Jared Johnson: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Photo taken by Shae J./ CC by 4.0

Jared Johnson is a 21-year old senior at Florida International University. He is majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Business Administration. After graduation, he wants to work in cybersecurity while continuing to expand his online businesses.

Downtown as Text

Mouth of the Miami river. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“Desecrated Land”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at Downtown Miami, 08 September 2021

When people think of Miami, they might think of it as a place with endless packed beaches, or a place with expensive luxury condos and constant nightlife, or an immensely diverse city with many cultures coming together. However, very few people take a moment to reflect on what Miami used to be, and the culture of the natives, before it was developed into an urban center.

The Miami River was the source of life for the different natives that used to inhabit the area over thousands of years. As Miami became more and more urbanized, lots of the culture was lost and, in its place, tall, ominous structures were erected. However, a few artifacts are left standing today to acknowledge their impact on the community. Standing on the bridge looking around I can imagine the small communities and Tequesta tribes that used to live there. On the south side of the river, I can even see remains of an ancient village, called the Miami Circle. 

As I cross the river and enter Brickell, there is a nearby landmark which used to be the tomb of the Brickell family, who were known for bringing wealthy landowners down to Miami in the early 20th century. Directly next to it is a luxury condo building which was built on an ancient Tequesta burial mound. It is quite fitting for the tomb of the Brickell family to be next to a desecrated burial ground, representing a common theme throughout much of US history where wealthy landowners would forcefully remove natives from their land.

From now on, every time I cross the Miami river and see all the luxury high rises, I am reminded of the native tribes and the land that was stolen from them.

Overtown as Text

Greater Bethel Methodist Church. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0


By Jared Johnson of FIU at Overtown, 22 September 2021

All too often, people have stereotypes or preconceived notions about places without ever going to experience it for themselves. Overtown, like many other places, exists due to a history of racism and segregation. It was originally founded as a place where black people were forced to live because Flagler did not want to bring his railroad if Miami was not segregated. It was then named Colored Town. However, if you look beneath the surface, it is much more than that. It was once a cultural center for black musicians and performers, as well as the front lines of the battle for civil rights in the 1960s. 

I had the honor of visiting two historic churches in Overtown, Greater Bethel and Mount Zion, and hearing different perspectives from members of these churches. They spoke about their relation to the church and their own personal experiences. They recalled memories of their childhood about what the church was like and the important role it played in the community. The church was central to organizing events in the community and provided a place for people to come together and support each other in times of difficulty. They also served as community strongholds against civil injustice, having had Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders speak at these churches. 

Over the years, development has encroached on the town and displaced many people from their homes. From condos to roadways, the landscape of Overtown has changed from when it was a thriving community and cultural center. One of the memories recalled by a member of Mount Zion was when I-95 was under construction. The state decided to have it go directly through Overtown and gave Mount Zion the option of either having the church itself torn down or have the pastor’s house torn down. She explained that having the pastor’s house directly next to the church was important for people to gather and feel more connected to the church. Having it torn down did not only make some people feel less connected, but it also displaced the pastor and his family. 

After listening to the stories and experiences of the two guest speakers from the churches, I now have a much better understanding and appreciation for Overtown, and the role that the churches played in support for their community. In a decade or two, these two historic churches may be some of the only monuments left, in a sea of condos and commercial buildings, representing the importance of the community in Overtown. 

Vizcaya as Text

Vizcaya Overlooking the Garden. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“Nothing and Everything”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at Vizcaya, 20 October 2021

Miami is known for many things. One of its most well known qualities, for better or worse, is that it is a place where people go to display erroneous amounts of wealth, where humility is nowhere to be found. Vizcaya is a Miami landmark which captures both nothing and everything at the same time. Finished in 1914, Vizcaya was constructed to serve as the estate of James Deering, a very wealthy businessman at the time. From the moment you walk into the courtyard, it is evident that Vizcaya is a very different historical site in that it does not reflect the history of the local area. In fact, some could say that it has set the tone of Miami for a century.

