George Coba has been a native Miamian all his life. He currently lives in Little Havana with his parents who are Cuban immigrants. He is currently an FIU student that is a part of the Honors College and has an internship with NASA. He loves to rock climb, hike and go on new adventures. He finds the most fascination and peace in nature’s impossible and chaotic beauty.
“Unknown Home” by George Coba: Miami Encounter
I was born and raised in Miami and because of that I felt like I knew a lot about Miami. When I first started this class last semester, I figured I would likely have gone to many of the places that we were going to visit. This was actually true, I had visited many of the places that we visited during our class but I had never looked into them so deeply as this class has forced me to. I’ve learned more about the origins of Miami, where our buildings come from and why they’re made to look the way that they are made to look through lectures. These incredible facts about the story of Miami are not so obvious on the surface there is little signage in the areas and very little education from the Miami school system about how Miami was formed.
I think that this class is the only way to learn all about the place that I’ve grown up in my entire life and didn’t know so much about. It’s given me access to extremely unique places and helped me appreciate those places more deeply than I ever thought possible. Going through a three ecosystem hike at Deering Estate is not only something I will never forget but also simply not possible for me even as a native Miamian without the help of the class to get me there.
The culture of Miami all around me is something that I’ve never seen or considered to think about since I am just living it all the time. The lectures and writing of this class has made me see the very unique culture and diversity that we have throughout so many different neighborhoods of Miami. I’ve revisited places that I’ve been all my life and for the first time seeing the effects of culture on them. My own home is near ‘Calle Ocho’ and before this class helping me find that critical eye, I couldn’t see how incredibly unique the location was and the impossible circumstances that lead to its appearance.
When I imagined Miami, I used to think of Downtown Miami and the people in it, I think of Miami Beach and I think of the people and family around me. I had never considered before this class the very beginnings of Miami and the culture that started long before any Europeans or Spanish were here. Learning that the very name Miami comes from a native tribe of the area was mind blowing to me as I had never even asked myself the question “Why is Miami named Miami?” I never thought about the origins of the very rock and nature around Miami, the incredible biodiversity of the area. Throughout the semester I most look forward to visiting the most natural parts of Miami like the Everglades and Deering Estate because they’re so purely the beginning of Miami. No humans have change the area drastically and what we are seeing now could have been seen many thousands of years ago in the same location.
“Finding Hope” by George Coba: Everglades
Being in the Everglades was the first experience I felt disconnected from the rest of our group. I think it was incredibly beautiful to be able to walk out into the nature but today I felt more sadness and anger instead of the peace I had felt at felt on previous nature walks. Humanity’s relentless take over of nature overshadowed the day when as we drove in, we saw signs for new luxury condos being built near the area. During a beautiful moment of silence in the Cypress Dome I heard cars roaring by that stabbed me in the heart with humanity’s endless reach. I felt hopeless to ever escape its grasp.
Exploiting nature is required in the consumerist cycle that our culture is now. Without unimaginable effort the exploitation will continue to happen, as I write this, I’m driving past massive developments of many hundreds of acres that are in the middle of what used to be the Everglades. Even though we’re doing well, and the Everglades can be seen as a conservation success, it’s so sad to me how hard we’ve had to work for it. It seems humans are repeating our mistakes as urban development is coming all the way out to the Everglades. I wonder if we’re going to keep protecting them or if they’re going to end up being ruined when we end up needing more cheap and large housing for our ever-growing population.
I also want to talk how lucky I am to have been able to feel this perspective inside of the Everglades. As heart wrenching as it is to see humanity everywhere the protectors of the Everglades have still done an incredible job. I have never felt more human than when I drank the water under my feet because I knew the nature around it had already filtered it for me. Seeing such incredibly pristine wilderness that had been untouched by humans forever is something I had never seen before. When I first walked through the Everglades’ water, I was afraid I and wasn’t in my usual comfortable environment. Like any human though I quickly adapted, I began to feel relaxation and connectedness to the nature below my feet even though the water was cold and full of muck. I found myself exploring comfortably and walking around the thick woods and deeper waters without feeling like a gator was going to pop up and attack me. I fell back to that human nature that I feel is deep inside of all of us that is desperately needed to reconnect with.
