Jose Villavicencio: Wynwood 2021

Student Bio

Photo by Jose Villavicencio/CC by 4.0

Jose Villavicencio is a Senior studying business analytics at Florida International University (FIU). After graduating, he hopes to pursue a masters degree in data science. The potential of data and analytics sticks out to Jose as he believes they can be used together to uncover patterns and solutions to our greatest challenges, namely preserving his home, Miami, against the onslaught of climate disasters. Jose loves to participate in any outdoor activity, whether it be hiking, cycling, or simply relaxing by the water.

Geography

The neighborhood boundaries of Wynwood, Photo from Google Maps

Wynwood is an urban sprawl of vibrant colors and sultry sounds that seem to beckon you to stay longer as you wander the graffiti-lined streets. A neighborhood like no other, Wynwood is one of the premier art districts on the planet, and it’s located to the north of Downtown Miami, lying right in between the neighborhoods of Allapattah and Edgewater. Divided into two distinct subdistricts, Wynwood is truly a cultural center for Miami street art. 

The first and most famous district is the Wynwood Art District. The centerpiece of this subdistrict is the Wynwood Walls, and most of the art features orbit around this central point. In the past, the art district housed countless galleries and art shows, but rising rents as a result of ongoing gentrification has caused these collections to move to other neighborhoods on the outskirts of Wynwood. The art district is an area of Wynwood that’s just 1.29 square miles (city-data.com) yet there is so much history and culture packed into this seemingly small space. The other district is the fashion district, and it is much smaller than the art district at 0.189 square miles (city-data.com). The boundaries of this mini district are I-95, NE 30th street, NW 23rd street, and NW 2nd avenue. Here you can find a collection of clothing stores and retailers lining the street.

Besides the human-imposed geographic boundaries, there is not much more diversification in the physical landscape of Wynwood. No matter which district you’re in, Wynwood is still organized by a grid of unyielding, rigid roads that dictate development and community engagement of the neighborhood, for better or worse.

History

January 7th, 1917. This is the date in which Josiah Challie and Hugh Anderson took out the first plat to consolidate a group of land plots into an area they dubbed “Wyndwood” (miami-history.com). Thus began Wynwood’s existence as a working class, manufacturing neighborhood. By 1928, Wynwood had grown as a neighborhood, so much so, that Coca-Cola opened a bottling plant in the same year. The 1920’s also saw Wynwoods development into a garment district, which had grown considerably by the 1960s. Cuban people fleeing their country after the Cuban Revolution made up the majority of the workforce by the sixties. Of course, by this time, Wynwood had adopted the nickname “Little San Juan” due to a large influx  of Puerto Rican immigrants. This happened primarily due to America’s newfound fixation on suburban development post World War II. I-95 was built directly through urban Miami to help facilitate this transition, and a majority of the working class people who lived and worked in Wynwood left, leaving a vacancy in one of Miami’s most prominent neighborhoods. Once enough Puerto Rican families moved in, that’s when Wynwood begane to go by Little San Juan. 

After this, many public buildings, including a new middle school built in 1999, were named after prominent Puerto Rican figures. Unfortunately, the neighborhood would fall on hard times, seeing a decline in most metrics. At one point in the late 1970s, the unemployment rate was a staggering 55%, and immigrant families who found themselves living in Wynwood after migrating were trying to make enough money to move out ASAP. It wasn’t until 1987 that art made its first appearance as a cultural output of Wynwood, with the Bakehouse opening. This was an artist’s space that existed as a haven to come and create, and it still stands to this day. 

From then on, art remained as a constant in Wynwood, but it wasn’t until the mid 2000s that the Wynwood we know today was conceptualized. Tony Goldman began purchasing land with his children in Wynwood in 2006, and by 2009 his open-gallery concept called “the Wynwood Walls” opened (miami-history.com). Unfortunately for the residents who called Wynwood their home, they have been essentially exiled from what was once their community. Rising rent prices and the desire to appear “cleaner and more upscale” devastated the original communities who lived there. The gentrification has taken a toll on Wynwood, despite all the growth it has enabled. Even now, rising rent prices are causing some of the original titans of art in Wynwood to relocate to other neighborhoods, possibly triggering gentrification in those adjacent communities.