As soon as you enter the back garden, you are met with Roman style arches, seemingly unfit for a mansion in the tropics. Deering was advised to not have symbols of battle on the arches since Vizcaya was in no way related to war. However, Deering had the money and liked the style of the arches, so he incorporated it anyway. This illustrates a common theme in Miami, if you have the money and can do something, you should. Upon entry into the mansion, it became clear that the out of place arches were no fluke. Each room had a different theme and design, ranging from an open concept courtyard with tropical plants to an east-Asian themed bedroom. Deering did not have a family of his own to hang portraits on the wall. So in place of this, he hung portraits of children and people whose name was Deering, but there was no relation. There was no single style or theme to be found anywhere in Vizcaya, other than wealth and indulgence itself. 

I feel that Vizcaya, in all of its magnificent glory, truly encapsulates the stereotype that many people have of Miami. That alone makes Vizcaya a true Miami landmark.

South Beach as Text

South Pointe Beach. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0


By Jared Johnson of FIU at South Beach, 3 November 2021

South Beach is a place that is known throughout the world for having a massive party scene and nightlife. While it does have these things, it is also much more. South Beach is a place with a dark history, tourists from all over the globe, and world famous architecture styles. 

Originally, Miami Beach, and Miami itself, were small communities where everyone knew each other and there was no widespread segregation. When Flagler came down with the railroad, segregation quickly followed. Shortly after, Carl Fisher started buying up all of the land to turn Miami Beach into a tourist destination where only white people were allowed to live. Fisher’s development ended up destroying the mangrove forest on the island which led to all sorts of environmental problems. 

As Miami Beach endured multiple development booms, three main architectural styles emerged over the decades. Mediterranean Revival, Art Deco, and MiMo are the main styles you will encounter walking around South Beach. Each style is very unique and distinct. Mediterranean Revival style is known for tile roofing, stucco walls, and window grilles. This was already present in Miami at the time, as seen in Vizcaya. Art Deco is the style that Miami Beach is likely most known for. This style consists of geometric shaped buildings, white facades with pastel highlights, and glass bricks. Architects of this era wanted to shape buildings to resemble machines from the future. The third, and most recent, style is MiMo. This is a modern style consisting of lots of glass windows and curvy architecture. 

Personally, Art Deco is my least favorite of the three different architectural styles. However, I can appreciate its presence in Miami Beach as one of the only areas with such a high concentration of Art Deco buildings.

Deering Estate as Text

The Original Cutler Road. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“Natural Miami”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at Deering Estate, 17 November 2021

The Deering Estate was built by Charles Deering in the 1920s to serve as his personal estate. It now serves as basically a nature preserve where it essentially represents a time machine to what Miami would have looked like had it not been developed. It consists of 8 different ecosystems, home to a plethora of wildlife. The ecosystems in Deering Estate are: Salt Marsh, Beach Dune Chicken Key, Remnant Slough, Tropical Hardwood Hammock, Pine Rockland, Submerged SeaGrass Beds, Deering Estate Flow-way, and Mangroves. 

The most notable ecosystems that we walked through were the Pine Rockland and the Mangrove forest. One thing that I thought was absolutely fascinating was the fact that the trees in the Pine Rockland actually require forest fires in order to preserve their ecosystem. This could prove to be problematic when you have this ecosystem in such close proximity to urban areas. So the entities managing these ecosystems have had to perform controlled fires, sometimes spanning for miles. The mangrove forest caught my attention just because it was so different from what I had been used to seeing most of my life. There is very little solid ground and it is essentially a forest growing in brackish water. Inside the mangrove forest we found a plane from the 1980s that had crash landed, presumably used in drug trafficking. 

The Deering Estate also houses many burial grounds for ancient tribes, some dating back at least 10,000 years. We were able to visit an archaeological site that is believed to be a burial ground and, due to privacy concerns, a site that less than 500 people had been able to visit. This was an experience that was hard for me to wrap my mind around. 

Over the years Miami has evolved significantly, but the land preserved by the Deering Estate has remained unchanged. Everyone should take the time to visit and understand what the land really looked like, before it was taken hostage by development.

Rubell as Text

Jared in Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0


By Jared Johnson of FIU at Rubell Museum, 24 November 2021

The Rubell Museum gives us an alternative perspective on art. This institution is owned by the Rubell family who collects modern art. Modern art is defined by works of art created in the last 30-50 years. The aim of this genre is to have people develop a connection to the works of art in a way that is not possible for older works, due to a difference in lifestyle and values.

