Hello! I am Adrian Mills. I am currently attending Florida International University, where I am majoring in Biomedical Engineering, however I am in the process of changing to Mechanical Engineering with minors in Chemistry and Biology. It is my second year here, at FIU and in Miami and I have very much enjoyed every part of it. I originally grew up in Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati, however I have family in Spain (mainly Madrid), Mexico/Texas, and throughout the US. including here in South Florida. I am currently working as a Student Assistant at StartUP FIU, and have been recently getting more involved with many of the clubs and organizations FIU has to offer. My passions include a wide variety of things, ranging from sustainability to soccer. I am always interested in learning new things, and up for exploring new experiences.
Downtown Miami as Text:
“Origins” by Adrian Mills of FIU in Downtown Miami
All cities throughout the world have their own distinct culture, history, qualities, flaws, and in their own way are unique. Miami is certainly one with all of these characteristics.
Downtown Miami is often seen as this diverse tropical city full of towering buildings, with beautiful beaches, plentiful palm trees, and exciting nightlife. While this may be true in some sense, Miami at its core, is so much more than just that. While the history of Miami is complex, and honestly not really that widely known, it gives a different perspective into the city that so many various people have called home.
Not initially being from Miami, brings another interesting perspective on exploration of what Miami has to offer and the background of its complicated history. Miami is well known to be a mixing pot of many various cultures, peoples, and takes pride in its diversity.
This diversity is a fundamental part of Miami’s identity.
While this is the case currently, it also traces its roots back to its foundations as a city and even before that. But there are some parts that aren’t as widely known. Mainly the events that occurred early on in the beginning of its history.
Thousands of years even before the Europeans arrived, much of the greater Miami Dade County area was inhabited by natives, the earliest of which date back to more than 10,000 years ago.
By the time The Europeans visited around the middle of the 16th century, this group of people eventually died off and disappeared due to European introduced diseases, and conflicts.
Later in History, many of the newer inhabitants of the Miami area, were escaped slaves and the Seminole Native Americans who were forced to the Southern parts of Florida. Eventually they were once again forced out of their homes, as the Second Seminole War took place, the most devastating war in Native American history, which practically completely killed the entire population of Seminoles. This also involved Fort Dallas, a former plantation slave quarters, which still exists in Miami today. Much of this history is not taught or explained, at first I thought it might be as I did not grow up around here, but what I quickly realized, that many people who grew up here were not taught of the terrible events that had taken place.
Furthermore, another widely unknown part of Miami history, are a group of people who much of their history is gone and forgotten, are the original people of Miami, the people who first called Miami, and all its natural beauty, their home, the Tequesta.
The Tequesta were a native american people that lived throughout most of the Southeastern parts of Florida, mainly Biscayne Bay, much of what is now Miami Dade County, to the Florida Keys, from 3rd century BCE to the mid-18th century. What little is known about the Tequesta includes that they hunted, fished, and gathered various parts of plants, but had not developed or practiced any agriculture. This unique group of people had their own developed language, way of life, and had lived that way for hundreds of years before being disrupted by the European settlements. They did make contact with the Europeans as mentioned earlier but the Tequesta and their descendants met the similar fate as most other Natives throughout the Americas.
However, something that genuinely surprised me was the lack of recognition that Miami had for its original inhabitants, the Tequesta. What was most surprising to me, no one knows a lot about the Tequesta, what they looked like, how they spoke, or how they lived. How had an entire group of people who lived in this prominent area for thousands of years, exist, and vanish, with not much mentioned, or known? A single plaque at the entrance of a church in downtown Miami, was the only true mention I had ever seen throughout all of Miami. I have only heard of the Tequesta a few times before, and it amazed me that despite this being Miami’s original people, they receive almost no recognition, and so little is really known about them.
Diversity is a key part of Miami, and it can still be seen today, with its mixing of cultures, wonderful foods, interesting architecture, and various languages, all of which are constant reminders of Miami’s true potential. But the underlying existence of its true history and darker past, should be more widely recognized within its foundations.
The Tequesta are a fascinating part of Miami’s history and it is truly a shame that more people don’t know about them, and that such little of their intriguing existence remains.
