Johnny Casares: University Park 2021

My name is Johnny Casares, I am a student at FIU currently majoring in Computer Science. Since I lived in Venezuela, I always had an interest in both art and computers but never had the proper tools to dive deeply in these interests. Now that I live in the U.S., I enrolled in the Honors College to not only challenge myself academically, but also to take advantage of the opportunities I never had before.

HISTORY

It wouldn’t be wrong to assume that University Park has a history deeply connected to Florida International University, the name of the community already sells it. The history that links them together showcases the birth, growth, and glory of a university campus, as well as the urban expansion and diversification of Miami as a whole.

The story begins in 1965, when Florida bill 711 sets plans for a four-year state college, which gave birth to Florida International University. At the time, the main campus of the university, Modesto Maidique Campus, was an abandoned airfield. The closest and biggest population to the area was Sweetwater, which counted with a growing population of approximately 3000 people. Construction began in 1969, under the vision of the youngest university president of the nation at the time, Mr. Charles Perry. A reminiscent piece of the airfield that this campus was once still stands today as the office of veteran’s affairs, which displays a small Air Traffic Control Tower.

In 1972, The University first opened its doors to the public as a two year college, accepting Juniors and Senior college students. On its first day, FIU’S inscription numbers broke national records. University Park is the original name given to the Modesto Maidique Campus, from there, people referred to the surrounding area by the same name. At the time the institution was only a single building, which is Primera Casa, but three years later in 1975 the University quickly grew, now counting with 6 buildings, 4 which were named in different languages, embodying the International vision of FIU.

The international vision of the University had effects on its surrounding communities, like Sweetwater, which’s population doubled thanks to the presence of the University and the construction of two major expressways, completely transforming and diversifying what at the time was a “sleepy little country town.”

FIU continued to grow, and its popularity brought interest into urbanizing the surrounding areas, ultimately building what is now known as University Park.

Geography and Demography

Today, University Park is a small, mostly residential, community in the middle of Miami-Dade that limits with Sweetwater and Fontainebleau (north), Westwood Lakes and Olympia Heights (south), Westchester (east), and Tamiami (west). Because of its proximity to these communities, University Park is often referred as part of these other communities due to their proximity and the name of the community University Park not being very popular. Like most of Miami, the topography of University Park consists of a mostly flat surface, with some minor changes in elevation.

Image from Google Maps

The population of University Park in 2010 was almost 27,000 people. most of them White-Hispanics. Even though the population have had a small decline over the years, since the main campus of Florida International University, the fourth largest university in the nation, is withing the borders of the community, there is an inevitable flow of people and diversity in University Park. According to FIU, they count with a diverse student population which is composed of: 61% Hispanic, 15% White Non-Hispanic, 13% Black, 4% Asian or Pacific Islander, 7% other minority groups.

Like most parts of Miami, the cost of living is very high. The average value of property in University Park is 1.23 times larger than the national median, and this value has increased over the years. The homeownership rate, however, is just slightly lower than the national average, at 62.4%, the rest can be assumed are renting. An assumption that could be drawn from this data is that those who live in University Park are either affluent people, or people who invested from some time ago in the properties found in this community. The second assumption seems to be the case, since despite of how expensive properties are, the annual household income in this area is less than $52,000, which is lower than the average annual income across the nation of almost $62,000. The level of poverty in University Park is also slightly above the national average, at 14.3%, composed mainly of Hispanics and White people. In addition to that, most of poor people in the community are women, especially over 75 years old. University Park is just one out of many communities that face issues of poverty among elderly that has yet to be addressed.

Resident Interview

Even though University Park is, overall, an average Miami community, I wanted to get insight directly from a member of the community. I decided to interview Ethan Ruiz, a student at FIU who was born in the United States and whose parents are Cuban. He has lived in University Park since he was little, which is over 18 years.

Image courtesy of Ethan Ruiz
  • How is it like to live in University Park?

“I love living in University Park as we have many cultures and places to visit nearby. And there is not much traffic in this area during the densest hours.”

  • What is the biggest problem that your community faces?

“The biggest problem facing University Park is probably the skyrocketing prices of both rent and housing prices for many families.”

  • What is the best part or your favorite part about the community?

“My favorite part of the community is that there is not much trouble and nuisances in the area. It is usually a quiet town with friendly neighbors and a lack of parties or noises on the weekends.”