This museum contains a number of modern works that caught my attention. The three that stood out to me the most were Yayoi Kusama’s two Infinity Rooms and Cajsa von Zeipel’s influencer sculptures. From the moment I entered the dark Infinity Room, I felt like I was floating in space with stars all around me. This allowed me to connect with this work in a way that I would not have with traditional art. The light Infinity Room made me feel the opposite, but had a similar impact. From the moment the door opened, the bright, white lights made me feel like I had traveled to some kind of afterlife. These two Infinity Room exhibits offer a unique experience while complimenting each other with their opposite environments. The piece of art that I connected with the most happened to also be the one that was the most difficult to look at due to the grotesque nature of the sculptures. Cajsa von Zeipel’s influencer exhibit accurately represents the mindset of our modern society. The exhibit figures were constructed out of silicone and symbolize the skewed perspectives we are often given on social media. The physical representation of the sculptures depicts the essence of society at its core, when all of the filters are removed.

The Rubell museum is an invaluable addition to the art scene in Miami, offering a different perspective that allows people who live in the modern era to connect with art in a way that would not have been possible before.

Untitled as Text

Bradley McCallum’s “Of Light”. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0


By Jared Johnson of FIU at Untitled, 01 December 2021

The Untitled Art Fair is a highly exclusive event in the art world, where galleries from all over the world are put on display. The aim of Untitled is to sell the works of art, so naturally, this event attracts wealthy people from all over. Untitled is an event that has modern art on display which, similar to the works at Rubell, is intended to allow people in the modern day to connect with the works in a different and unique way.

Attending Untitled Art was a very unique experience because I was not only able to see plenty of modern art, but I was also able to observe the atmosphere of a commercial art fair. This event naturally attracted plenty of wealthy people, so at times I felt very out of place. However, the point of coming to Untitled was not to fit in with the crowd, but to look at and connect with the various works of art on display. 

There were multiple works on display that I found interesting, but one caught my eye more than the rest. The piece of art was by Bradley McCallum and is called “Of Light”. Although I saw it after class had ended, it was still one of the pieces that I most connected with. This piece of art was a collage of pictures depicting different events of 2020, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the George Floyd protests. There was also unique lighting going throughout the pictures to enhance the visual experience. At the top, there was a red neon line that represented the 7-day moving average of COVID cases for the United States. Anyone who lived through the unsettling events of 2020, and acknowledged reality, will be able to connect with this piece of art. 

Although it was overwhelming at times and I felt out of place, just being able to attend the Untitled Art Fair and look at all the various works of art was a fascinating experience.

Everglades as Text

Anhinga Trail at Everglades National Park. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0


By Jared Johnson of FIU at The Everglades National Park

The Florida Everglades is a unique ecosystem not commonly found in other parts of the world. The Everglades was originally formed because excess water would cause Lake Okeechobee to flood to the south and the water flowed down. Over time, as humans began to develop the land, the flow was reduced significantly. This resulted in more available land but damaged the ecosystem. Recently, there have been extensive restoration projects undergone at the Everglades in order to restore the natural flow. 

Slogging through the Everglades was very unique as I was able to experience terrain and wildlife that I would not usually encounter. As soon as we stepped off the main road, the water instantly encompassed everything. However, the water was unexpectedly clear due to the high concentration of Seagrass. The Seagrass maintains water quality by trapping particles within their leaves. They rely heavily on sunlight so once we entered the Cypress Dome there was significantly less Seagrass. The Cypress Dome is a cluster of Bald Cypress trees that grows taller towards the center of the dome and shorter as you approach the edges. Something interesting about the Bald Cypress tree is that it is one of the few trees in South Florida that actually loses its leaves in the winter. This creates a wintery environment, found in many other parts of the country, that South Florida lacks.

My first Everglades slog, and immersing myself in the Everglades in general, was an enriching excursion that allowed me to experience a lesser known aspect of South Florida. This will not be my last time walking through the Everglades, and experiencing everything it has to offer.