Learning more about the history of Miami while exploring the actual areas, was quite an interesting and extremely enjoyable experience. Being introduced to new information about the past of such a diverse historical city is truly an experience that more people should enjoy.
Everglades as Text:
“Natural World” by Adrian Mills of FIU in the Everglades
The Everglades have always been one of my favorite locations to visit whenever I travelled to South Florida, ever since I was a kid. I grew up visiting many different natural parks and reserves, and often they were the highlight of any road trip or vacation. This was particularly evident with the Everglades, as I visited any time I could.
Being able to wade through the Everglades, exploring the cypress dome, the alligator hole and beyond, was a really enjoyable experience, that although I have done before, is always an adventure. There are always new things to learn, explore, and see. The Everglades are an incredible display of the complex relationship between nature and humans. But, there is something truly alluring about the expansive wetland, the interconnectedness of the various different types of ecosystems, and the abundance of biological diversity, both plants and animals, that each play a key role in the existence of their ecosystem.
The Everglades, as most ecosystems do all have a certain balance, but there is an extent to which it exists. This is evident in certain areas, as because as usual, humans have started a long list of various detrimental effects that have influenced the Natural Everglades habitat. Anything from the introduction of invasive species, to the clearing of land, to the pollution of the water with agricultural runoff, or the ever growing accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere, and the global climate crisis, the list goes on and on.
But, Nature, as it always does, adapts and overcomes challenges to survive, and more notably it always returns. At least, it does to some extent, but in many cases today, it needs our help to recover more quickly and effectively. This is what we, as a group were able to observe in person. One of the more interesting sections of the day involved going to land that had essentially been completely cleared and scraped down until only the coral remained. What initially seemed like the destruction of habitat, was actually an intricate part of a complex habitat restoration project that took over a decade in development.
This area is what is known as the Hole in the Donut Restoration Project. Restoration Projects are extremely important, as they allow us to restore the damage we have done on certain ecosystems, and when done on such as scale, it provide an incredible amount of data and information that can be used to better understand the restoration process and how it influences the surrounding ecosystems, making future project more effective.
This land, over 6,300 acres was previously cleared and used as agricultural land years ago, but as there is not much soil naturally, the farmers brought a large amount of nutrient rich soil to grow on. But, after the Everglades was deemed a National Park and the farm had to move they farmers left, leaving all the unnatural soil they had brought. Initially this might not seem like a large problem however, it has caused a series of lasting issues within this part of the Everglades.
This abundance of excess nutrients provided by the old farmland completely disrupts the normal ecosystem that used to exist in this land. This surplus of unnatural nutrients which resulted in an explosive growth of many invasive species of plants. Over time, this unnatural area started to influence the surrounding area and cause more problems. These invasive species start to spread, having no natural predators, and start to get out of control.
But the National Park Service, in cooperation with a number of other organizations, were able to develop, plan, experiment, and ultimately complete a large scale restoration of this area. This restoration involved the removal of exotic plants, and the restoration of the natural wetland ecosystem, with the integration of monitoring and management. This process takes a substantial amount of time and as of 2020, over 6000 acres has been restored with less that 250 more to go. This project began in 1988 and over the past 30 years this project has been immensely successful.
We were able to observe this progress in one of the areas that had most recently been cleared, as we visited several of the natural solution holes within the coral that had been revealed during the process of removing the surface level of invasive plants and soil. In these areas it is interesting to observe the distinct reclamation that nature has on any part disrupted by humans. This area started to see many of the native plants, such as sawgrass, and other species return fairly quickly to reestablished themselves on the land. Seeing this in person allows for the better understanding of the interaction between ecosystems, and how important it is to protect and restore the ecosystem that we still have left.
Everything that we did that day, wading through the cypress dome, the flatter grass areas, walking along the boardwalk, and swimming in the solution holes, really allowed us to experience the natural side of Miami, as this is what the true native land of Miami would have looked like. It is interesting that most people think of the beaches and city of Miami whereas what truly is the area of Miami and most of South Florida and the vast expanse of Everglades, that continue to display their importance on the existence of this entire Floridian peninsula.
Observing these natural landscapes, and seeing the important restoration of the extensive damage we have caused is extremely important. Being able to appreciate these areas and understand their importance is something that a lot more people should do, as maybe it will be one of many steps that will truly help humanity to finally put aside their differences and finally address and find easy to resolve and prevent the many ways that we as a people have negatively affected the natural world we live in.
