Samantha Johnson: Design District 2021

Student Bio

Photo taken by Natalia Sanchez at Vizcaya // CC by 4.0

Samantha Johnson is a Junior at Florida International University working towards a B.A. in Sustainability and the Environment with a minor in Marine Biology. She hopes to achieve not only one day a PHD but also a JD in Environmental Law and use these to make policies that will help the environment or to be involved in research that would promote this. In her free time, she loves to read and hang out with friends, but also loves to go to the beach and is extremely passionate about the environment.


Geography

Map of Miami Design District from Google Maps.

The Miami Design District spans 18 square blocks just north of I-95 and Midtown It is located at 25.81266° N, 80.19544° W (Apple Maps). It contains over 100 different stores, along with countless restaurants, bars, and contemporary art.

The urban area is essentially the entire neighborhood. It is well known by influencers for the “Instagram-worthy” photos that they can take here. It is also known for the many different stores and restaurants that it holds, and the luxurious atmosphere. It is breath-taking and it feels like you are in a different city entirely. It is full of expensive stores that feel illegal to look at in plain clothes and beautiful people that look like millionaires. It is clearly modern, and this is something that continuously reminds me of Miami, just how modern everything is.

There aren’t a lot of natural aspects to the Design District. There is a dog park and some greenery here and there, but much of the area is concrete and buildings. It is beautiful, but there isn’t really anything alive that wasn’t put there methodically after the neighborhood had been built. There are trees and shrubs in the alleyways between stores and as you are walking around there are ponds on one of the streets with little fish in it. There are some large trees here and there, but most of the natural aspect of the Design District is planted into large pots or in the middle of the alleys, and although it does go with the theme of the neighborhood, it is clearly an afterthought.


History

­­All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

The Miami Design District was created by DACRA and Craig Robins. DACRA was established in 1987 and is a real estate development company that develops commercial and residential areas in such a way that it is a distinct combination of culture, commerce, and design. Over the past 30 years, DACRA has been an important aspect in Miami’s ascendance as a global city, and it is part of what gives Miami its name. It has developed more than 2 million square feet in real estate projects, with some of the most well-known ones located in South Beach’s Art Deco District and Lincoln Road. Today, DACRA and its partners are continuing to develop and expand the Miami Design District by pushing the boundaries of Miami design and innovation.

The Miami Design District began to take place in the 1990s when DACRA began buying properties in the area. In 2011, DACRA began buying even more properties and started to house restaurants, stores, bars, art exhibitions and studios, and more. The atmosphere began to form during this time, slowly making the Design District what it is today.

Shortly after, DACRA made an art walk through the Design District. This innovation allows visitors to come at night as well as the daytime. Some other important things to note began occurring in 2009 when Christian Louboutin opened its store in the District. Shortly after, more stores including Dior, Cartier and Louis Vuitton also announced their plans to open stores in the Design District. This is what began to give the area its prestigious aura. In 2012, DACRA revealed plans that would bring more than 100 new retail stores to the area along with new restaurants and a four-block-long three-lined pedestrian walkway through the Design District.

Now, the Miami Design District is seen as a home for art, culture, and design and is set among the highest of luxuries and class.


Demographics

The Miami Design District is a small neighborhood in Miami Dade County. It gives residents a sparse suburban feel, and it is home to many different bars, restaurants, and stores. It is home to only 3,880 people. 25% of these are households with children. Whites and Hispanics make up most of the population in the area (54%), with the remainder being made up by African Americans (44%) and Latinos (2%). Gender is split almost evenly with 54% of residents being male and 46% female. (Niche)

The real estate in the Design District mostly comprises of small (2-3 bedrooms) and medium size (4-5 bedrooms) properties. The average household income is $44,956. The average price of real estate here is $295,400 and the average price for rent is $2,960 per month (Miami Real Estate Trends). 53% of residents own their homes and 47% of residents rent.

The education levels of the residents here vary with 31% having some college or associate’s degree, 26% having a high school diploma, 15% with a bachelor’s degree, and 11% with a master’s degree or higher.

Interview with Elena Miti

Q: Where are you from?

A: I am originally from New Jersey, but I have been living in South Florida most of my life. I am currently living in Tampa but came to Miami for the weekend with my boyfriend and we decided to check out the Design District.

Q: How did you hear about the Design District?

A: I had been seeing posts about it on Instagram and Twitter and wanted to see what the hype was about. My best friend had also come here a couple months ago and told me that I should visit if I ever had the chance and here I am.

Q: What is your favorite thing about the Design District so far?

A: I really like the architecture so far. I love how each of the buildings is unique, and how even the parking garages have their own theme. I also just really like the atmosphere, and how even though everything is so different it all goes together.

Q: If given the opportunity, would you move to this area?

