Letizia D’Avenia: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Photo Taken by Jena Nassar (CC BY 4.0)

Hi! My name is Letizia D’Avenia. I am a junior attending the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in Psychology. I was born in Milan, Italy, and I lived there for the first 17 years of my life. At FIU, I am part of an organization called Roarthon, I am a proud member of Phi Mu Fraternity, I am a Learning Assistant in the Psychology department and I am a research assistant for the Power Women & Relationships lab. One of my favorite hobbies is singing and playing the guitar. I took pottery classes for about 4 years and I love painting. I enjoy reading and writing songs. I am very extroverted and one of my goals in life is to travel the world and make friends with people from different countries. I am also very passionate about the environment. I am excited to take this class for a full year and learn more in detail about Miami.

Downtown as Text

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at HistoryMiami Museum (CC BY 4.0)

“Unheard voices” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Downtown Miami

The first time I participated in this class my attention was taken by many different more superficial aspects. It was the first class that I was taking in person since the pandemic had started, and I had never explored downtown in such a way. For the whole day, I focused on absorbing all the information I possibly could, without truly envisioning what I was being told. This time instead, I was able to almost see the main characters of the stories that were being narrated, and I centered my attention to the auditory stimuli around me to try and immerse myself in the past. The crunchy sound our shoes made while walking in the concrete slightly covered in dead brown leaves, since fall is slowly overtaking the long summer days. While passing below the highway that caused many lower-income families to lose their homes to make space for it, the loud monotone noise produced by tires on concrete invades the environment around us, making it almost impossible to hear what my friend is saying right next to me. My imagination is able to truly express itself once we arrive at Lummus park in front of Fort Dallas and the William Wagner’s House. Although both of these buildings have been relocated, in between their walls they still have trapped stories, emotions and voices of those times. By touching the stones of Fort Dallas, I close my eyes and I can hear the grunts and groans of the slaves building their own slave quarters. I can hear the scared whispers and the noise produced by one stone being put on another. This almost resembles the sound of a bullet being fired, and after I turn my head to the side, I hear general Dade falling to the ground, victim of his own hubris by thinking that the Seminoles were weak enough to be easily defeated.

Photo Taken by Letizia D’Avenia at HistoryMiami Museum (CC BY 4.0)

However, although Miami’s history is filled with saddening and angry noises as the ones I mentioned above, it is also filled with many joyful sounds. The soft voice of Julia Tuddle and Mary Brickell eco around downtown. The claps of excitement once the railroad was being inaugurated. As we walk to the Freedom Tower, I imagine the relieved and tired cries from Cuban immigrants, which after surviving a long and exhausting journey are finally being welcomed in the United States. All these sounds are what makes Miami unique, with the good and the bad. It is important to understand both the joyful memories and the unfair saddening memories, because only through knowledge and having an understanding of history can we ensure that certain mistakes are never repeated again. Miami is considered the city of sounds, of adventure and of hope, but not many know about the decades of slavery and unjust treatment of people. And although overall Miami produces a beautiful symphony of exciting sounds, by listening closely to every single instrument, out of tune notes will always be heard, no matter how hard the other instruments try to cover them.

Overtown as Text

“Knowledge is Power” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Overtown Miami

The metrorail is a moving melting pot, where everyday hundreds of people come together for completely unrelated reasons other than being transported from a part of the city to another. As I sat next to the window on my way to class, I observed individuals going in and out of the sliding doors. The metrorail passes many different stops, which all have different stories from the past that still affect entire neighborhoods today; however, these stories are not usually told and are slowly beginning to vanish. Our role as students and learners is to remember these stories and this class helps us in doing so, by exploring different realities and engaging with local communities. The focus of the day was exploring Overtown, and each one of us was able to learn many of the struggles that the black community in that neighborhood had to go through. First they were segregated to Overtown during the Jim Crow era, then I-95 was built right next to two important churches (Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church and Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church), essentially forcing the people living in the area to move out and disrupting local businesses.

We were able to speak to representatives of these churches, such as Linda Rodgers and Alberta Godfrey, who explained how much the building of this highway drastically damaged the neighborhood’s equilibrium and how racism still affects the community everyday. Standing in the majestic building that is Mount Zion, we learned that on the pulpit that was right in front of us, Martin Luther King delivered one of his most important speeches.

By hearing these stories from people of the community who are still hurt and suffering from all these unjust treatments, it is clear how society is focused on the single profit and not its impact on entire communities. In contrast to our serious and formal visit to Overtown, while walking in the neighborhood of Hialeah, we explored the majestic and rich Hialeah Park, which was used as a horse racing field and it is now a casino. As I sit next to the window on my way back, I think of how Miami has such deep discrepancies, where the people living in Overtown are not even sure how long they will be able to live in their homes and attend their churches, while in Hialeah, people come together to gamble their money away. It is our duty to always dig deeper and become knowledgeable about all of Miami’s stories, even the ones that hurt, even the ones that make people’s blood burn.

