Alexandra Fiedler is a second-year student at Florida International University who is majoring in Psychology and minoring in Spanish. Since moving to Miami from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Alexandra has been fascinated with the cultural, historical, and geographical differences between the place she grew up and the place she now calls home. Alexandra passionately strives to learn and help others, while expanding her knowledge about what makes Miami an especially unique and vibrant cultural setting.
Iconic graffiti and street art decorating its walls has made Wynwood an especially unique and popular neighborhood in Miami. Known for its artistic atmosphere, the neighborhood is filled with art galleries, studios, restaurants and cafes, club and dancing venues, boutiques, and other retailers. Its unique charm has attracted artists and tourists alike, solidifying Wynwood as an essential stop in Miami. Right in the heart of the city, Wynwood is just south of the Design District, north of Downtown Miami and Overtown, and just west of Edgewater. It has roughly been divided by I-95 to the west, the Florida East Coast Railway to the east, I-195 to the north, and North 20th Street to the south. Due to its high artist population, Wynwood has been transformed into a sensational and thrilling hipster dream. For blocks on end, all the walls have been absolutely covered in stirring and impressive artwork. Artists from all around the world come to Wynwood for the opportunity to paint one of the walls. The staggering range of art features everything from silly cartoon figures to meticulously detailed murals featuring ultra-realistic portraits and everything in between. Many artists make statements about political, social, and environmental issues. Bright colors and busy imagery truly bring Wynwood’s energized spirit to life. The atmosphere created in the neighborhood is unparalleled–unlike anything one can find anywhere else. The breathtaking works create the perfect backdrop for a booming scene filled with aesthetic small businesses scattered between the hip nightclubs and classy galleries. Wynwood features two booming sub-districts: Wynwood Art District in the north and Wynwood Fashion District in the south. The Art District hosts Wynwood’s iconic street murals, art galleries, outdoor art installations, and private art collections. NW Second Street is right at the heart of Wynwood, boasting a plethora of iconic murals, restaurants, and galleries. Wynwood Walls is one of the most prominent features of the district, as people travel far and wide to view the world-renowned outdoor murals. The Fashion District is home to many of the majority clothing distributors and retailers in the neighborhood, also featuring boutiques and clothing shoppettes. Travelers venture to Wynwood to experience both the eccentric art scene and the amenities that come with; including the appetizing eateries and quirky retailers. Unfortunately, due to its location in the bustling center of the city, Wynwood does not feature much in terms of natural landscape. Almost every square inch available for development has been transformed into some swanky business striving to find its place in Wynwood’s captivating atmosphere.
Josiah Chaille and Hugh Anderson purchased the land that now makes up Wynwood from a law firm in 1917. Originally naming the area “Wyndwood,” the City of Miami built a park in the northern area of their land, which they named Wynwood Park, and people eventually dropped the “Park” much later (History of Wynwood). When I-95 was built through Wynwood in the 1960s, the neighborhood’s borders unofficially shifted to exclude a small set of residential blocks, isolating residents from their former neighborhood. Wynwood quickly became home to many commercial residents, such as large-scale retailers and manufacturers, mainly for garments, among other commodities. The neighborhood was packed with massive factories and warehouses to keep up with the garment district’s demands. As the retailers became more profitable and numerous, many of the manufacturers began relocating to make room for growing retail demand and to be closer to their workforce–mainly Cubans living in areas such as Hialeah (History of Wynwood).
By the mid-1950s, the area saw a huge influx of Puerto Rican immigrants, as both the elderly and younger generations moved away from the area. Wynwood was referred to as “Little San Juan,” and the neighborhood saw many names of schools, parks, and centers changed to those of Puerto Rican significance (Pasols). However, throughout the beginning of the 1970s, the population had greatly diversified to include Blacks, Cubans, Dominicans, Haitians, and Colombians. By the late 70s, Wynwood was viewed as a springboard neighborhood, where people worked to leave as they increased their economic standings. The neighborhood itself was lower-middle class at this time with a 55% unemployment rate and high levels of drug trafficking (History of Wynwood). Moving into the 1980s, Wynwood fell into a period of extreme violence, crime, and drugs in addition to the staggering poverty rates. It was regarded as one of the most dangerous places to be in Miami during the 1980s. Racial tensions and social unease culminated in riots that damaged Wynwood businesses on multiple occasions, solidifying the notion that Wynwood was an unsafe area (A Brief History). Known as a place where lost tourists would be robbed and killed in broad daylight frequently destroyed any sense of good reputation. As more people and businesses vacated the area, the once booming garment district was reduced to abandoned and rundown warehouses.