Demographics

Based on data from 2019, Wynwood has a population of 17,165. The median age of those who call Wynwood their home is 37.8 years of age, and the neighborhood is 73.25% Hispanic or Latino, followed by 15.35% Black. The next most populous demographic in Wynwood is white, which accounts for 9.97% of the population. It can be clearly seen that, despite it’s heavy gentrification, Wynwood still houses a majority Hispanics and Latinos, no doubt still mainly Puerto Rican and Cuban. Another interesting statistic regarding Wynwood’s demographics is that the median rent is $1,205/month, yet the median income is $37,470 annually. This would mean that the residents of Wynwood would be spending nearly 40% of their income on housing alone. One cause of this is the high number of people who work in Wynwood, yet cannot afford to live there. This is one of the consequences of gentrification. Many residents who live in Wynwood presumably commute to another part of Miami to make their money, meaning the money and value being created by labor in Wynwood today is typically being invested back into the gentrifiers rather than the laborers who work tirelessly to uphold the party atmosphere Wynwood has today. One such individual who is affected by this is Karissa, a friend of mine. While she does not live in Wynwood due to her situation being similar to the one above, her labor and hard work still contribute to the growth of Wynwood. Here is my interview with her:

Karissa (right) works at the Veza Sur Brewing Company. Photo by Karissa.

Q: Where are you from?

Karissa: I am from a small town in Wisconsin. I grew up in a small town along the Mississippi river.

Q: Do you live in Wynwood?

Karissa: I do not live in Wynwood, I currently live in Palmetto Bay.

Q: What do you like best about Wynwood?

Karissa: I enjoy the energy that Wynwood radiates. There is always a new adventure waiting. Also, I have met some pretty great people in Wynwood.

Q: If you could change one thing about Wynwood, what would you change?

Karissa: I would like to see things remain more local as Wynwood continues to develop.

Landmarks

In a neighborhood teeming with art and culture, it’s hard to truly stand out from the rest. Regardless of that fact, over the years Wynwood has become home to some of the most iconic landmarks in all of Miami.

Entrance to the Wynwood Walls. What was once a free resource for the community is now gated off and charging admission. Photo by Jose Villavicencio/CC by 4.0


The first of such landmarks on the list also just happens to be one of the first spots ever open in Wynwood after it’s potential as an art district was realized. The Wynwood Walls is an open-air gallery, where artists from around the world have come to make their contributions. Tony Goldman was the master architect behind the Wynwood Walls, taking advantage of the abundant warehouse space of the neighborhood. Where others saw failing industry and concrete, Goldman saw the next evolution in street art. By 2009, the Wynwood Walls were open for business, and people could come in and see some of the best street art in the world. To this day, the Wynwood Walls remain one of the premier destinations in Wynwood for tourists and locals alike.

Graffiti is the lifeblood of Wynwood. No matter how many galleries or trendy food spots open, Wynwood would not be what it is today without the tapestry of graffiti that envelops every wall, curb, and sidewalk in the neighborhood. Enter: the Museum of Graffiti. This is an establishment that is newer to Wynwood, but it quickly has risen in the ranks to one of the top destinations to visit. The Museum of Graffiti’s mission is to preserve and present the history of graffiti as an art form. Beginning with the 1970’s, this museum takes patrons on a chronological journey through the life and development of graffiti. The extraordinary thing about this museum is that once you are done learning about the history, you step outside and are fully immersed in the art you spent time learning about. Wynwood truly is the cutting edge of street art and graffiti, so there is no better neighborhood for the Museum of Graffiti than Wynwood.

