Samantha Johnson: Design District 2021

Student Bio

Photo taken by Natalia Sanchez at Vizcaya // CC by 4.0

Samantha Johnson is a Junior at Florida International University working towards a B.A. in Sustainability and the Environment with a minor in Marine Biology. She hopes to achieve not only one day a PHD but also a JD in Environmental Law and use these to make policies that will help the environment or to be involved in research that would promote this. In her free time, she loves to read and hang out with friends, but also loves to go to the beach and is extremely passionate about the environment.


Map of Miami Design District from Google Maps.

The Miami Design District spans 18 square blocks just north of I-95 and Midtown It is located at 25.81266° N, 80.19544° W (Apple Maps). It contains over 100 different stores, along with countless restaurants, bars, and contemporary art.

The urban area is essentially the entire neighborhood. It is well known by influencers for the “Instagram-worthy” photos that they can take here. It is also known for the many different stores and restaurants that it holds, and the luxurious atmosphere. It is breath-taking and it feels like you are in a different city entirely. It is full of expensive stores that feel illegal to look at in plain clothes and beautiful people that look like millionaires. It is clearly modern, and this is something that continuously reminds me of Miami, just how modern everything is.

There aren’t a lot of natural aspects to the Design District. There is a dog park and some greenery here and there, but much of the area is concrete and buildings. It is beautiful, but there isn’t really anything alive that wasn’t put there methodically after the neighborhood had been built. There are trees and shrubs in the alleyways between stores and as you are walking around there are ponds on one of the streets with little fish in it. There are some large trees here and there, but most of the natural aspect of the Design District is planted into large pots or in the middle of the alleys, and although it does go with the theme of the neighborhood, it is clearly an afterthought.


­­All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

The Miami Design District was created by DACRA and Craig Robins. DACRA was established in 1987 and is a real estate development company that develops commercial and residential areas in such a way that it is a distinct combination of culture, commerce, and design. Over the past 30 years, DACRA has been an important aspect in Miami’s ascendance as a global city, and it is part of what gives Miami its name. It has developed more than 2 million square feet in real estate projects, with some of the most well-known ones located in South Beach’s Art Deco District and Lincoln Road. Today, DACRA and its partners are continuing to develop and expand the Miami Design District by pushing the boundaries of Miami design and innovation.

The Miami Design District began to take place in the 1990s when DACRA began buying properties in the area. In 2011, DACRA began buying even more properties and started to house restaurants, stores, bars, art exhibitions and studios, and more. The atmosphere began to form during this time, slowly making the Design District what it is today.

Shortly after, DACRA made an art walk through the Design District. This innovation allows visitors to come at night as well as the daytime. Some other important things to note began occurring in 2009 when Christian Louboutin opened its store in the District. Shortly after, more stores including Dior, Cartier and Louis Vuitton also announced their plans to open stores in the Design District. This is what began to give the area its prestigious aura. In 2012, DACRA revealed plans that would bring more than 100 new retail stores to the area along with new restaurants and a four-block-long three-lined pedestrian walkway through the Design District.

Now, the Miami Design District is seen as a home for art, culture, and design and is set among the highest of luxuries and class.


The Miami Design District is a small neighborhood in Miami Dade County. It gives residents a sparse suburban feel, and it is home to many different bars, restaurants, and stores. It is home to only 3,880 people. 25% of these are households with children. Whites and Hispanics make up most of the population in the area (54%), with the remainder being made up by African Americans (44%) and Latinos (2%). Gender is split almost evenly with 54% of residents being male and 46% female. (Niche)

The real estate in the Design District mostly comprises of small (2-3 bedrooms) and medium size (4-5 bedrooms) properties. The average household income is $44,956. The average price of real estate here is $295,400 and the average price for rent is $2,960 per month (Miami Real Estate Trends). 53% of residents own their homes and 47% of residents rent.

The education levels of the residents here vary with 31% having some college or associate’s degree, 26% having a high school diploma, 15% with a bachelor’s degree, and 11% with a master’s degree or higher.

Interview with Elena Miti

Q: Where are you from?

A: I am originally from New Jersey, but I have been living in South Florida most of my life. I am currently living in Tampa but came to Miami for the weekend with my boyfriend and we decided to check out the Design District.