Eventually in 1987, a group of artists from the South Florida Art Center purchased a 2.2 acre facility that they converted into an enormous artist space (History of Wynwood). Due to the neighborhood’s dangerous environment, buildings were able to be purchased at an extremely low rate. Soon, other creatives, artists, and visionary minds began purchasing the abandoned buildings scattered around the neighborhood. Famously, in 1993, the Rubells opened their Rubell Family Collection with massive paintings, sculptures, and other art pieces in a 40,000 square foot warehouse (Rubell Museum). Many other gallerists, collectors, and art appreciators moved into the area as it slowly developed into a haven for the arts. With the debut of the Art Basel Art Fair in Miami, Wynwood was officially on the map in the art world, showcasing its monumental contemporary works and highlighting the artistic geniuses that made Wynwood their home (History of Wynwood). The neighborhood itself created a uniquely free-spirited vibe in tune with its imaginative and artistic residents. Artists began painting street art on the walls of the vacant warehouse, creating all sorts of vibrant, unique, and creative works. There was a care-free attitude at the time, one where no one cared who painted what–they saw the art in everything.
In the mid-2000s, Wynwood underwent yet another transformation when it caught the eye of Tony Goldman from Goldman Properties. Goldman and his two children began purchasing large sections of Wynwood’s warehouse district (Pasols). Unfortunately, more and more artists and gallerists were forced to leave Wynwood as they were priced-out to create the new vision of Wynwood. Goldman imagined Wynwood as a swanky, artsy neighborhood covered in street art, although many in the art community could no longer even afford to live in the neighborhood any longer.
The special charm of Wynwood attracted restaurants, nightclubs, retailers, bars, cafes, galleries, and other installations, who now populate every square inch of NW Second Street. Wynwood Walls has become a world renowned contemporary art display that attracts immense amounts of attention and visitors. Large-scale developers hope to construct high rise condominiums and a hotel in the area, with more restaurants and retailers sure to follow (Pasols).
In accordance with many of Miami’s unique neighborhoods, Wynwood is a diverse location, home to people of all races, ages, socioeconomic statuses, and backgrounds. As of 2019, the reported population of Wynwood was 14,886, although that number fluctuates over time–especially in these unprecedented circumstances with the pandemic. Wynwood is becoming an increasingly popular residential area, as in 2010, the population was numbered at 7,277 people; meaning the population has doubled in the past ten years (Wynwood Demographics). It is no secret that Florida has seen a huge influx of residents throughout the pandemic, which may not be accurately reflected in data collected before March 2020. 67.6% of Wynwood’s population is Hispanic or Latino, making up the majority of the residents. 15.9% are Black, 10.7% are White, and 2.6% of people are Asian. The remaining population (3.1%) identifies as multiracial or another race (Wynwood Art District). 56.1% of residents are citizens born in the United States, while 23.7% are citizens that were not born in this country (Wynwood Demographics).The neighborhood’s population features 52.8% females and 47.2% males, with the median age being 37 years. In 2019, the median income was determined to be $37,470, while the median rent was valued at $1,205. Meanwhile, the median estimated house value in the neighborhood was $298,273. 1,356 homes have been built in Wynwood in 2014 or later, compared to the 548 homes built from 2010 to 2013. Returning to the pandemic’s possible effect on demographics, as of April 2022, Zumper values the average rent for a 1-bedroom condo in Wynwood to be $2,935–a starting 30% increase from the previous year (Wynwood, Rent Prices). Compared to the national 13% increase in rent from the previous year, Wynwood far exceeds the majority of the nation in rising rent prices. Other sources assert that Miami, in addition to West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, has seen median rents rise an alarming 36%, well over double the national average (Walter-Warner). Based on the income levels of many current residents and the rent’s steep incline, it is not entirely unfounded to assume that many residents will be forced to leave Wynwood if they cannot find supplemental income to afford the high rent demands. These demographics are bound to change, as they do in many places, but it seems clear that Wynwood may see a rapid transition, as soon only those who can afford the more demanding rent prices will be able to populate the neighborhood.