Vizcaya as Text

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Vizcaya (CC By 4.0)

“The Superficial” by Letizia D’Avenia in Vizcaya

I look at my reflection in the water fountains that limit the road to reach the majestic villa. According to Arabic culture, fountains have a spiritual meaning and are supposed to be flat and clear enough to see the reflection of the sky. It enables faithful people to feel closer to their God, and they are seen almost as a sacred symbol. James Deering, the owner of Vizcaya and brother to Charles Deering, was an extravagant man. He was very superficial, too captivated by his obsession for his own self and his popularity to truly care about anything else. He wanted Vizcaya to be a villa with European details, not caring about their symbols and history. An example of this is the arch found in the garden in front of the house. Usually, arches were built to celebrate a military victory, and although he had never had one, he still demanded to have an arch built on his property. He did not have children, but insisted that in his studio paintings of kids were present. He wanted to have a painting covering the pipes of the organ, and decided to cut a famous original painting in half, so that he would be able to access the pipes if necessary. He wanted the most luxurious objects in his house, anything to impress his guests when they would come visit. He had one of the first phone booths, one of the first fridge and vacuum, expensive carpets and even an organ (which he did not even know how to play). He was one of the first “typical Miamians”, obsessed with superficial luxurious objects and not too concerned with what was going outside of his perimeter. Next to the Villa, a huge garden extends and basically covers the rest of the property. Walking between the bushes felt like being in a movie directed in France in the 1800’. The colorful flowers and the different fountains and ponds made the entire place even more magical. I believe that it is important to visit historical places in Miami, so we can all understand better where we come from and why certain aspects of our culture are the way they are. This visit was helpful to give me a better insight into why the culture in Miami is like this, and how people in the past helped to shape how our society is today.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Vizcaya (CC by 4.0)

South Beach as Text

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at South Point Pier (CC by 4.0)

“A Jump in the Past” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Miami Beach

It was a windy day, and the clouds in the sky looked like cotton candy, as I was walking down the South Point Pier in South Beach. The ocean below us was crashing angrily on the gray rocks, and the noise of seagulls filled the air. The sun was reflecting on my skin, and I truly regretted not bringing sunglasses. It is definitely unimaginable to think that this entire area, many years ago, was completely populated by mangrove forests, infested by mosquitoes and almost impenetrable. After Fisher discovered this strip of land and decided to make it a getaway spot for himself and his rich friends, Miami Beach is now one of the most visited places in the world. Foreigners come from all over, just to bathe in the warm waters of Miami Beach, while staring at the skyscrapers that occupy the majority of the view. We started walking along the road that takes to Ocean Drive, while learning about the history of Fisher Island. In fact, Fisher bought the island from Dana Dorsey, South Florida’s first African American millionaire. We also learned about the extreme segregation that came after Fisher arrived, and how a place that was multiracial was completely disrupted. African-Americans could not access any beach, and could not even stay overnight in the South Beach area unless they had a valid “permit” to do so.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at South Beach (CC by 4.0)

Arriving at Ocean Drive created a change of scenery. The Art Deco buildings were now taking up all the space with their intense personalities. The pastel highlights and neon signs definitely made me momentarily forget that it is currently the year 2021, and I thought we had just entered a black and white movie in the early twentieth century. Since it was a Wednesday afternoon, there was almost no one walking the street, and we were able to fully immerse ourselves in the history these buildings have. Our excursion ended in the majestic Jewish Museum of Florida, where we were able to learn about Jewish history, which is a topic I knew almost nothing about. At the end of every class, I am always able to learn new aspects of Miami that I had no idea had such an impactful action into shaping how Miami looks like today. I am looking forward to being able to keep learning and growing my knowledge regarding important topics.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Jewish Meuseum (CC by 4.0)

Deering Estate as Text

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Deering Estate (CC by 4.0)

“Skyscrapers and Trees” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU at Deering Estate


I am always amazed at the contrast between urban and rural in Miami. One moment you are in the 8am rush hour on the US1, and a couple of minutes later you are immersed by nature, in the middle of different ecosystems exploring secret and sacred places. Our excursion on Wednesday morning started at Deering estate, walking through the thick vegetation to reach the Paleo-Indian archeological site. This is an extremely peculiar place since it is where they found many fossils, which some are believed to belong to Paleo-Indians themselves. Climbing inside the hole made me feel vulnerable since I was in a position of disadvantage and from the top, anyone could easily attack me, with no way for me to defend myself. I could only think of how saddening it would be for an animal to be stuck into a natural trap, and eventually dying of starvation or being attacked by another animal. After exploring this incredible place of history, we went back to the open area to visit Deering’s old house, where we discovered his extensive secret wine collection.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at Deering Estate (CC by 4.0)

For the second part of the day, we reimmersed ourselves into the untouched vegetations and explored the same trails the Techestas had walked on hundreds of years ago. We were able to hold the same tools they used to survive and we saw the burial mountain site. This was a special place, the energy that was in the air was solemn and we all showed respect to their traditions and to this sacred location. It was an honor to learn about the Techests culture and costumes. Knowledge is power and ensuring that as many people know about the first individuals that lived on this land helps to not forget. Through this class, I became knowledgeable about the native individuals that populated this land, a topic that is usually not discussed and almost hidden as if hiding what has happened will cancel the mistakes of the past. These kinds of excursions help me to reconnect with our history and nature, which is a crucial part of becoming a rounded individual, who has general respect for rural and cultural aspects of the world we live in.

Letizia D’Avenia: Pinecrest 2021

Student Bio

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

My name is Letizia D’Avenia. I am a sophomore attending the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in psychology. I was born in Milan, Italy, and I lived there for the first 17 years of my life. At FIU, I am part of an organization called Roarthon, I am a proud member of Phi Mu Fraternity and I am a Learning Assistant in the Psychology department. I like to describe myself as an “artistic” person. One of my favorite hobbies is singing and playing the guitar. I took pottery classes for about 4 years and I love painting. I enjoy reading and writing songs. I am very extroverted and one of my goals in life is to travel the world and make friends with people from different countries.