South Beach as Text:
“Iconic” by Adrian Mills of FIU at South Beach
South Beach and Ocean Drive are two of the most iconic areas in Miami. From the art deco buildings, the neon lights, to the warm sand and the busy beaches, this is what most people think of when they hear the name of one of the most famous cities in the United States.
South Beach offers many of the highlights of Miami, from the sunny beach with arrays of palm trees, the clear blue water, to the restaurants, the busy nightlife, the outdoor mall, to the peaceful walk of South Point Pier. It is a unique place, with varying architectural styles, expensive cars, smaller neighborhoods, and is always busy, with many people, tourists, residents, and more, all enjoying what it has to offer.
One of the first things that comes to mind when anyone mentions Miami is the beach, and the most famous and popular one being South Beach. South beach is the southernmost part of Miami Beach, located between Biscayne Bay at the Atlantic Ocean. Looking across the beach one might observe the bright sunlight, the palm trees, and the clear blue sky that meets the deep blue of the ocean at the horizon, where the waves wash up on the warm sand, and the many people enjoying their time in the sun.
Ocean drive is by far Miami Beach’s most iconic street. The brilliant night lights, the pastel colored art deco buildings, expensive cars, crowded streets, plentiful palm trees, and bright sunlight, is all what makes Ocean Drive a quintessential part of Miami.
One of the interesting and distinctive parts of South Beach is the architecture. It is an interesting mix, with no real true pattern, with varying styles from building to building, including the prominent and iconic art deco style, the newer Miami Modern or MiMo style, to the more traditional mediterranean revival. All of which are truly representative of what is thought to be Miami.
However South Beach also has a distinct history, and plays a crucial part of Miami’s history as it not only the tourism industry but also what makes it a core part of Miami’s culture. South Beach began around 1870 when Henry Lum bought the land with the idea to turn the sandbar and mangrove ridge into a coconut farm. But after the failure of the coconut farm, the land was bought by John S. Collins had some success growing crops and started the construction of a bridge to connect the island to the mainland. But eventually, a town formed, and around 1915 Collins partnered with Carl Fisher and the Lummus brothers to turn the area into the beach it is known as today. Throughout the entirety of Miami beach, laborers slowly cleared the natural mangroves that grew on the barrier island as well as deepened the channels of water surrounding the beach. Since then this artificial beach has had to be continuously maintained and sand dredged and moved there as it is not a naturally occurring beach. In 1920 the land boom around Miami Beach started, and more and more was being built on this now hospitable land, the creation of the main roads further facilitated the growth of Miami Beach, with many millionaires now building houses on the land. In the 1930’s the architectural revolution arrived at South beach bringing with it the iconic Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, and Nautical Moderne styles. Over time as more and more people moved there, it slowly became more and more of a tourist attraction, attracting millions of people a year. Media contributed greatly to the growing popularity, with the Jackie Gleason show coming to the area in 1964, famous movies such as Scarface in 1983 , and the addition of the Miami Vice show, all further increased Miami Beach and South Beach’s iconic reputation. Today it is one of the most wealthy and prosperous areas in all of the United States, attracting over 15 million visitors a year.
Deering Estate as Text:
“Preservation” by Adrian Mills of FIU at Deering Estate
Preservation of an area’s natural habitat is one of the most important concepts that exists in today’s natural world.So much of the world, essentially all of it has been touched or altered by humanity in some way, with an extremely vast majority being detrimental.
However, every once in a while an area has been preserved, untouched by most aspects of humanity. These pristine locations illustrate what locations were actually like when nature remained untouched, and show the complex systems of ecology, and how the natural ecosystems interact.
Focusing on South Florida, Miami has undergone so many different changes over time, and people have altered its natural environment in almost every way. Almost all of its Coast has been cleared of the natural mangrove forests, land was cleared and drained in order to make it suitable for large numbers of people to live there. However, this has resulted in essentially all of native Florida to be destroyed and changed. All except few reserves and nature parks have maintained what South Florida was like at this time. These few areas are vital in understanding what the original areas looked like and how it has changed over time even with minimal human involvement. One of these such areas within South Florida is the Deering Estate.