A: I have been thinking about moving towards the Miami area, but I don’t know if I will. I just moved to Tampa a year ago and haven’t really thought about moving anywhere else yet. In the future, I would maybe like to move down here but that is something that we will have to figure out.


Landmarks

1 – Surrounded by Space by DABSMYLA

Miami Design District has many distinct murals and artwork throughout the neighborhood. This piece, “Surrounded by Space”, was made by the husband-and-wife duo behind DABSMYLA. It is a mural found in Jade Alley. The duos unique style is shown through how they use color theory, perspective, and the unique subject matter. It blurs the boundaries between real life and landscape. This mural is hand-painted with acrylics and is proudly displayed in the Miami Design District.

Address: 160 NE 41th St.Miami, FL 33137

2 – Buckminster Fuller Fly’s Eye Dome

Buckminster Fuller Fly’s Eye Dome
Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

The Buckminster Fuller Fly’s Eye Dome was one of the first things we saw when visiting the Design District. In 1965, Buckminster Fuller designed and patented the Fly’s Eye Dome. He called it an “autonomous dwelling machine”. Prototypes began being built in 1977-1983. Unfortunately, Fuller passed away before he could see his design was completed and he was never able to see the finished product. However, almost 50 years later the building is a part of the green building movement and is proudly displayed in the Miami Design District.

Address: 140 NE 39th St. Miami, FL 33137

3 – Xavier Veilhan: Le Corbusier

Xavier Veilhan: Le Corbusier
Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

This statue was made by the French Artist Xavier Veilhan. It is a larger than life depiction of Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier was a prominent force in what currently defines modern architecture. The piece was originally installed on top of the Cité radieuse (Radiant City), which was one of Le Corbusier’s most famous buildings. By using this placfement, Veilhan has placed himself among the greats as well. Now located in the Design District, Le Corbusier overlooks the Fly’s Eye Dome, which is another influential design in the Design District as well.

Address: 140 NE 39th St. (2nd Floor) Miami, FL 33137


Green

1 – Miami Design District Dog Park

This is the only true green area in the entire Design District. It is located at 81 NE 40th St, Miami, FL 33137. It is a decent sized dog park, but compared to the rest of the Design District, there could definitely be more green areas added.

2 – Potted plants and walkways

Slight greenery in the Design District
Photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

Although this isn’t a specific spot, as you are walking through the Design District there are lots of treen planted in the alleyways where you are walking. There are lots of potted plants used as greenery as well around the stores or in the alleyways. By the Swan restaurant, there is lots of greenery and they have outdoor seating as well. They have a large tree at the entrance that provides for some shade on the hot sunny days.


Transportation

Unique parking garages
Photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

To get to the Miami Design District, you must drive, unless you live closer
and are able to find another mode of transportation. Coming from FIU, you must drive and find a parking garage once you get there, as with everything else in Miami.

There are a few bus stops around the area as well, so if you can take the bus instead, that would be easier than trying to find parking in the area.

Once you are there however, the easiest way to see everything is to just
walk around. You won’t be able to see all the businesses and restaurants if you
are driving around in your car, and there are streets that are blocked off only
for pedestrians.

I think that the dynamics of transportation around the Design District help to make it even more unique. It is like walking around an outdoor mall, but on a much larger scale. It is beautiful and breathtaking, and by having it set up so that you must walk around and not drive just helps to make it more special. It wouldn’t be the same to drive around the neighborhood, to have the whole experience you need to immerse yourself in it and you won’t be able to do that unless you are in the neighborhood.


Food

There are many places to eat in the Miami Design District. All the businesses are aesthetically pleasing and it is common for influencers to be found taking pictures by them. They have restaurants ranging from bistros to formal dining and casual comfort food. They also have vegetarian and vegan options, along with concepts and cuisine that feature local and seasonal ingredients.

1 – Pura Vida

All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

Pura Vida believes in fresh, simple, sustainable, and local food. Their ingredients are simple, their food is sourced locally and is made fresh every day, they shop consciously and sustainably in order to promote a more sustainable environment, and they buy their ingredients from the Florida grown community to serve fresh and organic food to their guests.

Located in the heart of the Design District, Pura Vida is the newest member to the neighborhood. It is located across from Tom Ford and Givenchy. The inside features oversized pergolas with family sized tables, and from the moment you walk in you feel like you’re at home.

They have options for vegan and gluten-free items which makes it inclusive to everyone. I had the Vegan Lentil Bowl, and my roommates had the Tuna Sprout Sandwich and a smoothie. Along with these they also have all-day breakfast and different types of wraps as well.

Address: 3818 NE 1st Ave, Miami, FL 33137

2 – MC Kitchen

MC Kitchen is a sit down Italian Restaurant located in the Design District. They were established in 2012. It was founded by Dena Marino and Brandy Coletta, who when they met realized they both had a passion for opening a restaurant. They made that dream a reality when they opened MC Kitchen in 2013. Since then, MC Kitchen has become an essential part of the Miami Design District.