Geography

Map retrieved from Google Maps

The Village of Pinecrest expands on an area of 7.5 miles in the southeastern part of Miami-Dade County. In the north it borders the City of South Miami, in the east the City of Coral Gables, in the south the Village of Palmetto Bay, and US-1 and unincorporated Miami-Dade County to the west (Village of Pinecrest). This neighborhood is mainly a residential and rural area, with some main roads but for the majority smaller roads that take residents to their homes. There are different green areas, such as the Pinecrest Garden and the Coral Pine Park, where people can go to take walks or just relax. Closer to the South Dixie you can find more of an urban landscape, with many shopping centers and services. Additionally, through the Village you can encounter many religious buildings, such as the Epiphany Catholic Church, St Louis Catholic Church and Crossbridge Church.

Canal in the Rural Area in the Village of Pinecrest. Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0).

History

Photo retrieved from RoadsideAmerica.com

The history of the Village of Pinecrest is definitely unusual. After Harry Flagler used the US1 and the Southwest 102 Street as a staging area during the construction of the Overseas Railroad to the Florida Keys, the area kept slowly growing. However, in 1930, this place became extremely popular thanks to the first tourist attractions established in the Miami vicinity – Parrot Jungle and Gardens. It is exactly what it sounds like: a garden full of tropical birds where tourists could go to interact with them. Parrot Jungle was founded exactly in 1936 by Franz and Louise Scherr. The idea came to life because Scherr, (who was an immigrant from Austria, a former U.S. Army private and contractor, and a farm owner in Homestead, Florida), had the idea of building an attraction where birds would “fly free” (Pinecrest Gardens). In order for this to become reality, Franz Scherr rented 20 acres of hammock land for a monthly fee of $25. His dream became true, and after the park opened it became internationally famous, attracting more than 10.000 visitors by the end of the first year of operation (Pinecrest Garden). This attracted thousands of people, and Pinecrest started growing rapidly. During the 1950s and 1960s more houses were built in a ranch style which would be setting the foundation for the neighborhood’s rural landscape. Finally, in 1996, thanks to the movement led by residents Evelyn Langlieb Greer and Gary Matzner, the Village of Pinecrest was officially incorporated. 

Today, the Village of Pinecrest is nationally recognized as a Tree City USA, a Playful City USA and a Community of Respect and in 2011, the South Florida Business Journal recognized Pinecrest as one of the ten best places in Florida for “quality of life” (Village of Pinecrest).

Demographics

According to the 2019 census, the population in the Village of Pinecrest was 19,555. The ethnic group is made up of people who are mostly white, which are about 87.7%. Of this percentage, not Hispanic or Latino are 43.1%, while 45.5% are Hispanic or Latino. The Village of Pinecrest also includes an Asian community of about 6.3% and Black or African American take up about 1.8%. Those who indicated Two or More Races add up to 2.6% and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander are 0.1%. There is no American Indian and Alaska Native community. The age of the population is almost evenly distributed, with 25.8% of individuals under 18 years old, and 15.6% of over 65 years old. The female population is 48.9%, and the male population is 51.5%. The median household income (in 2019 dollars) over the past 12 months is $156,875. The poverty rate stands at 6.1%.

Interview with Lucia Scarsi

Lucia Scarsi (photo courtesy of Lucia Scarsi)

How long have you lived in Pinecrest?

I’ve lived in Pinecrest since my family immigrated to the US in 2001 so 20 years.

What is your favorite thing about Pinecrest?

Favorite thing is how beautiful it is. When I think of pinecrest I think about beautiful green trees and bromeliads. It’s a beautiful place to live in.

What is your least favorite thing about Pinecrest?

Least favorite thing personally is how obsessed the local government is with maintaining this prestige image of the perfect neighborhood. This has stopped many helpful infrastructure projects to get people better access to things like wifi. It’s irritating to say the least.

If you could change something about Pinecrest, what would it be and why?

If I could change one thing about Pinecrest it would be how accessible it is for people to live here. This neighborhood is a wonderful place to grow up and I wish more people could experience the childhood I had. Maybe more affordable housing could help others get a similar experience.

Would you ever want to live in another neighborhood in Miami other than Pinecrest? Why?

I honestly don’t think I would mind living in another place because Miami is so diverse but Pinecrest has my heart.

Landmarks

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

To this day, the original entrance of Parrot Jungle is still at Pinecrest Garden. In 1936, this building became the attraction’s signature structure. Originally, it was constructed of Dade County Pine and it had a palm-thatched roof patterned. However, in the 1940s, this kind of roof was replaced with clay tiles and the building was faced with natural coral rock. Unfortunately, it was damaged by a fire in 1994, but it was not completely destroyed and the Village of Pinecrest was able to acquire the Parrot Jungle site in 2003 and restored this historic building in 2008.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia of Whilden-Carrier Cottage (CC BY 4.0)

Another landmark of the Village of Pinecrest is the Whilden-Carrier Cottage, built in 1932. In the 1900s through 1930s, it was typical for pioneers who settled in rural Dade County to build these kinds of houses. This one in particular belonged to Carl Whilden, chief foreman at Fairchild Tropical Gardens. He and his family lived there from the Depression through the early 1970s, and the property included vegetable gardens, fruit trees, tropical specimens and native species.

