Jose Villavicencio is a senior at FIU studying business analytics. As a member of the Honors College, Jose seeks to approach all facets of life with an interdisciplinary lens to truly understand the intersectionality of our world. As a lifelong resident of West Kendall, Jose seeks to help the suburban neighborhood grow to its maximum potential in order to give its residents the greatest chance at a communal life with access to clean air, green spaces, and a robust system of public transportation.
West Kendall (also known as West End) is a geographic anomaly when it comes to the boundaries of the South Florida suburb. Despite being unincorporated, it is generally accepted that the boundaries of this area are the Turnpike to the east, 8th St to the north, 152nd Ave to the south, and Krome Ave to the west. As it stands now, West Kendall is still a part of unincorporated Miami-Dade county, so there is little information about its official beginnings as a neighborhood in Miami. Unlike its much older cousin Kendall, which began its development around the 1900s, West Kendall is more accurately described as an idea, a general sense of community made up of many smaller neighborhoods such as the Hammocks, Country Walk, and Kendall West, to name a few.
The physical makeup of West Kendall’s geography is much less varied compared to places like Downtown Miami or South Beach. West Kendall is a quaint, predictable suburban area with its roads organized in a grid-like pattern. In terms of architecture, you will be hard pressed to find anything but single family homes/townhomes, apartment complexes, and outdoor strip malls or shopping centers. On the surface, West Kendall seems like a footnote to the hedonistic atmospheres of fun, sun, and partying that most people envision when they hear Miami. My job is to help open your eyes to the hidden wonders that you can immerse yourself in when you look past the suburban façade that West Kendall wears.
Before even Henry Flagler or the Deering brothers had any semblance of ambition for the Miami area, the early ruminations of what would be called Kendall were starting to form. After a massive railroad system was built connecting northern and central Florida to the rest of the country, capital investments both foreign and domestic began pouring into South Florida in order to realize a vision of economic and agricultural activity for the area. To the west of the hospital I was born in, Baptist in Kendall, stood a Seminole village, with another located near what is now 107th avenue. These would be the last vestiges of Native civilization in Kendall, as their population in the area dwindled to just 129 in 1900 after the Seminole-American wars and the subsequent relocation of the majority of their population. Before 1896, there were no railroads directly connecting South Florida to the rest of the country, so the majority of industry here was simple agriculture as well as property management. Henry John Broughton Kendall was a prominent banker who was assigned to manage his company’s land holdings in Dade-County. Though not much is known about his direct involvement in the Kendall area, one way or another he found his name attached to the area, which is still referred to as Kendall to this day.
Fast forwards to the late 1980s and early 1990s, and we begin to see West Kendall hit its stride. Thanks to a growing population and thriving real estate market, land and properties were beginning to be developed to the west of Kendall, with the residents of these new neighborhoods dubbing the area “West Kendall.” To this day, West Kendall remains an unfinished canvas of community, as the residents and businesses who call the area home work diligently each day to leave pieces of themselves woven into the fabric that comprises our little slice of Miami.
Despite my best efforts, I could not produce any concrete figures on the demographics data of West Kendall due to its nature as an unincorporated territory. Since it is unincorporated, the only available data on the population demographics of the area are provided by local entities and governmental bodies, as the level of detail provided via the US census is not accessible for West Kendall. Data regarding overall population levels as well as poverty rates are available, however. Since 2000, West Kendall enjoyed a 20.4% population growth, putting the annual growth at about 0.9%. As far as poverty is concerned, West Kendall has the lowest poverty rate of any area in Miami-Dade, at 7.7%. Next is an interview from a 20+ year resident of West Kendall, Marlene Villavicencio:
Q: When did you first start living in West Kendall?
A: 1994. I moved here from Westchester.
Q: What was the biggest “culture shock,” if any, when going from an established community like Westchester to a fledgling neighborhood like West Kendall?
A: Culturally, they were pretty similar. West Kendall was much less developed though, and it was mostly houses with little else to do.
Q: What were your initial impressions of West Kendall?
A: It seemed very isolated and far away from the rest of Miami.