The menu showcases modern cooking through the use of organic ingredients, house-cured meats and sausages, and house-made cheeses and pastas. Some of the signature items on their menu include: Fiocchi Di Fermaggio Pera, Garganelli Bolognese, Stone Oven Roasted Octopus, and many more. They also have desserts and a wide selection of drinks as well.

Address: 4141 NE 2nd Ave. Suite 101A, Miami, FL 33137

3 – Japow

Japow is based on the in Japan from the 11th century when ice was collected during the coldest months of winter and were mixed with different saps from flowers and vines to top it in syrup. Today, Japanese shaved ice is called “Kakigori” which still showcases local saps and syrups atop the ice.

Japow was founded to bring this tradition to the U.S. and to be able to enjoy Kakigori. Japow is short for Japanese powdered snow. Their mission is to “create an elevated shave ice done with thoughtful detail, using premium water for our ice-blocks, a fine shave using a traditional Japanese hand-cranked ice shaver, and the highest quality natural fruits and flavor combinations that will wow your taste buds”.

Their daily menu has a few flavors including: strawberry ichigo, mango lassi, matcha, and Cortadito Affogato. They also have limited time flavors including: whimsical watermelon, caramelized banana Nutella, passion fruit, and frozen hot chocolate.

Address: 151 NE 41st Street, Miami, FL 33137


Businesses

The Miami Design District is filled with many different businesses, big and small. Here are a few that stood out to me on my visit.

1 – Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami

Photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

The Institute of Contemporary Art dedicated to promoting continuous experimentation in contemporary art. They also promote the exchange of art through Miami and internationally. They also provide an international platform for local, emerging, and under-recognized artists. Admission to the institute is free as well. Some of the exhibitions they have on display are by: Pedro Reyes, Mark Handforth, Anthea Hamilton, and more.

When we went, the second floor was being prepared for their newest exhibits, so we were unable to see those. However, I hope to go back and be able to see what they have added and to spend more time in the institute with my newfound love for contemporary art.

2 – Bay Store by Quinaz Studio

This was by far my favorite store to walk in. The Bay Store by Quinaz Studio sells and displays furniture made from debris found in the Biscayne Bay and the Miami River.

The Quinaz Studio was founded by James Quinaz and David Harrison. James moved back to Miami in Summer 2020 in search of a studio where he could produce his own original artwork. Just a few months later, the Bay Store was opened in the Design District, where it lives today.

All work is handmade in Miami, FL. They strive to use sustainable practices that minimize the use of harmful chemicals and materials. 20% of all proceeds go to ARTSail and Blue Scholars Initiative which are two organizations working to connect our community to the Biscayne Bay through art projects and science education.

Address: 151 NE 41st St. Suite 223, Miami, Florida 33137

3 – Aēsop

Aēsop – Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

Aēsop was established in 1987. As with most of the businesses in the design district, they are one of the larger chains. However, they are devoted to sourcing plant-based and laboratory-made ingredients. All products are vegan in nature and are not tested on animals at any point in time. They are committed to being sustainable and climate action by aiming to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2030.

The inside of the store is very similar to the Art Deco found on South Beach. It avoids right angles and contrasting colors, and just focuses on the shapes of the products that they are selling. The shapes and colors used resemble the Brazilian modernist tradition and that found on South Beach.

Address: 160 NE 41st St. Suite 120, Miami, FL 33137


Summary

Skyline from atop one of the parking garages and at the contemporary art museum.
Photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

Overall, I think that the Miami Design District is seamless. It is an incredible way to incorporate businesses restaurants and art in such a way that you are immersed into it. Even if you were to take a whole day to walk around the area, you are bound to miss something, there is just so much to see. It was beautiful and it is now one of my favorite places that I have had the opportunity to visit this semester.

I also loved how inclusive it was. The restaurants that we visited had Vegan and Gluten-free options, which is not something that is widely available in my hometown. They also had allergy-sensitive options on top of these and it wasn’t just one or the other. This is something that I am still getting used to since living in Miami, but I have no complaints about it.

My only complaint is I wish that there were more green areas in the neighborhood. For as much space as the Design District takes up, you would think that they would incorporate more greenery. As I mentioned before, most of the greenery that is placed here, as beautiful as it is, just seems like an afterthought. There are very little natural areas that were here before the neighborhood was built, if any. I think that they need to do a better job to incorporate the natural landscape in with the development that they have created.


Citations


Author: SamanthaJ

I am a junior at Florida International University studying Sustainability and the Environment with a minor in Marine Biology. I love the beach and am passionate about the environment.

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