The minute of silence that wasn’t interrupted by the vehicles felt like I was recharging a battery I didn’t know I had. The Everglades is an incredibly unique place that must be protected from humanity at all costs. The deep spiritual connections felt in the pristine nature is indispensable from the human experience. The photo below shows the stark contrast between the city life and the life that nature would allow us to experience.
“Community” by George Coba: Coconut Grove
The community of Coconut Grove was so small that everybody knew each other. That is why The Barnacle, which is the oldest structure in Miami (that’s still in the same location) was a hangout spot and wasn’t closed off to visitors. There were so few people that everybody just knew each other and even Bahamians broke bread with the White folk. The private citizens even allowed community trails to run through their properties.
What’s interesting is that once more Northerners began to come and settle into the Coconut Grove area that same trail that came off The Barnacle had new signs put up that said to not leave marks on the bamboo, because people not from the area were damaging the bamboo by leaving their name on it. This behavior likely came from a lack of community after there were so many people living in the area. It seems that the more people move into a particular area, which should mean it’s more successful, the less community there is for the same area. For example, in Miami, most people would not allow their neighbor from two doors down to come into their home, because they just don’t know them. Miami lacks the close community that the older Coconut Grove had.
Most small towns are disappearing as opportunities continue to follow major cities and younger generations follow cities as well as lack the community from similar media and entertainment that has been replaced by personal entertainment. Things like music and TV shows that people used to be able to relate to each other are no longer bringing people together because the Internet allows you to have things curated to your specific taste.
The expeditions we’ve been on to Miami’s locations have shown me how different life was so a few years ago when there was no Internet, there just wasn’t much to do besides become a community and share. I think that new systems like the internet and social media have led to further separation rather than inclusion because it’s simply not necessary to be a community anymore. Getting anything, you need to be done through the Internet and a thirty-second meeting at your doorstep allows you to completely live from home never being required to socialize at all.
Coconut Grove was a place with a strong community, especially unique, a strong black community together at a time when they were being badly mistreated in every part of the country. The Barnacle was built with Bahamians, and they were given enough respect to hang out in the area after it was built along with the rest of the community. That is extremely unique when you compare it to other buildings in Miami that were built using almost exclusively Bahamian labor that did not receive the same welcome.
It’s now going through gentrification, and any community that existed is gone which has led to the almost full disbandment of Christ Episcopal Church and many others churches as well since no people are visiting and the ones that would visit have been pushed away by higher property prices. Communities will always exist, and they’ll have to adapt but right now it seems like Coconut Grove is falling victim to what the rest of the world will continue to fall victim to, and that’s a globalization of culture.
“Walk” by George Coba: Coral Gables
I hate cars. Not because of the cars themselves but because of the trend they create. Miami and most cities across America are increasingly car-centric forcing all people to commute to work, shops, and restaurants for many miles. Suburbs move further out as roads and highways are expanded as far as the eye can see. This not only reduces the likelihood of someone taking alternative transportation anywhere but often eliminates the option. Forcing people to use cars means that the streets surrounding the area will be forced to accommodate an ever-growing number of vehicles with dangerously small or nonexistent sidewalks and a lack of pedestrian consideration.
Standing like a lonely island in a sea of parking lots and garages are Mediterranean designed malls, offices, museums, statues, and fountains. In stark contrast to the rest of Miami the City of Coral Gables has made it policy to have pedestrian friendly walkways, bike lanes and fantastic public transport.
Coral Gables is an example of what happens when we do right by the pedestrians of a city. Miracle Mile is a bustling and lively area of town full of people from all over Miami. It’s full of shops, restaurants, cafes, and beautiful architecture. I’ve shopped for most of my favorite books from the Barnes and Nobles on the road and never left the area without reading a few chapters and grabbing a pizza. I’ve biked in and out of the same area more times than I can count on the dedicated bike lanes that go on to the very edges of the city. For all these reasons and more I hold Coral Gables near and dear to my heart.