Q: How did you hear about the Design District?

A: I had been seeing posts about it on Instagram and Twitter and wanted to see what the hype was about. My best friend had also come here a couple months ago and told me that I should visit if I ever had the chance and here I am.

Q: What is your favorite thing about the Design District so far?

A: I really like the architecture so far. I love how each of the buildings is unique, and how even the parking garages have their own theme. I also just really like the atmosphere, and how even though everything is so different it all goes together.

Q: If given the opportunity, would you move to this area?

A: I have been thinking about moving towards the Miami area, but I don’t know if I will. I just moved to Tampa a year ago and haven’t really thought about moving anywhere else yet. In the future, I would maybe like to move down here but that is something that we will have to figure out.


1 – Surrounded by Space by DABSMYLA

Miami Design District has many distinct murals and artwork throughout the neighborhood. This piece, “Surrounded by Space”, was made by the husband-and-wife duo behind DABSMYLA. It is a mural found in Jade Alley. The duos unique style is shown through how they use color theory, perspective, and the unique subject matter. It blurs the boundaries between real life and landscape. This mural is hand-painted with acrylics and is proudly displayed in the Miami Design District.

Address: 160 NE 41th St.Miami, FL 33137

2 – Buckminster Fuller Fly’s Eye Dome

Buckminster Fuller Fly’s Eye Dome
Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

The Buckminster Fuller Fly’s Eye Dome was one of the first things we saw when visiting the Design District. In 1965, Buckminster Fuller designed and patented the Fly’s Eye Dome. He called it an “autonomous dwelling machine”. Prototypes began being built in 1977-1983. Unfortunately, Fuller passed away before he could see his design was completed and he was never able to see the finished product. However, almost 50 years later the building is a part of the green building movement and is proudly displayed in the Miami Design District.

Address: 140 NE 39th St. Miami, FL 33137

3 – Xavier Veilhan: Le Corbusier

Xavier Veilhan: Le Corbusier
Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

This statue was made by the French Artist Xavier Veilhan. It is a larger than life depiction of Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier was a prominent force in what currently defines modern architecture. The piece was originally installed on top of the Cité radieuse (Radiant City), which was one of Le Corbusier’s most famous buildings. By using this placfement, Veilhan has placed himself among the greats as well. Now located in the Design District, Le Corbusier overlooks the Fly’s Eye Dome, which is another influential design in the Design District as well.

Address: 140 NE 39th St. (2nd Floor) Miami, FL 33137


1 – Miami Design District Dog Park

This is the only true green area in the entire Design District. It is located at 81 NE 40th St, Miami, FL 33137. It is a decent sized dog park, but compared to the rest of the Design District, there could definitely be more green areas added.

2 – Potted plants and walkways

Slight greenery in the Design District
Photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

Although this isn’t a specific spot, as you are walking through the Design District there are lots of treen planted in the alleyways where you are walking. There are lots of potted plants used as greenery as well around the stores or in the alleyways. By the Swan restaurant, there is lots of greenery and they have outdoor seating as well. They have a large tree at the entrance that provides for some shade on the hot sunny days.


Unique parking garages
Photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

To get to the Miami Design District, you must drive, unless you live closer
and are able to find another mode of transportation. Coming from FIU, you must drive and find a parking garage once you get there, as with everything else in Miami.

There are a few bus stops around the area as well, so if you can take the bus instead, that would be easier than trying to find parking in the area.

Once you are there however, the easiest way to see everything is to just
walk around. You won’t be able to see all the businesses and restaurants if you
are driving around in your car, and there are streets that are blocked off only
for pedestrians.

I think that the dynamics of transportation around the Design District help to make it even more unique. It is like walking around an outdoor mall, but on a much larger scale. It is beautiful and breathtaking, and by having it set up so that you must walk around and not drive just helps to make it more special. It wouldn’t be the same to drive around the neighborhood, to have the whole experience you need to immerse yourself in it and you won’t be able to do that unless you are in the neighborhood.


There are many places to eat in the Miami Design District. All the businesses are aesthetically pleasing and it is common for influencers to be found taking pictures by them. They have restaurants ranging from bistros to formal dining and casual comfort food. They also have vegetarian and vegan options, along with concepts and cuisine that feature local and seasonal ingredients.