Lastly, Old Cutler Road is definitely one of the most relevant landmarks. This road gets its name from the former town of Cutler, which was an old farming community (founded in the 1800s) by William Fuzzard. The name of the town comes from Dr. William Cutler, who was the one to encourage Fuzzard and others to settle down there. In 1883, Fuzzard and others decided to cut a road to reach Coconut Grove, and that is considered the first overland route between Coconut Grove and Cutler (The Historical Marker Database). In 1895 it was officially declared a public road. Today Old Cutler Road still proves a tangible reminder of the heritage of the Miami Area.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

Green

Pinecrest Garden

The first green space in Pinecrest that is extremely popular is the Pinecrest Garden. It is a beautiful and spacious garden, which is easily accessible (the ticket to enter is only about $5, and they usually have discounts). Once you are in, you can decide to walk around the park, since there is a trail that enables you to watch the flora and fauna. There are small ponds in which fish and turtles swim happily, and you can usually see birds flying around. There is also a spacious green open area, in which you can do picnics or bring children to play. Additionally, the Pinecrest Garden hosts many events in the outdoor arena, including concerts, theatre shows, musicals and choir performances. There are also seasonal events; for example, during winter time they put on a light show, they decorate the Garden with christmas ornaments and they play christmas music.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

Coral Pine Park

This park is situated relatively close to the South Dixie Highway, and it consists of a nine acre space. Within the park, there are many facilities that enable individuals to conduct sports such as tennis (there are six lighted tennis courts), an all purpose field and a tot lot. Additionally, there is also a natural area, where people can relax, walk and pertain in whatever activity they like best (as long as they do not damage the area).

Evelyn Greer Park

This park is home for the Leslie Bowe Hall. Leslie Bowe was a relevant figure in the Village of Pinecrest and in the FIU Honors community. He served on the boards of several institutions including The Vizcayans, as President, FIU Honors College and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens. He also served for two terms as a Council member for the Village of Pinecrest, where he has lived for more than 25 years (Miami Herald). The park consists of about ten acres with different fields for athletic purposes (such as baseball, softball and soccer). There are also batting cages, a tot lot, and Wi-Fi is available within a gazebo spot (“Village of Pinecrest”).

Photo by Pinecrest Police on Twitter

Transportation

The Village of Pinecrest is very well connected. There is a 108 mile roadway network with a 28 mile sidewalk network. Additionally, there are major roads, such as Old Cutler and the US-1, which enable a fast transit in-and-out of the Village. There are three Miami-Dade Transit bus routes that pass through Pinecrest, specifically Routes 57, 136 and 73. Both Route 57 and Route 136 predominantly serve the southeastern and eastern sections of the Village, while Route 73 serves a short segment of SW 88th Street (Kendall Drive) between US 1 and SW 67th Avenue (Ludlam Road) (Pinecrest Transit Circulatory System). To facilitate transportation, the Village of Pinecrest has also created the “Pinecrest People Mover”, which is a free transit bus service connecting the Village’s neighborhoods and schools. It is a free service, easily accessible and reaches many areas of the neighbourhood. Another extremely useful service is the Pinecrest FREEBEE. It is a new green transportation service which offers free rides and connects the South Dade Transitway and Metrorail station. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 is momentarily inactive, but it will resume its activity soon.

FREEBEE car (Photo by the Village of Pinecrest official website).

Lastly, to connect Pinecrest with other parts of Miami, such as Coconut Grove or Brickell, there is a Metrorail station (Dadeland South). Although a ticket must be purchased to access this service, it is convenient. A result of all these services is that residents have the capability to decide which means of transportation they want to use, and they will most likely find one that is convenient for them, reducing their car use.

Food

Captain Tavern is the place to be for all the seafood lovers. After it was opened in 1971 by Bill Bowers (“The Captain”), it has been one of the best places to eat in the Village of Pinecrest. It is a modest restaurant, with a recurring ocean theme. The place offers a warm and comfortable environment, where clients can enjoy their food and relax. My all time favorite is the King Crab Legs, they are tasty and juicy. In addition to the restaurant, they also have a fresh seafood market next door, where clients can shop. 

Anacapri. Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

As the true italian I am, as soon as I moved to Miami I started looking for an authentic Italian place, and I found the perfect place in Pinecrest. Anacapri is an italian restaurant and market, in which you can find many tasty italian dishes. It has a friendly and enthusiastic atmosphere, perfect to enjoy a night out either by yourself or with family or friends. I am a lover of the Anacapri Bruschetta and the Gnocchi Sorrento, they are some of my favourite dishes. I also shop there for food almost every week, since they have many products that I would buy in Italy (such as the Mutti, which is true italian tomato sauce, and Pan di Stelle biscuits and cream). 

Saffron Indian Cuisine is one of the best indian restaurants in the area. This place does not offer plenty of indoor seating, and that ensures excellent service. The quality of the food is always exquisite, and you can tell that the ingredients are fresh and cooked with passion. I do not take spicy very well, so I usually try to go for dishes that have milk or yogurt in them (which decreases the spiciness). My favorite is the Goa Chicken Curry, because coconut milk mixed with curry creates a sweet flavor, and the chicken becomes so soft that it almost melts in your mouth. I usually order rice as well, to create a contrasting texture with the softness of the main course.

Businesses

The first place ever that I went to after I moved to Pinecrest two years ago was the Pinecrest Farmers Market. Before COVID-19, every Sunday the local farmers would go with their stands at the Pinecrest Garden and they would sell their products. There were so many different varieties of products, from food to candles to plants to jewelry. It was always crowded, with families coming from the whole neighborhood to enjoy a great lunch in the outdoors. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they had to suspend the Farmers Market, then they turned it into into a “drive through”, where customers could stop at the vendor they wanted and purchase the products without leaving the vehicle, while only about a month ago it has finally moved back to its original walk-through set up, thought still respecting separation and limited capacity. Hence, there are not even half of the stands that used to be there before, and some of my favourites (a smoothie stand and a Greek food stand which used to serve fresh gyro pitas) have not been able to come back.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia at the Pinecrest Farmers Market (CC BY 4.0)

Pete’s Suniland Barber shop is one of the oldest tenants in the Suniland Shopping Center. The prices are competitive and the client care is a priority for this shop (Community Newspaper). This place is special because the barbers are focused on making sure that the clients are having a great experience, and once they become regulars, they are basically considered friends. It has gotten to the point where fathers who have been regulars for many years bring their sons who have just started growing hair. The community within this shop treats each other like a family, and whenever someone goes inside the shop they are greeted with an atmosphere of honesty, fun and goodwill (Community Newspaper).