Q: What would you say is the biggest change to West Kendall since moving here?
A: There is more traffic everywhere, and so many more people have moved here. It’s definitely more congested.
Q: What is your favorite quality of West Kendall
A: West Kendall is a very safe neighborhood and I feel very comfortable here.
Q: If you could change one thing about West Kendall, what would you change?
A: I feel like it needs better urban planning and development. The sprawling suburban nature of the neighborhood makes it so that large parts of West Kendall are just rows and rows of houses, which also feeds into a car culture where you need a vehicle to do anything. Also, I would add a Trader Joe’s.
- West Kendall Library
- No community is complete without a store of knowledge that is freely accessible to all who enter. The West Kendall branch of the Miami-Dade county public library system is a library that opened up near my house just a 10 minute drive down 88th St. With its high ceilings and towering glass windows, the library welcomes you into a bright, sunny, warm environment where you are free to explore almost any topic of learning at your leisure. The library also stands out because of its connection to the community. Many Kendall-based organizations reserve space in the library’s conference room in order to host meetings or public forums. I myself once attended a presentation by the Miami Climate Alliance during which a member of the Seminole tribe of Native Americans spoke about the importance of the Everglades and its biodiversity and water table. Complete with a butterfly and vegetable garden located by the rear entrance, this library has long served myself and the community of West Kendall as our own little slice of Eden.
- Wings Over Miami Museum
- One of the few full-fledged museums in Kendall, Wings Over Miami is located at the Miami Executive Airport and is housed in an open-air hangar. Wings Over Miami’s spiritual predecessor was a private vintage plane collection owned by a pilot named Kermit Weeks. Weeks would keep his collection in the hangar for the public’s viewing pleasure, but hurricane Andrew sadly destroyed most of his collection. After this tragic event, Weeks moved his collection out of Miami-Dade, and a group of pilots and enthusiasts collaborated with Weeks in order to start a new collection. This collection is what we now know as Wings Over Miami today.
- Town and Country Lock Bridge
- The Love Lock bridge in Paris is one of the city of love’s most famous unofficial landmarks. Couples from around the world make the trek to this bridge in order to place a lock on it, often inscribed with their names or initials, and enshrine their love for each other. Sounds romantic, right? Well, West Kendall has one that’s just as good! Okay, maybe it’s a little less romantic than the one in Paris, but the bridge that stretches across the lake behind The Palms at Town and Country serves the same purpose. Couples come from all over (Kendall) to profess their love and seal it onto the bridge with a lock, similarly to the one in Paris.
- Kendall Indian Hammocks Park
- Kendall Indian Hammocks Park. Where do I even begin? This Emerald Eden sits in the heart of West Kendall, and is, in my opinion, the crown jewel of the neighborhood. Since it sits squarely surrounded by suburbs, West Kendall does not enjoy the same diversity of ecosystems that other parts of Miami does. This is why Kendall Indian Hammocks is so important to the surrounding community of West Kendall. As far as I know, the nature preserve at Indian Hammocks is the one of the only areas of Hardwood Hammock available for residents to enjoy in West Kendall. Despite the fact that it is not a perfectly preserved hardwood hammock, on account of its invasive plant species, Indian Hammock still provides lush, densely wooded tree coverage where an individual can walk in and smell the fresh greenery, hear the sounds of birds chirping in the canopy above. The park also features a nice open space dotted with trees and shelters that can be reserved for any event. Kendall Indian Hammocks park is a true place of community and understanding in West Kendall.
- Camp Matecumbe
- If Indian Hammocks is the crown jewel, Camp Matecumbe is a hidden gem. Unbeknownst to me until recently, Camp Matecumbe was a base of operations for West Kendall during the Pedro Pan operation in Cuba. Pedro Pan was a tragic event after the Cuban revolution in which the Castro regime was letting people flee the island nation by plane. The cruelty of it all was that only children were allowed to leave. That means that parents and families had to make a painful decision: send their child to a foreign nation by themselves, unable to know their fate, or keep them there in Cuba, where the family would remain intact, yet be at the mercy of a dictator.