I was able to speak to Harold Golen of the Harold Golen Gallery. He has been living and working in Wynwood for 14 years, first opening his gallery in 2007.
Q: What has been the biggest change you’ve seen in Wynwood since first moving here 14 years ago?
A: The biggest one would definitely be seeing Wynwood turning into such a residential area. When I first got here, almost no one lived here, but one day I realized I saw someone walking their dog and it occurred to me that people must be moving to the area. Now we have all these huge condos being built for all the people that want to live here now.
Q; How has the crowd of customers changed since you started business here?
A: Well when I first opened, this was just a gallery, and I would have monthly art exhibitions. The people visiting were those who seriously appreciated and understood art. Now the majority of people are tourists, or people just poking around. The quality of people has changed, they definitely used to be more serious and now people almost don’t care about the art. They come to take photos in front of some cool walls and then go home.
Q: How have you had to change your business structure with the new crowd?
A: I went from monthly art shows to relying more heavily on selling merchandise. The casual visitors have actually been very good for business.
Q: Could you have ever predicted Wynwood looking the way it does today when you first moved here?
A: Absolutely not. It has changed so dramatically and quickly. It went from being much more art focused to the latest neighborhood the developers are set on turning into expensive condos since it got so popular.
Q: Going into the future, do you think Wynwood can keep the same energy and atmosphere if it continues to be developed like now?
A: Unfortunately no. Some residential developers are trying to eliminate the nightlife in Wynwood because they’re trying to turn it into this nice fancy neighborhood. For example, there’s a Footlocker here in Wynwood now. That simply would not be the case 10 years ago. If more generic retailers come in, the commercialization will get rid of what initially made Wynwood such a cool place. But don’t get me wrong, people come in here with Footlocker bags–these big retailers also bring me more business. Since being here is so sought after, the rent increases like crazy these days. If people can’t afford to keep up, they won’t be able to stay in Wynwood any longer.
Harold also shared lots of the neighborhood’s turbulent and violent history with me, really emphasizing that the very street we were at was the most dangerous place in Miami at one point. When I asked how the crime changed after the initial gallerists and artists moved into Wynwood, he shared that gradually the rates lowered as gallerists grouped together to report crime, communicate with police, and they eventually established a law enforcement’s presence in the area. However, even the first five or so years he was in Wynwood, Harold informed me that Wynwood was still a generally rough area of town; someplace you knew to never leave anything in your car, know where you’re going, and get there quickly. After an enlightening and enthralling conversation, Harold wished me the best of luck in my studies. He declined to take a photograph, but Harold gave me his business card and I even purchased a reusable sticker for myself from the gallery.
Wynwood is home to a vast array of museums, collections, and galleries that make the neighborhood a particularly fascinating place to explore. Traversing through the various institutions throughout Wynwood allows one to learn about a vast amount of history, art, and culture spanning history and cultures.
Don and Mera Rubell turned their passion for art into something more in 1993 when they first opened the Rubell Family Collection/Contemporary Art Foundation (Rubell Museum) in a 53,000 square foot warehouse. Considered a true pioneer of establishing a strong art presence in the neighborhood, the Rubells were among the first to open a private collection in Wynwood to share their love for art with the public. The museum features an impressive collection of contemporary art from many different world renowned artists from across the globe. The museum also hosts events and exhibitions where more art can be presented in exciting ways, in addition to internships, trainings, and artist residencies, providing exceptional opportunities for all kinds of people to develop their interests and passions. The family’s collection has greatly expanded in the 26 years since their first opening, and the former warehouse that started their journey is now just one piece of their expansive art collection.
Located in a 50,000 square foot, retro-fitted warehouse, The Margulies Contemporary Art Collection has a wide array of visual art exhibits, video and photograph installations, sculptures, and special immersive exhibitions for the public to enjoy. Similar to Rubell Museum, the collection boasts art from world-class contemporary artists such as Anslem Kiefer and Amar Kanwar. First opened in 1999, the Margulies Collection is another trailblazer for developing Wynwood into the beloved art district that is known today (Margulies Collection). The collection closes from May through September during which the staff completely transforms which pieces will be featured in the next season’s opening, creating a completely new experience for visitors each year–making it an excellent place to visit time and time again.