Hirni’s Wayside Garden is the perfect place in case you need a last minute bouquet. Situated next to the Pinecrest Garden, this magical shop provides anything floreal, plants, and decorations. They have been a family owned business for about fifty years, and they work hard to provide the freshest flowers arrangements. They are also able to personalize their compositions, in case you have a special occasion you need flowers for, such as an anniversary, a birthday, or if you need to apologize for something you did. They are able to do both curbside pickup or delivery, which can come be really convenient due to the social distancing rules for COVID-19.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

Summary 

Overall, Pinecrest is a family friendly neighborhood, full of green and rural areas. It is easy to conduct outdoor hobbies such as walking, biking or running, thanks to the long and usually empty streets. The Pinecrest Garden is definitely one of the most fun green areas, since there is almost always something going on, whether it’s a show or an exhibition. An aspect of the Village of Pinecrest that works perfectly is the balance between nature and urban. In fact, the residential areas are usually surrounded by trees and plants, but the shopping centers are not even ten minutes away. Walgreens, CVS, Publix and other fundamental shops are all easily reachable, making this one of the strengths of Pinecrest. The means of transportation are also extremely convenient, enabling people to not use their car everywhere they go. The only aspect of this neighborhood that I think could be improved is to seriously work on the Cane Toads issue. Cane Toads are an invasive species that is poisonous to pets, especially if they try to bite or consume them. They are a hazard to the community and more measures to eliminate them should be created. 

However, Pinecrest will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first place where I officially lived in the United States, and I have made so many unforgettable memories in the months that I have lived there. 

Citations

Bureau, US Census. “Census.” Census.gov, www.census.gov/

“Leslie Bowe Obituary (2017) – Miami, FL – the Miami Herald.” Legacy.com, Legacy, 5 Nov. 2017, www.legacy.com/obituaries/herald/obituary.aspx?n=leslie-anthony-bowe&pid=187152983

“Village of Pinecrest.” Evelyn Greer Park | Village of Pinecrest, www.pinecrest-fl.gov/government/parks-recreation/parks-and-facilities/evelyn-greer

“Village of Pinecrest.” Transportation Master Plan | Village of Pinecrest, https://www.pinecrest-fl.gov/Home/ShowDocument?id=8815

“Village of Pinecrest.” Pinecrest FREEBEE | Village of Pinecrest, www.pinecrest-fl.gov/our-village/public-transportation/pinecrest-freebee

“Pinecrest Transit Circulator System”. Village of Pinecrest. https://www.pinecrest-fl.gov/Home/ShowDocument?id=1191

“Pete’s Barber Shop Is a Village Tradition.” Miami’s Community News, 27 Feb. 2012, communitynewspapers.com/pinecrest-tribune/pete%E2%80%99s-barber-shop-is-a-village-tradition/

“Pinecrest Gardens.” History | Pinecrest Gardens, www.pinecrestgardens.org/venue/history

Matson, Marsha. “Whilden-Carrier Cottage Historical Marker.” Historical Marker, 16 June 2016, www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=79655

Matson, Marsha. “Old Cutler Road Historical Marker.” Historical Marker, 16 June 2016, www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=73635#:~:text=Old%20Cutler%20Road%20was%20declared,Fuzzard%20in%20the%20late%201800s.&text=Grove%20and%20Cutler.-,It%20was%20subsequently%20widened%20to%20a%20wagon%20trail%20and,a%20public%20road%20in%201895

“Jungle Island [Formerly Parrot Jungle], Miami, Florida.” RoadsideAmerica.com, www.roadsideamerica.com/story/11308

Letizia D’Avenia: Miami Service Project 2021

Student Bio

Photo By Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

My name is Letizia D’Avenia. I am a sophomore attending the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in psychology. I was born in Milan, Italy, where I lived for the first 17 years of my life. I am very extroverted and one of my goals in life is to travel the world and make friends with people from different countries. I am excited to see where my journey in Miami will take me!

Who?

The specific institution which I volunteered for and which made the clean-up of Chicken Key Island possible, was the Deering Estate. The Deering Estate is an historical place, which preserves the estate of Charles Deering, Chicago industrialist, early preservationist, environmentalist, art collector, philanthropist and first chairman of the International Harvester Company (Deering Estate Foundation). Additionally, this is a place where the public can come in contact with nature and can get involved in different activities, such as hiking, kayaking, and yoga. Volunteering for such an institution has been an honor, and I am glad I was able to offer my day to clean up Chicken Key.

Why?

A topic that I am extremely passionate about is the environment. Growing up, all the people I have been surrounded with have taught me that the world is full of many other living forms, such as plants and animals, and we must respect them at all times. I participated in recycling campaigns (such as collecting bottle caps), and I have always been careful about my consumption of plastic. An experience that has made me even more sensitive about this topic was my environmental science class at FIU, where I learned on a deeper level how humans are the cause of pollution and destruction among many natural habitats. My heart was filled with worry and sadness, seeing all these images of innocent animals dying due to the consumption of plastic, and I decided that I wanted to make my part in cleaning up our world. With the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been hard for me to find volunteering opportunities in which I felt safe attending. This is why, when I discovered one of the activities in the “Discover Miami” class consisted in cleaning up Chicken Key (which is an island a little further away from the Deering Estate, in the middle of Biscayne Bay), I decided that I needed to take advantage of this. This island is specifically polluted because all the trash from Miami Beach is carried there, and with time it accumulates, creating hazards for its habitat.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

How?