Coral Gables was designed this way since the very beginning by George Merrick. Merrick is the founder of the city and its greatest controversy. He spent some time in Mexico and Cuba and found the Spanish architecture to be beautiful enough to recreate on his own three thousand acres of Florida land. With the plan envisioned he sent his salesman to sell the dream of Coral Gables with beautiful sales buildings that exemplified the “potential” of the land. The city became a success and continued to expand while keeping its strict architecture in mind. This created the wonderful area we see today. Merrick though, like any businessman, wanted to keep creating more and needed more space to do so. He found that space to be Overtown in Miami. The most clearly racist of his statements was made then, “…it is visioned and proposed that during the next twenty years, a complete slum clearance be made, effectively removing every negro family from the present city limits.” George E. Merrick, May 1937. When the statement was made even at a time of extreme segregation the public found it too appalling and inhumane to allow.
To this day the city of Coral Gables is still working on living with the sins of its founder. It’s led to many controversies as some members of the community ignore the past and others try to face it. Ultimately, Coral Gables is a welcome break from the bustling cars in the rest of the city where we can rest and live as pedestrians. The city is followed by its deeply segregating and inhumane past but ultimately that is the theme of most of Miami and the United States. I hope to see more signs and references to the past throughout the city so that we may not forget it anytime soon.
“Think” by George Coba: Norton Museum
Walking into the Norton Museum there is a massive 100-year or older oak tree growing all the way to the museum’s roof and over it. The museum has built a wonderful metal circle around it giving the tree the space it needs to keep growing. This purposeful design choice makes the museum feel just a little more beautiful by letting it be edited with the nature around it. Across from the tree, you see a reflective pond with a massive sculpture in the middle. Usually, this wouldn’t lead to feeling many emotions but in a place like an art museum pieces like this will connect more than anywhere else. I stood and stared at the pond, pondering my own life, where it was going, why I was where I was, and whether or not I wanted to stay on my path. Modern life gets in the way of self-reflection and deep thought into the purpose and direction of our lives. Massive entertainment models have made it so that we never need to be alone with our thoughts and we never feel the deep emotions and thoughts that are hidden a bit closer to the soul. An art museum forces you to reflect and feel, art pieces bring out some of your best and most difficult emotions. I could have stayed at that pond for hours to catch up on all the thinking I haven’t done stuck on social media apps, watching terrible videos, and giving time to things that just numb my mind.
As a finance major, I’m always curious as to the utility and economic viability of a business, location, activity, etcetera. In the grand waiting room of the Norton Museum, you can see very clearly the names of the people that funded the room that you’re in. While walking through the hallway to the main galleries you see the names of the donators and their associated amounts in the thousands to millions. Museums don’t make a lot of money on their own, they stand on the donations of very wealthy people. The question of why this is the way that museums work is a difficult one to answer, personally I believe that many museums people love are publicly funded for the greater good. This is especially true with parks and memorials which is many people’s first introductions to preservation and peaceful places. Private museums must therefore compete with publicly funded locations at a price that is accessible to most people. This leads to a dependency on donations to be able to sustain themselves. This type of existence will lead to a bias of the artwork that we see being controlled by the more powerful players that pay to keep the lights on. Recent current events have led to Florida public universities and schools being censored on the topics of gender, race and equality. This trend seems to be common throughout the United States and I will have to hope that even in the hands of only a few, museums remain a sacred place of expression of all people and experiences.
The Norton Museum took us traveling through time and the history of humanity through art. Reviewing the pieces displayed in chronological order showed the priorities and progress of humanity change over millennia. Religious figures filled the halls in all types of forms, from abstract to beautiful depictions of women and angels the thoughts of the artist were all over the canvases. I was more deeply impacted by the historical art pieces, than I had ever been before in my life, by seeing the stories behind each piece and viewing them as a timeline I understood and connected with them in a way I just couldn’t without that context. Being lucky enough to have a place full of some of the most important historical works within an hour of my home it’s something I never expected and am ever so grateful for.
