Roadtrip: Miami

January 25, 2008 19 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Everyone hears about South Beach and the bust of the condo market, but what's really happening in Miami at street level?



Miami Population 2006: 404,048 (City); 5,463,857 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1896)

Jacksonville Pop. 2006: 790,689 (City); 1,277,997 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Miami (249,276)


Brief History:

Miami was incorporated as a city in 1896, after Julia Tuttle convinced Henry Flagler to expand his railroad to the area.  Like the rest of Florida, Miami boomed during the 1920's Florida Land Boom.  When Fidel Castro rose to power in 1959, another population boom occurred when many Cubans sought refuge in Miami. 

The city's image took a beating during the 1970s and 1980s, when its drug industry gained national fame.  Today, because of its proximity to Latin America, Miami has become one of the country's most important financial centers.  Despite being labled as the third poorest city in the US, behind Detroit and El Paso in 2004, Downtown has the largest concentration of international banks in the country.

Recently, the city has made national news in the real estate market.  Miami's urban building boom ranked as the second largest worldwide (first in the US) for most buildings over 492' under construction, before the real estate bust. As of April 2007, more than 23,000 condos were either listed for sale or had been foreclosed.



Downtown: Biscayne Blvd

Currently the city is spending a considerable amount of public money on enhancing this waterfront corridor to become the front door and gateway to downtown.  Major destinations along this eight block corridor include a new performing arts center, Bicentennial Park, Bayside Festival Marketplace and the Port of Miami 

Designed by famed architect Cesar Pelli, the new Performing Arts Center consists of a 2,200 seat Carnival Symphony Hall, a 2,400 seat Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House, a 200 seat Studio "Black Box" Theatre and The Peacock Educational Center.  The city claims that this is the second largest performing arts center in the United States.

The City's next major downtown project will be the $400 million recreation of Bicentennial Park.  The goal is to transform the 30 acre waterfront space into South Florida's version of Central Park that will house the Miami Art Museum, a Maritime Museum and the Miami Museum of Science.


Downtown: Brickell Financial District

The Brickell Financial District is home to the largest concentration of international banks in the United States.  Despite the bust of the recent condo boom, Upper Brickell has been transformed from a vertical office park into an urban neighborhood featuring a mix of uses stretching from Biscayne Bay west to the Metrorail line.



Downtown: Flagler Street

Flagler is the historical major east-west street in Miami.  It serves as the baseline that divides all of the streets on the Miami-Dade County grid plan from north and south.  Flagler is also the historical commercial corridor of Downtown.  The recent urban condo boom gone bust has resulted in chain stores coming back into the core, opening along side local retailers.

The city recently completed a $16 million streetscape project that converted Flagler back into a two-way street.



Downtown: Miami Jewelry District

Downtown's Jewelry Dirstrict is one of three in the United States after Beverly Hills and NYC.  It comprises four city blocks, bounded by North Miami Avenue, NE 2nd Avenue, East Flagler Street and NE 2nd Street and is the home of more than 300 jewelry businesses alone.  The city has plans to enhance the streetscape with the hopes of improving the visual quality of the area to attract the tourism element to what is currently dominated by the local population.

For more information on the Jewelry District:








 (Jewelry District images mixed with various images taken on downtown side streets)


Learning From Downtown Miami


Downtown Miami is served by Metrorail (Heavy Rail - green line) and Metromover (downtown people mover - blue line).  The city is currently planning a streetcar line (red line) to spread infill urban development north of downtown and away from the waterfront.


Downtown Jacksonville aerial with Miami's borders and mass transit rail systems superimposed.  The Skyway route is shown in light blue and does not serve the Sports District, Cathedral District, East Bay Street or Riverside Avenue.


Amazingly, our downtown's physical size rivals Miami's in a linear fashion, despite Miami's urban area being five times our size.  This should speak volumes to the level of vibrancy our core once enjoyed.  While Miami is suffering from the real estate market downfall, enough infill development was created during the boom to create synergy between the older central core and the newer infill developments. 

Despite being spread out, the common link with Miami's new developments is that they have ALL been constructed within walking distance to existing mass transit lines.  The city is now preparing plans for a streetcar system (red line) to connect the central business district with Midtown Miami, to the North.  By the same token in which the paths of the Metromover system was chosen, the streetcar routes are being planned to serve existing destinations and encourage new development in areas away from the waterfront. 

As Jacksonville grows, we need to shift our way of thinking to develop mass transit in a fashion that not only makes it an alternative transportation source, but one that encourages quality infill development to occur along its path.