Coral Gables as Text

Pool outside the Biltmore Hotel. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0


By Jared Johnson of FIU at Coral Gables

Coral Gables is widely known and thought of as a wealthy suburb of Miami with low crime and high quality of life. This would make it an ideal place to live for those who can afford to do so. We had the opportunity to visit and learn about multiple historical locations around Coral Gables, such as the Museum of Coral Gables and the Biltmore hotel. However, the history of Coral Gables is often overlooked or altered by those trying to depict a better picture of the city.

Coral Gables was founded by George Merrick in 1925, however Merrick started planning in 1921. It was designed with the Mediterranean Revival architectural style including stucco finishing and clay tile roofing. Merrick got his inspiration from James Deering’s Vizcaya, which was just recently built at the time. His goal was to sell plots of land to wealthy northerners, but since most of the plots were just empty land, he had to persuade people somehow. Merrick constructed an elaborate office building to walk people through and then had them stay in the luxurious Biltmore hotel in order to close the deal. 

Like much of Miami development at the time, Coral Gables was built by Bahamian labor under poor working conditions. Looking around the Coral Gables Museum, there were multiple references to the Bahamians, but it was glamorized. The writings in the museum failed to accurately depict the substandard working conditions. Instead they would refer to them as “working with” or “working alongside” George Merrick in order to construct the city. There were multiple images of wealthy individuals in Coral Gables with Bahamian laborers in torn clothing standing in the background. This depicts the reality of the situation, when you have citizens who are treated as second class.

Coral Gables is a beautiful city with exquisite architecture; however, looking beneath the surface, it has a troubling history. The history of Coral Gables should be acknowledged, not forgotten or erased, because this is the only way to move past it and honor those who had suffered.

River of Grass as Text

Walking through the Everglades. Photo taken by John Bailly/ CC by 4.0


By Jared Johnson of FIU at The Everglades National Park

The Everglades is one of those places that every time you go, you find an experience completely new and different from the last visit. That was my experience when venturing into the Everglades this time. Rather than solely slogging through the Cypress Dome, we were able to hike deep into the Everglades and explore two very different aspects; one manmade and another natural.

Before the Everglades was reclaimed by the federal government and made into a national park, it was used as farmland. Most of the structures were plowed down during the reclamation and restoration project, leaving few traces of manmade influence in the Everglades. However, a few structures were left standing. We got to visit a very small structure in the woods that is believed to be for feeding deer. It was built around the same time as Vizcaya and the architectural style was Mediterranean Revival. The second structure was just a cement block shell with no roof, and is believed to be a farming structure back when the Everglades was used for farmland. 

On our way to the cement structure, we walked through vast marshy plains. Looking around, it was here I realized how insignificant mankind is in relation to nature. There were no roads, cars, or modern structures in sight, just open land. I was able to imagine what life was like before modern advancements in civilization. When people could become engulfed in the wildlife and the sky above, with the wind blowing an oncoming storm closer and closer. 

Having already visited the Everglades previously in this class, I was wondering how this Everglades excursion would be different, if at all. However, it truly was a unique experience being able to connect and immerse myself in the land and nature in a way that I was able to appreciate both manmade civilization and raw nature.

Wynwood as Text

Will Ryman’s “Situation Room”. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“The Modern Era”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at Wynwood, 10 March 2022

Miami’s Wynwood and the Design District are known for their art scene, specifically contemporary art. We visited the Margulies Collection and the De La Cruz Collection. Both places contained many interesting works of contemporary art. The ones catching my interest the most were Will Ryman’s “Situation Room” and George Sanchez’s “La Bendicion.” Both of these pieces of art make statements about our modern society today. The ability to have works of art reflect modern issues is something that I find fascinating about contemporary art.

Will Ryman’s “Situation Room” is a charcoal sculpture depicting an image from the White House situation room in 2011 when Osama bin Laden was killed. This work of art depicts how wars in the modern era are now fought by people wearing suits behind a computer screen, far removed from the battlefield. It also reflects that, because of this new way of fighting, a select powerful few can bring death and destruction to many individuals with the push of a button, while showing indifference about the consequences. This work of art caught my attention because it immediately reminded me of Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine; where a single man from his secure bunker could bring destruction and economic ruin to both countries over the course of a few days.

