not enough. We need to look at it from a more comprehensive perspective.

Courtesy of Comras Company

Michael A. Comras

As president and CEO, Michael A. Comras founded The Comras Company of Florida, Inc., a full service real estate brokerage company, in 1992.

Miami has some of the best demographics in the state of Florida. If you consider Coral Gables, Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove, and South Miami, you have some of the best demographics. Coconut Grove is a village that’s been around for many years and is an organic, walkable environment.

As Miami becomes more and more dense, people don’t want to travel as far because it gets more difficult. In this way, gentrification causes localization, so we need to move towards localizing businesses in prime areas. If we hit it right, we can bring in the right types of boutiques, restaurants, and service providers to create local villages. This also promotes tourism, because when people travel, they often want to go where locals hang out. What we’re seeing is a change in merchandising. In Coconut Grove, we have hotels, creative offices, and markets, and these will continue to attract more people.

In this next year, I think you’ll see some slowing of development. There’s going to be less cranes, a pull back of the residential market, and you’ll start to see a little more caution coming to the market. Some challenges will be finding tenants to maintain occupancy costs. With online retailing coming on quite strong, it poses a challenge to developers to elevate projects to drag people out of their houses. With that said, I see Miami continuing to thrive, but there’s going to be some slowdown in terms of new residential development. And developers will start to have a more cautious view of the world.

Fortune International Group
Courtesy of Fortune International Group

Edgardo Defortuna

Edgardo Defortuna is the founder of Fortune International Group, a Miami-based real estate development, sales, and brokerage company. Defortuna founded the company in 1983 after moving to Miami from Argentina almost a decade ago.

Obviously Miami has a large number of different areas and neighborhoods as far as development is concerned. We’re concentrating our efforts on the Sunny Isles Beach area. It’s attractive because of the location. It’s next to Bal Harbour and Aventura and it has some of the best beaches in Miami.

There are some projects under construction and coming to reality this year, and a few are going to be delivered before the end of the year, and if not, early on in 2017. So the skyline is continually changing and we will see that for the relative near future.

What I do see is that it’s becoming difficult to enter that market because of the cost of land, so I see the pace of development slowing down, and there will be a greater attention to detail. We’re going to have more service-oriented types of products. For instance, our newest project is the Ritz Carlton. Attention to detail is what will make the project much more luxurious. The buyer gets the ultimate level of service and that’s what we’re trying to come up with. We want new, exciting ideas that make it different from the rest of what the market is offering now.

Fortune has a very sophisticated team that interacts with both architects and construction companies in order to deliver the type of experience and ultimate product to the buyer and we’re continuously trying to improve on that and look for the best solutions.

Courtesy of Catalina Ayubi Photography

Malik Benjamin

Malik Benjamin is the managing director of the Institute of Collaborative Innovation LLC and director of program innovation at the Florida International University School of Architecture. He’s also the host of CreativeMornings/Miami and on the board of a number of community-based organizations. He wrote his resolutions to us during a rare free moment.

We had a brain drain. Then we had a brain gain. Yet not much has changed. We’re on the same course in regards to transit mobility, economic mobility, impoverishment, quality of life, and education.

Smart Miami needs to find its genius, dumb Miami needs to get smart, and everyone needs to get their hustle and bustle on.

Hustle means drown everything in entrepreneurship sauce. If transit is a problem, then we need to vertically innovate the system from idea to conception. At commissioner meetings, we need digital voting and Google Hangout capabilities for citizens who can not attend meetings due to work and traffic. We need collaborative referendum authoring software that drafts bills based on public input rather than political interpretation. We need econometric technology that will gather economic data from Miami and make policy suggestions. We need narrative building technology that can make all data and policies accessible to everyone above the age of 14 in a variety of formats that range from micro format like SnapChat or Vine, to augmented reality infographics. If we want hustle supreme, we would link all three systems into a feedback and implementation loop.

Bustle means we need to get out of our comfort zone with haste! This is a call for our politicians, developers, and financiers to tap into the amazing tech and brain trust in Miami and implement 22nd-Century ideas at a metropolitan scale. I’m not talking about catching up to New York or Chicago, I’m talking about leap-frogging. We need lanes and districts for self-driving buses and vans. Monitor-and-control sensors embedded in all major construction and infrastructure projects. A Department of Urban Innovation and Mechanics in every municipality. A Port Authority of South Florida that leverages the strengths of the ports, air and sea, of Miami and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood. Proactive urban logistics systems that monitor and react to traffic, sea level rise, and special events. Staggered work and school start and finish times throughout the population. Rapid transit bus from East to West. Free local trolleys in every municipality. A single mobility card for Metrorail, TriRail, Car2Go, Zipcar, and Citibike.

These are not my ideas. These are ideas from a host of Miamians that are being siphoned away to other cities for their intelligence and creativity.

*Disclosure: N.R. Investments is a sponsorship partner of The New Tropic, but was not involved in the production or planning of this story.