I am grateful for the Honors College, because without being admitted into it, I would have probably never known about this amazing opportunity to make a difference. Additionally, this initiative could have never been possible without professor Bailly, who is committed to ensure that his students are able to create memories while doing activities that are meaningful, either to themselves (such as visiting museums and gaining new knowledge) or to the environment (such as cleaning up Chicken Key).

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC BY 4.0)

Where and What?

The way that the day of the clean-up was structured was functional and effective. The 9th of April, I met with my classmates at the Deering Estate around 10am. The weather for that day was phenomenal, around 70 degrees, moderately windy and sunny. The kayaks were already taken next to the shore, ready to be pushed in the water. We were all assigned a classmate to kayak with, and after we put our safety jackets on and loaded the kayaks with trash bags and water, we were ready to start this adventure. Before reaching the island, we stopped to enter a mangrove forest, which was mesmerising, since I had never been surrounded by mangroves, and the scenery that it creates it’s peculiar.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

We continued to kayak for what seemed like an hour, and we finally reached the island. We pushed the kayaks on the sand, we tied them together (so they would not roll away), we grabbed our trash bags and we started collecting any objects that clearly did not belong there. I walked further down the beach and I reached a more isolated area, in which I found ropes, plenty of plastic caps, old plastic bottles and cans, plastic and glass pieces, and plastic buckets. The most interesting findings were a Gucci flip-flop, a decorated wooden frame (which looked like it belonged to a restaurant) and a broken Bacardi bottle. We actively cleaned up for about an hour and a half, and I personally filled up 3 trash bags. We then proceeded to relax for a bit, swimming around the island and chatting with each other. 

Finally, around 3:15pm, we loaded our kayaks with the heavy full trash bags, and we started heading back to the land. Since the waves were pushing us towards the shore, we had the chance to just lay and relax, listening to the wind blowing and the birds chirping. Once we made it back, we loaded the bags on one truck and the kayaks on another one, and we all laid down on the grass, feeling rewarded by all the hard work that we conducted that day. Once we were all rested, we had a last briefing, in which we gave our feedback regarding the experience that we had just done.

When?

This is proof of the service hours from the Honors College.

Summary

Overall, I am satisfied with this community service activity. It has given me a much better understanding on how using plastic actually pollutes the environment. Although there are many initiatives to clean Chicken Key almost regularly, a lot of the plastic we found was old, and had probably been there for months or years. Additionally, trash from Miami Beach accumulates periodically and therefore it’s almost impossible to keep this island clean constantly. The fact that in three hours, fifteen students were able to fill out more than ten trash bags, really gave me an idea of how much pollution there is concentrated on that island. If everyone did their part and cared about the environment, we would be able to drastically reduce the amount of plastic we utilize and if we recycled it correctly, perhaps there would not be such issues. Another aspect of this day that worked extremely well was how I was able to strengthen my connection with nature. Living in a city, sometimes I forget that around us there is an entire world, filled with animals and plants, all coexisting peacefully. Being surrounded by nature really helped me to ground myself and to remember that there is so much more to life than just school. I do not believe there was anything that did not work, perhaps I wish we were able to collect more plastic from the island, but I believe that this though only gives me the motivation to go back to the next clean-up day. 

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC BY 4.0)

 Citations

“Deering Estate History | Historic Miami Mansion & Gardens.” Deering Estate, 26 Mar. 2020, https://deeringestate.org/history/

Letizia D’Avenia: Miami as Text 2021

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Hi! My name is Letizia D’Avenia. I am a sophomore attending the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in psychology. I was born in Milan, Italy, and I lived there for the first 17 years of my life. At FIU, I am part of an organization called Roarthon, I am a proud member of Phi Mu Fraternity and I am a Learning Assistant in the Psychology department. I like to describe myself as an “artistic” person. One of my favorite hobbies is singing and playing the guitar. I took pottery classes for about 4 years and I love painting. I enjoy reading and writing songs. I am very extroverted and one of my goals in life is to travel the world and make friends with people from different countries. Additionally, after taking an environmental science class during the fall semester, I became very passionate about this topic and I am planning on participating in different volunteering opportunities, such as beach clean-ups. I decided to take this class because I moved from Italy about one year and a half ago, and due to COVID-19 I have not had the opportunity to visit Miami as I wanted to.

Downtown Miami as Text

Photos by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

Written in These Walls” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Downtown Miami.

“Today is the day”, I thought to myself while making the bed. It’s a windy day, but the sun is shining and smiling at me. As toast with orange jam and Philadelphia melts in my mouth, I start feeling anxiety kicking in. This would have been my first in-person class since the pandemic had started. I felt my skin slightly tingle and my lungs filled up with new fresh air. I breathed out my sudden wave of fear, I put my sneakers on and I started driving to the location. I parked and felt my nerves slightly loosen. I turned my car off as I let out a shaky breath. My feet felt light on the concrete, like all of a sudden I had wings attached to my ankles. I spotted my classmates awkwardly standing in a semi-circle in front of the escalators next to the Government Center. I slowly waved at them and I stopped a little behind the semi-circle. “A student is late” said the Teaching Assistant, fixing her mask and making eye contact with the professor. I am not sure what to do with my hands or eyes, so I pretend to look at my phone. Once the student meets us, we started walking. 