A massive art display on shipping containers for Miami Art Week at the Wynwood Marketplace. Photo by Jose Villavicencio/CC by 4.0

While Wynwood enjoys a prestigious reputation as a high-end art destination, one cannot ignore the allure it has as an entertainment district. The nightlife in Wynwood is one of the most electric in all of Miami, and The Wynwood Marketplace is consistently at the center of the festivities. A massive, open-air space with numerous bars and vendors lining the various spaces, the Marketplace is the spot to be whenever there is an event being held. Towards the back of the marketplace, a wide open venue sits, available for performances and the famous Wynwood block parties. The venue space is modular, so you might find massive contemporary art displays one weekend, and a huge music stage the next. What’s even better than that is the small local vendors you can find selling everything from handmade clothing to jewelry and accessories.

Green Space

Green space is a sore topic within the boundaries of Wynwood. Since it is an urban neighborhood, older city development trends plague it to this day. While it is one of the more walkable neighborhoods in Miami, the car-dependent blueprint Wynwood was built on is very outdated. This is such a point of contention that the Wynwood Business Improvement District has already outlined a master plan to increase the greenery and public spaces that reside in Wynwood (Wynwoodmiami.com). This is an especially good thing, given Wynwoods recent gentrification that has made it so that only those with cars and money can come and spend the day. You would be hard pressed to find something to do in Wynwood that doesn’t cost money. 

You can find this mural as soon as you enter Roberto Clemente Park. Photo by Jose Villavicencio/CC by 4.0

The first and only true public green space in Wynwood is known as Roberto Clemente Park, named after a famous Puerto Rican baseball player. The naming of this park is a remnant left over from the days when Wynwood was dubbed “Little San Juan,” and housed a majority population of Puerto Ricans. A baseball field as well as basketball courts and a big, open green space highlight this park’s amenities. In addition to housing the Dorothy Quintana Community Center, Roberto Clemente Park is one of the few places that actually publicly serves the people who live in and around Wynwood, rather than just the people who spend money there.

The entry walkway that takes you into the Oasis. This is about as close to green space as you are going to get without having to leave the entertainment and art side of the neighborhood. Photo by Jose Villavicencio/CC by 4.0

The next closest thing to a green space in Wynwood is the newly opened space dubbed “The Oasis.” Now, it is worth mentioning that The Oasis’s primary purpose for being built was NOT to be a green space, it’s just a food hall/music venue/bar that just happens to be designed with trees and plants in mind. This speaks to the deficiency of green spaces available in Wynwood. I suspect that this is due to the fact that the spirit of gentrification is still alive and thriving in Wynwood. All land development in Wynwood has, until extremely recently, been focused on maximizing the dollar potential of the land. Countless boutiques, popup shops, and bars have opened in Wynwood throughout the years, all at the expense of public green spaces that would strategically serve as a respite from the commercialism that, for better or worse, pervades nearly every corner of Wynwood.

The third, and least prominent “green space” I discovered is even less of a green space than the Oasis. On NW 23rd street and N Miami Ave lies a small shopping center that houses a few restaurants, the most famous being “The Salty Donut.” At the center of this complex is a small area where visitors can go and sit for a few minutes under some trees, while enjoying natural-themed graffiti lining the walls. The hallways that lead to this space are covered in fake greenery from the walls all the way to the fake flowers hanging from the ceiling. While it evokes a peaceful natural feeling, that’s all it is – a feeling. This is not an actual green space with wide open fields, or trees stretching as far as the eye can see. It’s just a simple band-aid fix for the severe lack of green public spaces in Wynwood.

Transportation

Unfortunately for us in the modern day, the Miami of the past was designed during an era where suboptimal urban development and planning was bolstered by the country’s desire to make everything rely on automobiles. While there is no direct train to Wynwood, there are still a number of transportation options available to those who do not wish to drive there, despite driving still being the main form of transportation to and from Wynwood.

The Miami Trolley as it ferries passengers to and from Wynwood. Photo by Jose Villavicencio/CC by 4.0

The Miami Trolley is a “trolley” service that makes periodic trips through the urban center of Miami, and Wynwood happens to be one of the stops on these trips. While it is more functionally similar to a bus, the Miami Trolley performs an essential function, dropping passengers off by the Wynwood Walls. The trolley is one of the simplest ways to travel around Miami. Once you’re already in Wynwood, it is one of the most walkable areas in all of Miami. The lack of traffic lights forces each intersection to operate as a four-way stop, meaning there are seldom any instances where one has to wait for a crosswalk to grant them permission to walk. In Wynwood, the pedestrians take priority, and the cars are forced to wait, as it should be. 