From the perspective of someone who lives in the community, the housing prices is the biggest problem. Based on the data, and the fact that University Park is essentially a student community, it is valid to make that this is one of the most problematic issues of the community, which I would link to the one of poverty. If housing is so expensive, how can an elder, who can’t perform as well at work as their younger counterpart, be able to cope with the housing prices. On the positive side, University Park is an overall friendly and quiet community, with a relatively easy access to transportation.  

TRANSPORTATION

University Park counts with a surprising amount of public transportation. The main bus terminal is at FIU Maidique Campus, in this stop one can move from FIU to almost anywhere in Miami. There are different routes that goes in all four cardinal points: north, south, east, and west. The is also a limited stop service that has goes across University Park to the neighbor communities, such as Westchester and Olympia Heights. This form of transportation is free for now due to the pandemic, but on June 1 Miami-Dade Transit is going to be returning to the usual price of $2.25.

Image from Miami-Dade Gov.

Also, departing from FIU near PG-6 the Doral Trolley route 4 makes its way all the way to Doral in a straight line through 107th Ave. The trolley comes at no cost, which is an advantage when it comes to transportation. The trolley stops also provide with tracking, so you can call and get a time approximation of arrival. The local government of Doral also has available an app that lets you track in real time the position of the trolley. The trolley is for sure a great addition to both the University and the community because now students will be able to easily mobilize to popular sites such as Dolphin Mall and International Mall without having to depend solely on a singular form of public transportation. And if you thought it was over, there is more. The Sweetwater trolley also stops at FIU and makes its way to the shopping mall and various parts of the community.

Edit by Johnny Casares. Route Maps Overview by City of Doral (Left) and City of Sweetwater(right)//CC by 4.0 https://www.cityofdoral.com/all-departments/public-works/doral-trolley/ and CC by 4.0 https://cityofsweetwater.fl.gov/transit-schedule/

LANDMARKS

Cuban memorial: Inaugurated in Tamiami Park, on February 22 of 2014, The Cuban Memorial is 62 foot tall obelisk that honors those who perished in the hands of the oppressive communist regime that reigns Cuba since 1959. The Cuban Memorial is a symbolic cemetery that displays a “black-list,” which is an extensive listing of the names of the people who disappeared and were killed by Castro’s regime. The idea behind the Memorial Cubano organization is to keep alive the patriotic legacy of those who gave up the most valuable thing in existence, life, in the pursuit of freedom and democracy.

As Jose Marti said: “Los muertos son las raíces de los pueblos,” and forgetting those who died would mean the destruction of the history that makes our civilization.

Memorial Cubano, Photo taken by Johnny Casares, 2021/CC BY 4.0

Museum at FIU: Designed by the famous architect Yann Weymouth, The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum opened its doors to the public in 2008. Located at FIU, the museum showcases art from graduate students, collections of artifacts and crafts from many different cultures, and other temporary collections such as the ones of Roberto Obregon, a Venezuelan artist who is known for his work on conceptualism. The diversity and flow of art in the museum serves to portray the International vision that the university embodies.

Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, Photo taken by Johnny Casares, 2021/CC BY 4.0

Veteran’s Tower: The FIU Office for Veteran’s Affairs might not sound like the number one touristic attraction of University Park; however, it is here, where the last reminiscent piece of the Tamiami Airport stands. This is an important part of the local history because it is from that same tower where all the visions for FIU started, and that same idea completely changed its surroundings, essentially founding what is now the community of University Park.

Veteran’s Tower, Photo taken by Johnny Casares, 2021/CC BY 4.0

GREEN

Tamiami Park: This is an extensive green area where many locals go and have an active lifestyle, running, biking, and doing other types of physical activities. The park counts with many sports fields as well as a public community pool. In this same park one can find the Memorial Cubano and the yearly event that is the fair. The youth fair is probably one of the biggest events that takes place in Tamiami Park, and one very popular in Miami-Dade. 

Tamiami Park, Photo taken by Johnny Casares, 2021/CC BY 4.0

Concord Park: This is a small park in the southern part of the community. Even though it might not be big and host impressive evets, it is still a beautiful and calm park where people can enjoy the landscape and engage in physical activities.  It is also convenient for the closer neighborhoods since there is little green areas in University Park, and most of them are either clos or in FIU. 