Leaving the historical works and walking into the modern pieces I crossed through a hallway with a roof of glass. I will never forget the feeling of looking up into that blue abyss. Viewing the art from below made me feel like I was underwater in an ocean full of life more expansive than I could ever imagine. I felt calm and lost at the same time, the day we visited the museum I was going through some very difficult issues in my personal life. Viewing that ocean of glass allowed me to look into my own future and see opportunities and lives, that I still must live. Here, the art’s effect on me was something that no number of words from my friends, videos on the Internet, books, songs, or anything could have made me feel except that piece. To me, this is what makes the value of art even today so difficult to pinpoint, for at that moment the piece was invaluable and nothing in the world was more healing.
What all the memorials, parks, and private or public museums have in common is that they are a place to think, to imagine, to feel more deeply than anywhere else. That is what makes them worth it, That’s their value.
“Land” by George Coba: Key Biscayne
I’ve been going to Bill Baggs State Park since my very first childhood memories. My family would go almost every single day to fish on its piers. I distinctly remember walking from the car parking lot past the restaurant, towards the fishing pier in my school uniform, and having lunch by the water. Surrounded by mosquitoes and in the blazing heat wearing that uncomfortable polo I created some of my strongest and happiest memories as a kid with my family. Being able to explore nature with them is something that is just invaluable and unfindable almost anywhere else throughout South Florida. I remember even when I got older in high school, I would still visit the same park to have barbecues and just share a really good time with my friends. It’s a place not so unfamiliar like the Everglades that you can’t really have a BBQ and relax but it also isn’t the tourist central of Miami Beach and because of that, I find Bill Baggs to be the greatest location in Miami to just have a relaxing beach day.
Visiting key Biscayne was an opportunity to reconnect with Miami in a way that most of the city can’t offer. There are massive forests and beaches that make it feel like I’m back in pristine nature. The interesting thing is though that this nature is not pristine at all in fact it is very new and was only planted less than 50 years ago. The history of the park includes one where it was going to become another golf course, condo collection, tourist trap, or resort. This land was extremely valuable, and we got close enough to the point of losing it that developers razed the land completely flat. Inspiringly, Bill Baggs convinced Elena Santeiro Garcia to sell her land at a massive profit loss to the government so they can protect the land and turn it into the park it is today. Continuing the legacy of fantastic women carrying Miami to the place it is today.
Thanks to the land being saved by these amazing people we now have an opportunity to walk through nature in one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. The current park employees were an absolute delight to be around. They really care about the nature surrounding them as well as its balance with creating a place that Miamians get to enjoy. The work to do that isn’t easy, they need all the help that they can get so we got the awesome opportunity to help volunteer and clean up some of the areas around the massive lighthouse. While volunteering we sweat and worked hard and despite that, I realized that the work we did is infinitesimally small compared to the work these employees do throughout the rest of the park. The value of this work and these people is more than the very inexpensive admission into the park and it’s something that I count myself very lucky to have around.
“Rebirth” by George Coba: Country Walk
Country Walk is an area of Miami that is bordered by the Miami Executive Airport to the north, farmland to its West and suburbia to its South and East. From an aerial view Country Walk is a maze of suburban housing full of roundabouts and difficult to navigate winding roads. To its northeast corner though there is an industrial complex that houses many car dealerships, car repair shops, hotels and other businesses that seem to have popped up thanks to the airport. I frequent this area a lot because among those businesses it also has a climbing gym.
My climbing gym was established in 1998 and that is no coincidence. In August of 1992 hurricane Andrew ravaged Country Walk. With nearly nothing being left what you see now in the area was built after 1992. The new houses are built using concrete instead of wooding and have been able to survive every hurricane since Andrew. The rest of the area that isn’t a car centric industrial complex is suburban housing that goes much further on than the eye can see. 136th and 152nd street are the only main roads that can be used to enter or exit the country walk area with over 5000 homes. To call the traffic on those roads unbearable would be an understatement. Roundabout and windy road designs of the neighborhoods in Country Walk may be somewhat aesthetically pleasing but it is a disaster for efficiency and adequate use of the space. When these neighborhoods were built it was unthinkable that the city would continue to expand so far West and cause even more traffic issues, but it has and will continue to do so.