The Deering Estate has some interesting history, throughout the years, as well as before its ownership. As it was at this location that many different people throughout history have visited. One of the main reasons for it traffic belonged to it being one of the few natural freshwater springs, so travelers, ships, and people from all around, would venture here to get water before voyages, and travels. It was also home to the Richmond Cottage, built in 1900, that gained a fair amount of traffic. Charles Deering howe, purchased 444 acres of land and lived there from 1922 to 1927. In addition to the Richmond Cottage, the estate was home to the Stone House, a Spanish villa inspired building, designed by Phineas Paist and was built in 1922. Besides these buildings, a majority of the land remained in its natural state, aside form some acres used as an avocado grove. These acres of land that remained uninterrupted are what makes the Deering Estate so important, even today.
In addition to many other ecosystems, The Deering Estate, most notably includes what is believed to be the largest untouched coastal tropical hardwood hammock in the continental United States. This pristine mangrove forest is seen to be in its natural state and demonstrated what almost all of south florida’s coasts would have looked like hundreds of years ago.
Furthermore, there are also over 6 different ecosystems, just within the boundary of the estate. From the aforementioned thick mangrove forest, the sunny ocean coast, the hardwood forest, to the more arid pine forest, as well as several others. This is partially due to the fairly large natural elevation changes that allow for each unique part to form and coexist. These dramatically contrasting environments are fascinating, and the natural pine rockland is actually what a lot of Florida’s inland areas were like before people lived there.
The true untouched nature of Florida, or what little of exists, is honestly amazing, as the diversity of the ecosystems, and the overall unique combination of habitats, is home to more than 170 resident and migrant species of birds, 89 endangered/threatened plant species, and much much more.
Conservation is critically important, as effectively managed conservation areas are an imperative part of protecting biodiversity, maintaining ecosystem balance, preserving important habitats, as well as providing many other benefits to wildlife and human health.
Vizcaya as Text:
“Influence” by Adrian Mills of FIU at Deering Estate
Despite spending some time in Miami, I had never visited The Vizcaya Museum & Gardens. Between its interesting history, extravagant decorations and furnishings from all over the world, to its extensive gardens it is certainly a place worth visiting.
But in order to understand Vizcaya, one must look at its creator, James Deering. James Deering was a socialite and an antiquities collector who gained his wealth by being an executive in the management of his family’s Deering Harvester Company.
James Deering had built the Villa Vizcaya in around 1920 and with it was able to create the opulent display that is present today with the help of his visionary designer Paul Chalfin. Paul Chalfin and James Deering traveled throughout Europe many times together in order to collect ideas and start buying art, and furnishings for the new Florida estate.
What resulted is a unique combination of Mediterranean Revival architecture inspired by the Italian Renaissance, with elements from all over Europe, Asia, and even the Americas. What is even more impressive than the building was the huge collection of art and antiquities that span over two millennia, with sculpture ranging from Greek, Greco-Roman, and the Italian renaissance. This amounts to one of the most interesting estates in the world, with a mixture of so many different styles, art, and architecture.
The long road down to the villa, with the open-air center, the intricate details of the pillars and victory arches, the elaborately carved barge, or stone breakwater, or the seemingly endless gardens filled with statues, even the exterior of the villa and the estate is obviously affluent. But it is remarkably well hidden from the inland, as there’s a winding road through a thick junglelike forest, before revealing this strangely out of place, luxurious estate.
All of this was possible only thanks to how ridiculously wealthy James Deering was. Much of what he had was transported directly from Europe, an entire ceiling in one room, a whole fountain in the gardens, and much of all the artwork and decor. And the fact that he mainly used this house for parties, demonstrates even more so how James Deering lived.
But what is interesting is the influence that this held.
Unknowingly, Jame Deering and this extremely diverse party house essentially is a pretty accurate representation of what Miami has become and well known for.
Miami is such a diverse mixture of many different cultures, as well as bring in tourists from all over the world, and even more so the main culture that Miami is known for is the rich nightlife and extravagant parties.
It is very interesting to observe how even a hundred years ago, the beginning of the core foundation of Miami, was present in areas such as Vizcaya and with James Deering himself.