Georgia Sanchez’s “La Bendición” was a unique work of art where he reconstructed a French house originally built in 1927 and placed it underneath the I-395 highway. I was initially intrigued due to the sheer absurdity. However, the more I thought about it, I realized that George’s house underneath the highway was a literal representation of what the Interstate Highway system did to so many neighborhoods around the country. Specifically Overtown in Miami, where the construction of I-95 obliterated houses and displaced neighborhoods.

Both Will Ryman’s “Situation Room” and George Sanchez’s “La Bendicion” are just two works that are part of a larger collective of contemporary art that can be found throughout all of Wynwood and the Design District. Contemporary art is something that I find fascinating and that makes Miami truly unique, allowing one to view art which reflects modern issues. I look forward to being able to visit more contemporary art collections in the future.

Key Biscayne as Text

Cape Florida Lighthouse. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0


By Jared Johnson of FIU at Key Biscayne, 16 March 2022

Key Biscayne is the southernmost key off Miami Beach, at the mouth of Biscayne Bay. It is a popular tourist destination for its clean beaches and clear water, but also because of its rich history. It is home to one of the oldest buildings in Miami-Dade County, which is the lighthouse at the tip of the key. Ponce de Leon named the area that is currently Bill Baggs State Park, ‘Cape of Florida’, which is where the Cape Florida Lighthouse gets its name.

The Cape Florida Lighthouse was constructed in 1825, however, it was extensively damaged shortly after, due to a war with the Seminoles. Contrary to how history is often taught, the capture and destruction of the lighthouse during the Seminole War was a calculated and carefully planned military operation. The Seminoles aimed to send a message to the United States government after the annexation of Florida. They were not going to let their land be taken away from them without a fight. They set fire to the lighthouse and shot arrows into the top windows, effectively capturing the structure. 

Something much less talked about was the use of the lighthouse and the island of Key Biscayne as a meeting place for the Underground Railroad. The island of Key Biscayne would often be used by people looking to escape to the Bahamas, which was under British control at the time. This was known as the Saltwater Railroad. In 1821 alone, over 300 people escaped through Key Biscayne to travel 107 miles to the Bahamas. However, after the lighthouse was constructed, it provided too much light to the area. This made it significantly more difficult for people to escape undetected. 

Key Biscayne is a beautiful island with a fascinating history that is, unfortunately, often overlooked or overwritten. I fully intend to return and explore whatever this island has to offer.

Coconut Grove as Text

Bahamian Cemetery in Coconut Grove. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0


By Jared Johnson of FIU at Coconut Grove, 30 March 2022

Coconut Grove is an area in Miami that is rich in history, and is where many of the original builders of Miami are laid to rest. Coconut Grove was known for its thriving Bahamian community and architecture resembling the Bahamas. It is also home to The Barnacle, which is the oldest home in Miami-Dade that is still in its original location. 

The Coconut Grove Cemetery is one of the most notable historical areas. This is where most of the Bahamians, who were the constructors of early Miami, are buried. One of the first things that is notable about this cemetery is that all of the caskets are not buried in the ground, but are instead visible and raised above the ground. This cemetery is home to a unique type of headstone, called anthropomorphic stone, and is not found anywhere else in Miami-Dade county. 

The Barnacle is the oldest home in Miami-Dade county, which has not been moved from its original location. It was built in 1891 by Ralph Middleton Munroe. Ralph was an important early settler of Coconut Grove, but unlike other notable names in Miami’s history, he did not not have much wealth. He came to South Florida originally due to his wife’s illness, as he assumed the warm climate would help her more than the cold climate of the Northeast. Ralph then remarried to Jesse Wirth and had two children. Due to the need for more space, Ralph decided to add a second floor to his house. However, since he liked the design of the roof so much, he used railroad jacks to raise the whole house in order to build a first floor beneath it. 

Coconut Grove is an area with immense historical value, and unlike other parts of Miami, was founded by people with more humble backgrounds. This demonstrates the value of what can be accomplished when people come together as a community. Due to this, it should always be preserved as a key part of Miami’s history.

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