The type of housing developed in these suburban landscapes is a cheap and affordable for the average person to buy a large and contemporary home. Overpriced housing is an issue that needs to be solved and, in some ways, this can be seen as a solution, the mass production of homes as far as the eye can see will make it cheaper to own a home. There comes a heavy toll for this type of living though. Neighborhoods created in this fashion destroy the walkability and public transportation options of the area and make it necessary to own a personal vehicle. Besides large emissions and terrible, this hurts the health and community of the population. American houses are already disconnected enough that you don’t need to interact with your neighbor, without a reason to walk around these locations are lonely.
Country Walk currently is facing some of these issues like the traffic on their main roads but they are also fighting the lack of community in their area by doing community events in large gathering locations. Though it may seem superficial at first if we are to continue developing these types of neighborhoods creating a sense of community is important. Though I do not believe in living in one of these neighborhoods I can see their value and hope that we continue to improve their planning and execution so that they can better serve their community and those around them.
“Replace” by George Coba: Wynwood or Design District
Wynwood is a location of Miami that I have visited after being warned by my family to be careful. The area is the most obvious but successful gentrification project in Miami recent history.When visiting Wynwood going a few blocks away from the tourist streets will give you what feels like a completely different city. Gentrification is hard to watch when you look at the people that are being removed from their homes and their neighborhoods forgotten. Yet it is unavoidable to see that by every metric of human happiness and progress Wynwood and similar places have improved. It is a difficult and controversial conversation because there will be winners and losers and most of the time, the winners will be moving from out of town as the rest of the community is built over and left to spread and die. Similar stories are being told in places like Overtown where it’s most obvious in its churches. People just can’t afford to live in their own homes anymore.
To deny developers the right to swoop in and delete the history and life of a community is not looked upon favorably by most economists or property owners nearby, yet we must ask ourselves if it is worth it. One of the greatest conservation stories that can be told also comes from Miami, Miami Beach and its famous condo canyon is a prime example. Though the space on Miami Beach is not technically being used in it’s most efficient form the unique architecture and culture was worth its preservation. Based on our experiences around Miami, it is often communities of color that are being overturned and razed to become hotspots of growth for wealthier Americans from all over the city and even the country. Wynwood is yet another battleground for control as another predominantly African American community is being destroyed and its culture forgotten.
There is still some amount of hope for preservation in special places like The Margulies Collection and the De La Cruz Collection. Art has a special way of telling and preserving the stories of communities and seeing art so heavily represented throughout Wynwood gives me hope it won’t just be another tragic story of loss. The Margulies Collection has donated over 40 million dollars to the nearby Lotus House Women’s Shelter, its donations and low entrance cost for students is part of what makes the collection so special and ethical in the area. But it’s not just these collections that scream art through the streets of Wynwood, almost every wall I could see was covered roof to floor in graffiti, in fact lots of the floor in popular streets were covered by graffiti. Due to it’s nature most graffiti is done by local artists who get to tell their story. The collection of great works on the walls of Wynwood reached a point where an entire museum was built around the walls and called “Wynwood Walls” it is the first thing that any tourist of the area will go see. It’s my hope that with enough knowledge and teaching of history the area will experience a growth rather than a destruction and rebirth.
“Love for debris” by George Coba: Chicken Key
Getting to clean up the Chicken Key location again is a fun experience. Having done it before, I knew what to look for and how to get the most garbage possible. Part of me is discouraged when I go back over and over, and it feels like no amount of cleaning will ever clean this little island. I find hope among the people I’m cleaning with, my classmates, and my professor, all working together to make this island a little more beautiful again.
After kayaking out there and parking up our boats, we unload onto the island and find it again trash filled. Even the little fireplace was filled to the brim with plastic plates, cups, and garbage that other people who visited had left there. I find it unfortunate, but I also count myself lucky that I can clean it up rather than go off to some garbage patch in the ocean.
When I started to explore the island and pick up its trash, I mainly focused on large pieces of debris, and there was plenty to find. Me and my classmates working together, quickly filled our canoe to its limit in the trash. After filling the canoe, we got to take a break and enjoy the island for what it was rather than cleaning it. I took the opportunity to go into the forest and stand still, observing the beauty of nature without humanity’s fingerprint on it. I played catch with my classmates turned friends and enjoyed this last class. It had been a long year together, and this was the last time we would see each other. I was lucky to be sharing that moment here, in nature, in the ocean. Nothing more would have sufficed as an appropriate ending for such an incredible year together.