FIU nature preserve: Located inside FIU, there is this nature preserve. Even though it is there for educational purposes, preserving endangered Everglades plants and local nature, it is open to the public. However, this is not a common park so there is no facilities that would make of this green place a space to hang out. The site is most of an educational facility, and if you ever visit this preserve, it is better to go during daylight, as there is no artificial sources of light inside and one could lose notion of space.

FOOD

Where are the best and authentic places to eat? Select three to highlight.

107 taste: 107 Taste is more than just a restaurant, is a story of how a woman worked hard to achieve her childhood dream. Chef Yu comes from a village in northwestern China and was always passionate about cooking and her childhood dream was to open a restaurant. Once Yu obtained her bachelor’s degree in China, she came to Florida International University, where she got a master’s degree in hospitality management. In 2016, Chef Yu and Dr. Lei, her husband, opened their first establishment, which is just next to FIU on 107th Ave, which is the reason is called 107 Taste. The restaurant serves the most sought for Asian foods and the most traditional meals their culture.

Tiagos Tacos: This is a Mexican food restaurant which has recently opened just south of Tamiami Park. The original business idea comes from a food truck that is well known and established outside of the community. The establishment serves the most popular choices of the Mexican cuisine, while combining it with local elements.

Dos Croquetas: Found in the most southern part of the community, this is a modern establishment with that irradiates Miami Vice vibes. The establishment specializes in Croquetas, as the name says, which is an iconic food of the Hispanic community and one that is really appreciated here in Miami.

BUSINESSES

Korka comics: unique epic comic store located in 8th street in Florida International Plaza. This store is known across Miami for keeping alive the old American tradition of the comic books alive. The business also, in a similar manner to GameStop, engages in gaming content and products. The store also provides services like trading collectibles for exchange or sale. The store also hosts gaming tournaments, which is a growing sport among the youth.

Game room: This is a place found inside the FIU campus in the Graham Center building. The Game room is a place where one can socialize and spent a great time with friends. The place counts with almost every console that is available in the market and with an extensive array of board games for the selection of the user. The room also counts with some pool and ping-pong tables for rental. This is a unique business because there is very few leisure places in University Park, and this helps build a more appealing college life for the students.

Hi-pot: This is a Taiwanese restaurant that specializes on a traditional food that originated in the region of Changhua: the stinky hot pot. The hot-pot is not only a meal, but rather a very popular socialization tool due to the warm atmosphere that it builds. The restaurant allows you to customize your hot pot to the way you wish with the original ingredients that make of the hot pot an authentic dish of the East-Asia cuisine.

SUMMARY

University Park is an overall calm and quiet community, with some annual events that bring joy to locals and other residents of Miami. The community also has a relatively short history that continues to grow and evolve, while conserving key elements that remind us the humble beginnings of University Park. I would recommend visiting University Park only when there is major events such as the Youth Fair. Another reason to visit can be to get to know the FIU MMC campus and enjoy of the many arts that are displayed outside and inside the museum, as well as to visit historically important places like the Memorial Cubano to pay respect to those who gave up their lives for a better future. On the other hand, outside of college, life might not be as interesting, since everything in Miami in general is far apart. However, the integration of more public transportation in University Par has been a major addition that will make the concept of college life a more plausible idea.

CITATIONS

Florida International University – Digital Communications. “History.” Florida International University in Miami, FL, Florida International University, 4 June 2013, www.fiu.edu/about/history/index.html.

Florida International University – Digital Communications. “Collections.” Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum | Florida International University, Florida International University, 2015, frost.fiu.edu/collections/index.html.

“Memorial Cubano – HONRANDO A LAS VICTIMAS DEL COMUNISMO EN CUBA.” Memorial Cubano, Memorial Cubano org, memorialcubano.org. Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.

“Sweetwater History.” City of Sweetwater, City Of Sweetwater, 24 Aug. 2020, cityofsweetwater.fl.gov/about-us/#:%7E:text=The%20history%20of%20Sweetwater%20began,end%20to%20the%20development%20venture.

“University Park, FL.” Data USA, Data USA, datausa.io/profile/geo/university-park-fl#housing. Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.

Florida International University – Digital Communications. “About.” Florida International University in Miami, FL, Florida International University, http://www.fiu.edu/about/index.html. Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.

“Tamiami Park in Sweetwater Area, FL.” MiamiandBeaches.Com, Miami and Beaches, http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/thing-to-do/parks-recreation/tamiami-park/2984. Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.

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