Little did I know that during that walk that lasted for more than 2 hours, I would have learned about Miami’s deep institutionalised racism and how much it affected the quality of life of too many people. I forgot about the present and I dived into the past, and I learned about the Tequestas, Seminoles and runaway slaves, who all lived in Florida and were pushed down to the Everglades and forced to live there by the British. I learned about Flagler, who “convinced” 240 black voters to vote on July 28th, 1896, to create the city of Miami, and then he assigned them to live in Colored Town (the worst part of Miami at that time). I learned about Ponce de Leon, who started the contact between Tequestas and Europeans and General Dade, who was the general who led the army to fight the Seminoles out of Florida (and who was the first one killed during the clash). I learned about Julia Tuttle and Mary Brickell, two women who were crucial to the development of Miami. Our last stop was the Freedom Tower, which was the first place where Cuban Immigrants would be taken once they got to Florida and where the Pedro Pan children were brought. I sat on a bench on the first floor, staring at the image in front of me but not focusing on it. This building smells vintage, a mixture of wood and dust. 

At the end of our excursion, I feel filled with unknown knowledge, with forbidden truth, which no one really talks about but that lives in the walls of Downtown. My heels tingle from walking 6 miles and I can feel my stomach growl in anger for food. But all I can do is just stare at the wall and let the stories that I learned that day sink in my brain, so that I will carry them with me and keep them alive till the end of my days.

Everglades as Text
Photos by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

The Gators Hole” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Everglades

One of the reasons why I enrolled in this class was to experience Slough Slogging. The day finally came, and as I was walking down the long hallway of the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, a shiver ran down my spine. I greeted my classmates, and after the skilled Park Ranger gave us detailed and important information about our excursion, we got into our cars to start this thrilling adventure. When we reached the spot where our walk would start, I wore my bright blue water shoes, I grabbed a long stick (which you use for balance),  and we all got in a line to get in the muddy water. As soon as my feet came in contact with it, I felt the cold liquid infiltrate in my water shoes, soaking both my feet. As I kept walking in though, I understood why my professor had instructed us to buy these kinds of shoes: they were really tight to my feet and they did not retain water, enabling me to move freely and easily. After I got used to the sensation of the water hugging my legs, I started using my senses to experience the nature around me. I could feel the light rain on my hat, the smell of wet plants; I could hear the far away frogs croak and the birds chirping and all I could see were the cypresses surrounding and swallowing us.

The deeper we walked into the environment, the greener it became. I could see algae touching the water’s surface and brushing my uncovered ankles. At some point, I truly believed we had crossed some sort of portal and we were on another planet. I had only seen this kind of flora in movies, and being able to experience it in person felt unreal. The Ranger explained to us that the Everglades are a source of inspiration to many artists, since it is such a unique and peaceful place. We then reached a more open area, where there was grass and periphyton, a particular algae important for the overall ecosystem of the Everglades. While we were walking back towards our cars, we stopped to take some pictures and we passed by the Alligator Hole. Because during the dry season there is less water, the gators create deeper holes where they usually go to rest. When the wet season ends, the water levels rise again, causing these holes to become even deeper than they originally were. We all got back to the cars safely, and we drove to the Anhinga Trail, where we had lunch and walked around. We saw an alligator sunbathing and many different kinds of birds and fish. 

As I drove back home, I felt at peace with myself and nature. That was a day I understood how powerful nature is and how important it is to protect it, otherwise places like the Everglades will have a hard time to exist as we know it.

Miami Beach as Text

Photos by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

Blue Eyebrows” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Miami Beach

I looked at the time on my phone as I was frantically walking towards South Point Pier. “I am late” I thought to myself, while impatiently looking for the spot where the afternoon class was supposed to meet up. I finally saw my professor and, with my surprise, only one student, which made me feel less guilty of the sweet time I had taken to reach the location. As we waited for the rest of the students, I was able to admire the beauty of the view in front of me. I looked at the people on the beach, who were carelessly sunbathing, playing on the sand and swimming between the turquoise waves. Behind them, tall colourful skyscrapers took the rest of the landscape, creating this peculiar mixture of urban and rural, which is what Miami is known for. 

The rest of my classmates finally arrived, and we started walking down the Pier, while the professor talked about the history of Miami, and the major figures that helped create it. We talked about the importance of the letters that Francisco Villareal left us. I learned that the original name of Miami Beach was “Ocean Beach”. We discussed how Carl Fisher was one of the people who saw a lot of potential in Miami Beach, and was the one who decided to create this “tropical” paradise for him and his northerner friends (by removing the majority of mangroves and any “unaesthetic” feature that he could find). Unfortunately, he was also the one that prohibited Black people from coming to Miami Beach, since “if you want to attract white wealthy northerners you do not want “blacks” on the beach”. Once Miami Beach developed and flourished, the division between white and black people widened even more. As we walked down Lincoln Road, I found myself surrounded by vivid buildings, with thick eyebrows and windows that seemed to be staring at me. I learned about the peculiar architecture styles that make Miami Beach such an attractive place for locals and tourists. We finished class at an H&M store, which was originally an old theater that was bought by the company and transformed into a unique location.

This class helped me see Miami Beach under a different eye. I have always thought of it as a fancy strip of land where people sunbathe. Being from Italy, I had the European picture of it. I never thought Miami Beach had so much history embedded in its sand and streets. 