The most fantastic feelings in the world are only found in places like this, so remote and far away that nobody wants to visit them, and you get to have the unique experience of living with them. I find that feeling in the mountains, but I also see it in the Everglades. Getting to experience those feelings with my classmates brought us closer than I could ever imagine. The experiences of going off the trails and exploring together made lifelong memories with what will hopefully become lifelong friends. The work that the people who preserve Chicken Key have done is fantastic, and I’m infinitely grateful for all the naturalists who keep places like this alive. Chicken Key will always be my favorite class from our adventures because it is where I can find the most meaning in my work and the beauty and location I am standing in. I thank the island for being what it is, an uninhabitable pile of debris only reached after arduous effort on a kayak or canoe. Its beauty is found in the oddest of ways, but it will never cease to refill my soul.
“I love you Miami.” by George Coba: Final Reflection
Exploring Miami has been a wonderful and eye-opening experience; the diversity of people, places, and things to do in Miami, I never thought could be so many. I’ve visited modern buildings full of artworks made in the last few years, systems of trees that have been around for over 10,000 years, and locations sacred to the Tequesta that lived here about 1000 years ago.
The history of Miami is richer than anybody who grew up here would know if they didn’t explore it on purpose. The Everglades are a location so unique that they are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is only half an hour from my home; exploring the cypress dome and experiencing its silence is an experience I will never forget. The environmentalists and naturalists who helped make that happen are the people who encourage me to hope that our ecosystems will be preserved. Those same types of people were at Chicken Key off the coast of Deering Estate, helping us eliminate much of the garbage that humanity has made that lands in the homes of unique creatures.
Exploring Miami Beach and learning about the history of the women who have kept Miami beautiful, as well as the very original founder of Miami, being a woman Julia Tuttle, is a privilege to know. When I was walking along the streets of Miami Beach, I saw locations from many Hollywood movies that are well-known around the world, and I get to live right next to those spots. I live about 10 minutes from the center of Little Havana, and I had only explored it with an academic eye once because of this class. I found it eye-opening and sad, but I’m not blind to it anymore. The struggles of the people of Miami and their fight against the development of skyscrapers aren’t only raging in Little Havana and Overtown, where churches have lost their entire congregations because people have lost their homes and been forced to move away. A similar fight is happening on the edge of the Everglades, where pristine nature is losing ground to more suburban housing. I remember just as we were pulling into the Everglades, condos were being built in front of Robert Is Here, an area that used to be known for its agriculture and never would have been considered a location for urban buildings, yet eventually, the towers came.
The culture of Miami is unique because it is full of so many different places and types of people, but art brings a lot of us together. There is no lack of art in Miami; from the Perez Art Museum to the Frost Art Museum to the Rubell Museum, there are so many locations that are fantastic and full of beautiful art pieces, and that is without even mentioning Miami’s Art Basel where people from all around the world come to view art in Miami and where the Untitled Art Fair gets to show off incredible pieces by people creating works in the last two years.
At its most authentic, Miami is a city at war with itself in a fight to preserve culture while, at the end of the day, having to pay the bills and sacrifice it. There will be people that are and the right on both sides of this fight, the condo builders who want to continue developing the city and giving it more housing and the people who grew up here who are tired of seeing their homes destroyed for another cultureless building. Miami is beautiful, and there will never be an end to the number of people that want to live here; because of that, I think that eventually, the developers will win, but places like Everglades National Park, Deering Estate, and Miami Beach give me hope that we will still preserve just a few key locations. Other places deserve to be remembered, like Little Havana and Overtown, but at the end of the day, I can already see those places being replaced by condos. I don’t think, even having learned so much about the beauty and culture of Miami, that I’ll be staying for very long because it is forcing me out too, it’s expensive, it’s full of traffic even if it is the most fantastic city I’ve ever had the pleasure of growing up in.
I love you Miami. I hope we get to find a way to heal you.