Freebee is a rideshare service that operates in Wynwood and allows users to request free rides to get around the various parts of Wynwood, and Miami as a whole. While I have never personally used it, the process described makes it seem extremely simple. All you have to do is open the app and request a ride. Once the Freebee arrives, you simply hop on and it takes you to your destination.

Apart from the two previous main forms of transportation, electric scooters are also increasingly popular in Wynwood, and are available to rent by the minute. Since the neighborhood is so walkable and compact, a rental scooter would be the perfect mode of transportation to effortlessly get from one end of Wynwood to the other.

Food

Despite the main allure of the art, food remains one of the main catalysts for Wynwood’s explosive growth. Trendy new restaurants quickly sprouted up all over, and nowadays Wynwood is one of the most diverse locations for food in all of Miami. Countless coffee shops, bars, and kitchens line the streets. From fine dining, to dives and corner stores, Wynwood has it all.

The colorful facade of Zak the Baker. Photo by Jose Villavicencio/CC by 4.0

Zak the Baker is a fairly new addition to the culinary lineup of Wynwood, but it is without a doubt one of the best tasting, and best known. Established in 2012, Zak the Baker is a kosher bakery located on NW 26th street. Zak’s specialty is his bread, as his loaves have become somewhat legendary throughout Miami. You can even find his bread at Whole Foods, or being incorporated into restaurant recipes across the city. Of course, nothing beats the heavenly aroma of a nice, warm, freshly baked loaf of bread that you can buy if you go to his bakery directly.

The entrance to Gramps. Photo by Jose Villavicencio/CC by 4.0

Gramps is another famous spot in Wynwood. Not only can you get authentic New York Style pizza from Gramps, it also doubles as a music venue and bar. During the day one might stroll in for a slice and be greeted by a quaint little market having set up shop in their outdoor area. Other nights, one would walk in and hear music blasting and people dancing the night away. Established in 2012, just like Zak, Gramps has quickly become a staple of Wynwood, both for food and for fun.

The Salty Donut is the youngest restaurant on the list, opening in 2015. Still, their pastry prowess cannot be understated. They’ve done so well with their sweet treats that FIU itself even has a donut cart on campus every Tuesday so that students can get a delightful dose of their diligently designed donuts. If baked goods aren’t your speed, The Salty Donut also offers a variety of craft coffee brews, such as my favorite, the cinnamon toast crunch coffee.

Business

The backbone of every community and it’s growth, businesses are an extremely vital part of the everyday life of Wynwood. The wonderful thing about it is that, despite the rampant gentrification, nearly every business in Wynwood is a small business. Seldom would you ever find a chain store or restaurant. While the balance of wealth distribution is nowhere near what it should be regarding the urban neighborhoods of Miami, the fact that income spent in Wynwood stays in Wynwood, helps a little. Still, these businesses are going to have to do more to ensure these funds do not exist to solely benefit the gentrifiers and those who moved in to reap the benefits of said gentrification.

The Selfie Museum is the first business that operates within its own sort of grey area in terms of themes. Originally, Wynwoods gentrification from an industrial neighborhood to an art one was done with one purpose in mind: to find a space for the art. Even the Wynwood Walls, the premier attraction, was free until recently. The Selfie Museum represents a detachment from this philosophy, and yet it also represents a natural progression. Instead of coming to a museum to bask in the history of street art and graffiti, patrons of this museum enter and are greeted by numerous sets with which to take cool selfies with. Rather than going to Wynwood to appreciate art, now people are going to Wynwood to simply say they are going. They will go, take a few pictures to post them, and then leave the neighborhood while ultimately failing to immerse themselves in the true spirit of street art. As Wynwood continues to carve out its own niche in the history of Miami, the influencer culture will continue to, well, influence how visitors visit and interact with the neighborhood.