Museum of Graffiti
Known as the first museum to be exclusively dedicated to the evolution and celebration of graffiti as an art form. Featuring everything from a detailed history of perceptions and legislations to descriptions of styles and signifiers, the museum explores graffiti’s rise in design, advertising, and fashion (Museum of Graffiti). Having immersive experiences such as an indoor art showcase, eleven outdoor murals, a fine art gallery and a special gift shop featuring limited edition world renowned graffiti artists’ special items and merchandise. It highlights a position on graffiti and street art that is not typically presented in society. The museum delves into the true art form of graffiti, shifting perspectives by showcasing how graffiti can be manifested in society in positive and meaningful ways.
Being one of the trendiest, most popular neighborhoods in Miami means that Wynwood hardly has any naturalistic areas left untouched from its rapid development. There are only two parks within Wynwood’s boundaries. The neighborhood’s focus has clearly been on developing it into an urban dream, leaving the parks appearing less than spectacular. Contrarily, many parts of Wynwood filled with outdoor bars, shoppettes, cafes, and seating areas are decorated with vibrant plants, trees, flowerbeds, and even turf–all of which enhance the freshly appealing atmosphere.
Roberto Clemente Park
The park’s main feature is a baseball diamond, but has a large grassy area beyond the outfield and even bleachers for spectators to enjoy baseball games. The park also has basketball courts, a small playground, and in typical Wynwood fashion–a mural of the namesake Roberto Clemente the baseball player. The park was renamed to honor the Puerto Rican player after he was killed in a plane crash. Fittingly, people can enjoy baseball for years to come.
Rainbow Village Park
The park features a grassy green area, great for enjoying a picnic or playing a game of soccer or football with friends. Having trees and shaded areas with seating areas and outdoor barbecues, the park makes a great space to simply enjoy the time outdoors.
The Wynwood Walls
Perhaps one of the most iconic businesses to come to fruition from that artist-centered neighborhood, the Wynwood Walls is a collection of outdoor murals completed by some of the world’s most acclaimed artists throughout the years. The works have been marveled at by artists, art enthusiasts, travelers and tourists, and of course, locals since its launch in 2009. The Wynwood Walls are so popular that a recorded 2.9 million people visited in 2018 (Wynwood Business Improvement District). In addition to the sensational outdoor art, the Walls have also introduced an indoor gallery, a cafe, and a gift shop. They host tours, art exhibitions, and public events, such as Art Week. Although it used to be free, admission to the Walls is $12.
Harold Golen Gallery
This Pop Surrealism gallery opened in 2007, focusing on the depiction of ‘disposable art’ on a ‘Fine Art’ level, using technical skills such as oil painting. Although originally a dedicated gallery, it now operates with far more merchandising accompanying the art, all of which are made by in-resident artists. They occasionally have art exhibitions, but they welcome anyone to stop in to enjoy items such as posters, interior decor, stickers, prints of paintings, shirts, and more still designed and handmade by real artists in Wynwood.
Panther Coffee establishes the absolutely perfect vibe in the heart of the neighborhood, offering reprieve from the powerful sun under the cool shade of its vibrant trees. There is ample space to lounge with an iced coffee, get school or work done with a snack, or to relax with friends amidst the bustling streets around the cafe. The fresh ambiance truly pulls one in to enjoy quality time with an equally quality coffee.
Cars are the main mode of transportation for residents, with 57.2% of people taking a car alone to work (Wynwood Art District). There is no metro rail line that goes directly through Wynwood, although the Orange Line runs through Downtown Miami, which borders Wynwood. People can take the metro to get close to Wynwood, but it does not provide access directly into the neighborhood. Buses are another method of transportation that people frequently use in the neighborhood, although its usage pales in comparison to that of cars and other private vehicles. Wynwood hosts multiple CitiBike stations, meaning it is possible for people to ride bikes throughout the neighborhood which is certainly a more environmentally and economically feasible method of transportation. Traffic is the main result of cars being the obvious most popular transportation method in and around Wynwood. As the neighborhood’s party scene becomes even more established, traffic is only doomed to get worse, especially in the later hours of the night. Not only are people driving themselves and parking to get food, drinks, or go dancing; multitudes of people also take ride services such as Lyft, Uber, and taxis to get a ride into the neighborhood’s night scene.
Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop
Started by Derek Kaplan, a former fireman who loves desserts, this bakery specializes in pies, cakes, cheesecakes, cookies, and unique desserts. All the deserts are freshly homemade, with high quality ingredients. Stopping in for dessert is the perfect way to take a sweet break from the Miami sun.