Deering Estate as Text

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

Six Ecosystems” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU at the Deering Estate

As we walked into the Deering Estate, it felt like we were leaving the busy world behind us, to enter a magic kingdom, who seemed to be inhabited by mystical creatures who survived off berries and sun. I moved my head back and forth, mesmerized by the tall trees and the sweet smell of flowers and spring. A butterfly passed by and settled down on a white table cloth. “It looks like there’s going to be a wedding!”, said our TA softly. I glanced at where she pointed and I saw numerous tables, which were being decorated with all kinds of ornaments. I smiled under my mask and kept following my classmates. Before starting our long hike, we stopped by our professor’s office, where he showed us the painting he is working on. The vibrant colors attracted my sight to it, and I let my eyes wander on the canvas for a couple minutes, before we left to start our hiking. We walked for about 3 hours, and we passed six ecosystems. Between salt marsh and tropical forest, we had the opportunity to explore these completely different habitats, and it felt like we were walking through different continents. It is unbelievable to think that in such a small strip of land there is so much flora and fauna.

Once we finished hiking, we had lunch and we hung out with the manatees, which are usual visitors of this place. In the last part of our excursion, we were able to visit Charles Deering’s house, which was filled with art and history. We were even able to see his massive wine collection.

It was the first time I was able to visit this place, and I am glad I had the opportunity to do it with such an amazing group of people. I will keep this little piece of paradise in mind and I cannot wait to go back and relax under the palm trees.

Vizcaya as Text

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

The Hidden Spot” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU at Vizcaya.

There was peace and quiet at the entrance of Vizcaya. The open space in front of the ticket booth was wide, giving us enough space to social distance, as COVID-19 rules require. I could feel the warm sun on my skin, and a breeze of wind brushed my hair. We started walking down the main street, in between two fountains, until we reached the yard right in front of the house. There was a pond in the middle, which resembled the structure of a boat. There was also a triumph arch, which did not make a lot of sense, since James Deering (the owner of the house and the wealthiest man of Miami) was not a soldier; however, he liked this kind of “decoration”, and wanted one for himself as well. We walked up a couple steps and we entered the house. On a table, right in front of the door, there is a statue of Bacchus, the God of Wine and Ecstasy. He was purposely placed there, so that when Deering’s friends would walk inside the house, they would understand what the “vibe” was. Moving into the middle of the house, there was a spacious yard, decorated with all kinds of plants. Deering had a huge studio, a dining room, a “music” room, and different rooms with all different kinds of arts displayed for his guests to admire.

He was one of the first people to own a refrigerator, and in his kitchen he had a way to alert his servants where they needed to bring him food. After we finished exploring and learning about the inside space, we walked out, in his backyard. He had built a dock, so that his visitors (which usually came by boat), could leave their boats there. There was construction happening while we were visiting, so we were not able to reach some of the areas outside, but we were still able to walk in the majestic garden.

Thanks to professor Bailly, we were able to learn some secrets of this place, such as the little theatre stage and the hidden place in which Deering stored the wine that was brought for him. Although I had already been at Vizcaya, visiting it while actually learning about its history was extremely insightful, and I am glad I had the opportunity to acquire this knowledge.

Margulies Collection as Text

Photo By Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

Elevator Stares” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU at Margulies Collection

 I have never been someone who enjoys contemporary art. I am a lover of Italian Renaissance and anything connected to it. I like to think of art as neat paintings and sculptures and the way in which artists create pieces which “lack” of organising principle has never attracted me. Therefore, as I was speeding towards the entrance of the museum, I was feeling hesitant and slightly annoyed. As soon as I walked in I was greeted by a smell of freshly laid plaster, the walls were a soft white color. The room felt empty, although there were many art pieces neatly exposed. I mentally prepared myself for two long boring hours, but little did I know what was to come. What I learned that day was that, in contemporary art, anything can be viewed as an artistic expression. One particular part of the exhibition that stuck with me was Magdalena Abakanowicz’s piece called “Hurma”. It consisted of 250 figures, with no head, just standing in the room all turned in the same direction. That creates an effect where you can almost feel them staring at you, and it overall felt fairly intimidating. Through this piece, the artist wanted to give the idea of “dehumanization”, since the pieces are in fact bodies, but they are empty and they all look the same.

I also learned that contemporary art can be engaging, such as Leandro Erlich’s piece “Elevator Pitch”. It consists of the structure of an elevator, which opens every few seconds and inside it’s projected people who stare at you. It made all of us chuckle. As I kept observing and interacting with the different parts of the exhibition, I realized that I was having fun. This feeling caught me by surprise. Usually, in museums I have always been expected to be “serious” in order to understand the true meaning of the paintings; but at Margulies Collection, I was having fun, I was laughing, I was interacting with the art and I was genuinely connecting with what the different artists wanted to transmit. It was in that moment that I realized how much I have misinterpreted contemporary art, and how much depth there is in each piece. We finished the visit in front of a sculpture from Will Ryman, which represented the “Last Supper”, but he depicted the disciples in a peculiar way, almost deformed, with big round eyes and disturbing features. Being raised catholic, I have always seen religious pictures as “holy”, perfect in the details and overall armonious and delicate, so this definitely left me perplexed and confused on how to feel. As professor Bailly was explaining this piece of art, he mentioned how it is almost impossible to expose this in a public area. That is because today’s society is “sensitive” regarding certain topics, and this religious representation would definitely create conflicting opinions. Some would be offended by the way in which such important religious figures are depicted, and others would be offended by the idea that a religious piece is being installed in a public place. 

 I believe that this last class of “Discover Miami” gave me something that I never thought I needed, an understanding of the true meaning of contemporary art.

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