The Wynwood Shop provides spray paint for the artists that work on street art day in and day out. Photo by Jose Villavicencio/CC by 4.0

The Wynwood Shop is a boutique is a small shop, residing next to the Selfie Museum on NW 25th street. Wynwood is lined with various small boutiques selling trendy clothes and jeweled accessories, but what drew me to this store was the fact that they carry spray paint, and all related accessories right as you walk in. It wasn’t something I had ever considered, but it makes perfect sense that the various stores that line the street would provide the street artists with their supplies, whenever they may need them.

The mural that adorns the side of Veza Sur. Photo by Jose Villavicencio/CC by 4.0

Veza Sur is a new type of business that has been taking Miami by storm in the last decade or so. I speak, of course, of the brewery. Not really specialized in food (though they do sell it there) or cocktails of any sort, the brewery brings beer to the front and center. Veza specifically is a Cuban themed brewery, and their beers are brewed accordingly. When you walk in you are greeted by a massive wall of Cuban memorabilia from throughout the years. With so many beers you can’t possibly try them all in one day, Veza offers a nice relaxing atmosphere where one can go and enjoy the nightlife of Wynwood while lounging in comfort.

Summary

Wynwood has come a long way from it’s days as a group of agricultural plots of land in the northern region of Miami in the early 1900s. It has seen countless shake-ups to its stability, sometimes brought on by intrusive government developments such as I-95, and other times brought up in the forms of riots by its disgruntled and cast aside populations in the 80s and 90s. If we are to truly and holistically develop neighborhoods like Wynwood and the surrounding areas, efforts must be made in order to mitigate the horrors of gentrification. 

Yes, now Wynwood enjoys unrivaled cultural and economic influence in the context of Miami as a city, but if it remains inaccessible to the Miamians who live and around there, it may as well have been for nought. In the meantime, Wynwood still serves as a living, breathing museum to the processes of gentrification and where it can lead, both good and bad. What we can do now is, moving forward, formulate strategies that allow for the cultural and economic development of neighborhoods without forsaking the living, breathing human beings who already live there.

Bibliography

“About the Wynwood Walls.” Wynwood Walls, 18 Nov. 2021, https://thewynwoodwalls.com/overview. 

“Just Released: Wynwood Bid 2018 Annual Report – Wynwood Business Improvement District – Miami, Florida.” Wynwood Business Improvement District — Miami, Florida, 6 Sept. 2019, https://wynwoodmiami.com/just-released-wynwood-bid-2018-annual-report/. 

Piket, Posted By: Casey. “History of Wynwood Miami.” Miami History Blog, 29 Sept. 2020, https://miami-history.com/history-of-wynwood-miami/. 

“Wynwood Art District (El Barrio) Neighborhood in Miami, Florida (FL), 33127, 33137 Detailed Profile.” Wynwood Art District (El Barrio) Neighborhood in Miami, Florida (FL), 33127, 33137 Subdivision Profile – Real Estate, Apartments, Condos, Homes, Community, Population, Jobs, Income, Streets, http://www.city-data.com/neighborhood/Wynwood-Art-District-Miami-FL.html. 

“FAQ.” The Museum of Graffiti – Art Museum Miami, 6 Oct. 2020, https://museumofgraffiti.com/faq/. 

“Miami Fashion District (Fashion District) Neighborhood in Miami, Florida (FL), 33127 Detailed Profile.” Miami Fashion District (Fashion District) Neighborhood in Miami, Florida (FL), 33127 Subdivision Profile – Real Estate, Apartments, Condos, Homes, Community, Population, Jobs, Income, Streets, http://www.city-data.com/neighborhood/Miami-Fashion-District-Miami-FL.html. 

Author: josevilla12

I am currently a senior studying business analytics at FIU. When I'm not working, you can usually find me cycling at the golf course near my house or meandering through the hardwood hammock trails that dot the corner of suburbia I call home.

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