- The Greenway
- Similar to Indian Hammocks Park, but on a more personal note, there is a small linear park near my house called The Greenway. It is a small, half-mile asphalt trail with gentle rolling hills on either side. Atop each hill, and in between a few, are various trees, many of which have been there since I was as young as five years old. A much more intimate presence than Indian Hammocks, the Greenway is a nice and cozy spot where many people in the neighborhood go to walk their dogs, ride bike, or just enjoy each other’s company.
Transportation is probably West Kendall’s weakest point. There really is no other way to efficiently get around the neighborhood without a car, as the Miami-Dade public bus transit will have you waiting outside on a hot concrete sidewalk, mere feet from a street so wide it may as well be a highway. The cycling infrastructure is also lacking, as many bike lanes will have you merging in and out of traffic lanes, with some roads not even having a bike lane at all.
- Finka is a relatively new addition to the scene in West Kendall, yet it carries itself as a staple of the community. The food here is truly unique. Finka is a gastropub and bar sporting amazing entrees of cuban, peruvian, and korean fusion food! My personal favorite is the KFC, or Korean fried chicken. Finka was opened by chef Eileen Andrade, and is the first of her many restaurants that are scattered around different parts of West Kendall.
- La Carreta
- La Carreta is a titan of Miami. “La ventanita” is a term that may as well have been mastered by them, as there is always a crowd out front waiting to get their cafecitos and pastelitos. I’ve been going to La Carreta since I was a little kid, and I firmly believe that it had just as much of an influence on my Cuban identity as my own family did! True to the hospitality of Miami, La Carreta is a great place to go and just strike up a conversation. Patrons and employees alike are always eager to take a break from their day and have a nice chat.
- Macondo is the newest eatery in West Kendall, and it does not disappoint. A Colombian café, Macondo has some of the most delicious spinach and cheese empanadas I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting, and they can brew you any cup of coffee in any style you’d like. The atmosphere in this quaint little café is unbeatable, with live music and poetry readings every now and then, Macondo is a great place to visit in West Kendall.
- Spanish Marie
- Spanish Marie is a hidden, not-so-little hole in the wall. Right next to the Executive airport, this repurposed warehouse is uninspiring when viewing it’s exterior, but once you step inside you are greeted by high ceilings, colorful lights, a wall of vines, and beer. Spanish Marie is Kendall’s premier brewery, and they are constantly active in the brewing scene, traveling to different spots in Miami for a festival, or hosting pop-up restaurants in their own backyard. I’ve only recently discovered this place, and yet it is already one of my favorite spots to meet my friends and enjoy each other’s company.
- Arcade Odyssey
- What if I told you that West Kendall has its very own time machine? Step one foot into Arcade Odyssey and you are transported straight to the late 80s and early 90s. A thriving arcade that always has new additions each time you go, Arcade Odyssey has kept the spirit of the video arcade alive well into the 21st century. My favorite part about this arcade is that while there is an ample selection of classic games, there is also a healthy variety of newer, more modern games directly imported from Japan, where the arcade scene is thriving. One game in particular, “Meltdown” is my favorite, and it’s only one of three known copies in the world!
- Strange Beast
- Another bombastic brewery, Strange Beast is, in my opinion, the best pizza you can get in West Kendall. Strange Beast, much like Spanish Marie, is a spot for the community. Each day of the week they have a different activity, ranging from bingo to karaoke, and it’s simply a treat to visit, have a delicious pizza, and taste the brewers latest experimental concoction that they brew right there in-house.
In summation, West Kendall is a community that is ever growing. The expansive suburban sprawl is certainly an inefficiency of urban planning and development, but it is still a place filled with life and love and happiness. West Kendall is, to many, a home where they can walk around the neighborhood without fear of being targeted. A place where it truly feels like everyone knows your name, despite its flaws. More public transportation in West Kendall can only serve to bolster this tight knit community.
“History.” Wings Over Miami, http://www.wingsovermiami.com/about/history/.
“In the Beginning the Birth of Kendall – Part 1.” Pinecrest Dental Center, 21 Mar. 2022, https://pinecrestdental.com/kendall-part-1/.