This pizza place is the perfect place to stop for some thrilling entertainment. While enjoying great pizza with some cold beer or cocktails, one can enjoy shows from DJs, drag queens, and other live entertainment.
Compared to the older, more well established restaurants discussed, Coyo Taco is an exciting restaurant that exemplifies the latest changes Wynwood has been seeing. Serving delicious street tacos, along with quesadillas, burritos, and other Mexican street foods, the restaurant blends Mexican cuisine with Miami’s multi-cultural influences. What makes Coyo Taco so special and fitting in the trendy Wynwood is its secret bar and lounge hidden behind the back wall. People line outside the door to get into both the eating space and bar areas of the restaurant. Coyo Taco freshly creates an experience that anyone can enjoy, both those simply looking to eat and the newer night crowd that wants to keep the Wynwood experience going all night long.
Wynwood is such an enchanting neighborhood. The energy on those streets is almost tangible. I think the atmosphere is just so exciting, in addition to being extremely aesthetically pleasing everywhere you look. The wide variety of places to eat, museums to explore, galleries to stop in, bars to try, and clubs to enjoy create the perfect location for an exciting day or night. Wynwood brings creative minds together in a place where they flourish and their talents can shine. Everything is so colorful and bright, it truly is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Unfortunately, as with many things that people enjoy, powerful corporations have targeted Wynwood as the latest destination that needs a modern and gentrified makeover. Miami seems to be set on constantly building new things then knocking them down to build newer things. The fact that the collectors, artists, and gallerists who made Wynwood into something worth talking about, worth celebrating even, had to relocate because of the sudden rise in commercial value. If everyone creating the Wynwood magic leaves Wynwood, we will be left with another sleek city neighborhood–devoid of charm and originality. It seems like people are in such a rush to move into the trendiest zone right now, they haven’t stopped to think about what happens when those nightclubs cannot operate any longer once they receive too many noise disturbance warnings, as they already have started to (Pasols). Wynwood needs its space to continue thriving and growing in a meaningful way. It is not destined to be just another scattering of high rises.
Currently, Wynwood is progressing into this high-end, expensive residential zone. Because its eccentric nightlife and beautiful decorum attract such high volumes of people, it is natural that people want to move closer to the action. Regrettably, this means that Wynwood has started to lose the beautiful spirit that it is founded upon. Of the 70 art galleries, museums, and collections that were once located within the neighborhood, only 15 remain open, shocking considering those were the very places responsible for Wynwood’s eventual flourishing (Pasols). These days, people are coming to Wynwood to shop at boutiques, eat and drink out at restaurants, and party at nightclubs rather than to appreciate or even purchase art.
It is sad to see the walls that once attracted tour buses full of art devotees, eager to take in and learn about the murals and street art now merely serve as a colorful backdrop for social media posts. People are more invested in the quality of photo than quality of experience, and nothing suggests that the current mindset is bound to change soon. As the rise of digital art continues, it feels like physical art has lost meaning in the minds of many. The absurd amount of construction alone damages the energy as music and conversations are hard to hear over the never ending industrial clanging that comes with assembling over a dozen high rise buildings at the same time. It makes driving and navigating the streets much more difficult, as pedestrians are rerouted along the edges of multiple massive construction sites.
Hopefully enough people will advocate for the preservation of Wynwood and the special quirks that make it so necessary to save from development. The fun part of Wynwood’s culture is its high sociability; it is certainly not destined to become yet another sleek city neighborhood. Wynwood’s true beauty comes from its designation as a safe space for art, innovation, and creativity from all walks of life and forms of expression.
I love how nothing is off limits in Wynwood. Anything can be turned into art. I remember from talking to Harold that “no one cares if you paint on that.” Beyond the walls, graffiti covers the sidewalks throughout the neighborhood. Stickers have been slapped on just about every inch of every telephone pole and utility box. Even the cop cars I saw had blue spray painted camouflage designs on them. I really enjoyed walking down side streets and finding smaller pieces of art that were incredibly impressive, just a bit out of the way. It’s just as if everywhere you turn, there is something worth discovering. It inspires you to keep exploring, keep searching out more art, and finding something special.
Photos by Alexandra Fiedler//CC by 4.0
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