“Safekeeping a Neighborhood’s Cultural Identity” by Nico Fajardo of FIU at South Beach on November 5, 2022.
A quick google search of the word “Miami” will show images of sandy beaches, tall palm trees, colorful buildings, beautiful cars, and a blue tropical ocean. Interestingly enough, these are all pictures of South Beach, which is merely one of the 34 neighborhoods in the city of Miami. Over time, South Beach has become an emblem of this city; it has become the face of Miami to the rest of the world. When tourists think of our city, they think of South Beach. This interesting neighborhood has become a fundamental piece of Miami’s cultural identity, where visitors can experience the true “Miami Vice” lifestyle. A big reason for this neighborhood’s success is the architectural preservation that is enforced in the area. By safekeeping the original buildings and architectural styles of South Beach, local authorities have been able to nurture this neighborhood, keep it healthy, and watch it grow into a world-renowned tourist destination.
Interestingly enough, South Beach is one of the very few neighborhoods in Miami that can be explored entirely on foot. Visitors can nonchalantly stroll through the streets of South Beach and experience different architectural movements such as the Mediterannean Revival, Miami Modern, and Art Deco styles. Mediterranean Revival buildings are well known for their “old world” feeling. They oftentimes include very distinguishing elements such as clay tile roofs, archways, rough stucco walls, carved stonework, and wrought iron fixtures. In addition to these decorative elements, Mediterranean Revival buildings tend to include porches, balconies, and picturesque courtyards in their rectangular floor plans. South Beach is home to some of these lovely buildings, such as is the case with the Versace Mansion, one of the main attractions of Ocean Drive. Additionally, South Beach is home to a large amount of Miami Modern buildings. These structures are well known for their resemblance to boats and their use of a wide range of features. They oftentimes contain curved surfaces, boomerang angles, and both rectangular and circular lace pattern cutouts. Finally, Miami Modern buildings are well known for their extensive use of pastel colors, windows, and constant references to the ocean through the use of marine imagery. One emblematic building belonging to this style is the Fountainbleau Hotel, which was designed by Morris Lapidus, one of the most celebrated architects associated with the Miami Modern movement. Last but not least, there is the most iconic architectural style of South Beach, Art Deco. These buildings are well known for their resemblance to machines. They oftentimes contain unique elements such as ziggurat rooflines, curved edges, porthole windows, glass bricks, window “eyebrows,” terrazzo floors, relief art, and neon signs. Additionally, Art Deco buildings have a tendency to follow the rule of three; oftentimes being three stories high and dividing facades into three equal parts. Interestingly enough, South Beach is home to the highest concentration of Art Deco structures in the world! One of the many iconic buildings of this movement is the Park Central Hotel, which has been featured in many popular shows and films such as Miami Vice and Scarface. It is these diverse structures and styles that give South Beach its unique identity and attract visitors from all over the world.
Instead of finding towering condos, tourists encounter lively buildings and are encouraged to roam the neighborhood and enjoy all that it has to offer. This unique dynamic has created the perfect stage for hundreds of businesses such as retail stores, restaurants, hotels, cafes, and entertainment venues to flourish. One of the most emblematic of these businesses is Surf Style, a clothing and souvenir retail chain with more than 10 stores operating within the South Beach area. A quick walk through the neighborhood will reveal numerous dining options with all kinds of delicious foods such as sandwiches (La Sandwicherie offers some of the best sandwiches in South Beach), paella, quesadillas, ceviche, tacos, etc. Visitors can also enjoy various other entertainment venues such as museums, clubs, theaters, and even escape rooms (South Beach Room Escape Bar & Rooftop should definitely be paid a visit). In addition, visitors can also take advantage of the many amenities that are scattered throughout the beach. Beach volleyball courts and outdoor gyms offer endless entertainment for those seeking to perform physical activity. On the other hand, outdoor beach lounges and large beach umbrellas offer peace and relaxation for those who are looking to escape the stress and anxiety of daily life. Finally, the ocean offers countless of activities such as boat rentals, snorkeling, diving, spearfishing, kitesurfing, and so much more for those looking to cool off in the water. It is this unique combination of walkability, beautiful architecture, and a plethora of activities that have allowed South Beach to become the tourist magnet that it is today. It is now up to the local government to care for the neighborhood and foster this ambiance of hospitality and adventure.
Without a doubt, South Beach’s identity is founded on the hundreds of tourists that roam its streets on a daily basis. Even for local Miamians, South Beach is a place to go in search of activities, leisure, and glamour. Imagine what this neighborhood would be like if condos were present instead of the beautiful Mediterranean Revival, Miami Modern, and Art Deco buildings… South Beach would be yet another residential area, with businesses in the vicinity catering solely to the residents of these condos. There would be no influx of tourists, which means there would be no economic stimulation for local businesses offering both products and services. This neighborhood would no longer be the face of Miami to the rest of the world. Overall, the architectural preservation that has taken place in South Beach has turned this neighborhood into what it is famous for; it, quite literally, preserved its identity.