1 – Pura Vida

All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

Pura Vida believes in fresh, simple, sustainable, and local food. Their ingredients are simple, their food is sourced locally and is made fresh every day, they shop consciously and sustainably in order to promote a more sustainable environment, and they buy their ingredients from the Florida grown community to serve fresh and organic food to their guests.

Located in the heart of the Design District, Pura Vida is the newest member to the neighborhood. It is located across from Tom Ford and Givenchy. The inside features oversized pergolas with family sized tables, and from the moment you walk in you feel like you’re at home.

They have options for vegan and gluten-free items which makes it inclusive to everyone. I had the Vegan Lentil Bowl, and my roommates had the Tuna Sprout Sandwich and a smoothie. Along with these they also have all-day breakfast and different types of wraps as well.

Address: 3818 NE 1st Ave, Miami, FL 33137

2 – MC Kitchen

MC Kitchen is a sit down Italian Restaurant located in the Design District. They were established in 2012. It was founded by Dena Marino and Brandy Coletta, who when they met realized they both had a passion for opening a restaurant. They made that dream a reality when they opened MC Kitchen in 2013. Since then, MC Kitchen has become an essential part of the Miami Design District.

The menu showcases modern cooking through the use of organic ingredients, house-cured meats and sausages, and house-made cheeses and pastas. Some of the signature items on their menu include: Fiocchi Di Fermaggio Pera, Garganelli Bolognese, Stone Oven Roasted Octopus, and many more. They also have desserts and a wide selection of drinks as well.

Address: 4141 NE 2nd Ave. Suite 101A, Miami, FL 33137

3 – Japow

Japow is based on the in Japan from the 11th century when ice was collected during the coldest months of winter and were mixed with different saps from flowers and vines to top it in syrup. Today, Japanese shaved ice is called “Kakigori” which still showcases local saps and syrups atop the ice.

Japow was founded to bring this tradition to the U.S. and to be able to enjoy Kakigori. Japow is short for Japanese powdered snow. Their mission is to “create an elevated shave ice done with thoughtful detail, using premium water for our ice-blocks, a fine shave using a traditional Japanese hand-cranked ice shaver, and the highest quality natural fruits and flavor combinations that will wow your taste buds”.

Their daily menu has a few flavors including: strawberry ichigo, mango lassi, matcha, and Cortadito Affogato. They also have limited time flavors including: whimsical watermelon, caramelized banana Nutella, passion fruit, and frozen hot chocolate.

Address: 151 NE 41st Street, Miami, FL 33137


The Miami Design District is filled with many different businesses, big and small. Here are a few that stood out to me on my visit.

1 – Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami

Photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

The Institute of Contemporary Art dedicated to promoting continuous experimentation in contemporary art. They also promote the exchange of art through Miami and internationally. They also provide an international platform for local, emerging, and under-recognized artists. Admission to the institute is free as well. Some of the exhibitions they have on display are by: Pedro Reyes, Mark Handforth, Anthea Hamilton, and more.

When we went, the second floor was being prepared for their newest exhibits, so we were unable to see those. However, I hope to go back and be able to see what they have added and to spend more time in the institute with my newfound love for contemporary art.

2 – Bay Store by Quinaz Studio

This was by far my favorite store to walk in. The Bay Store by Quinaz Studio sells and displays furniture made from debris found in the Biscayne Bay and the Miami River.

The Quinaz Studio was founded by James Quinaz and David Harrison. James moved back to Miami in Summer 2020 in search of a studio where he could produce his own original artwork. Just a few months later, the Bay Store was opened in the Design District, where it lives today.

All work is handmade in Miami, FL. They strive to use sustainable practices that minimize the use of harmful chemicals and materials. 20% of all proceeds go to ARTSail and Blue Scholars Initiative which are two organizations working to connect our community to the Biscayne Bay through art projects and science education.

Address: 151 NE 41st St. Suite 223, Miami, Florida 33137

3 – Aēsop

Aēsop – Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

Aēsop was established in 1987. As with most of the businesses in the design district, they are one of the larger chains. However, they are devoted to sourcing plant-based and laboratory-made ingredients. All products are vegan in nature and are not tested on animals at any point in time. They are committed to being sustainable and climate action by aiming to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2030.

The inside of the store is very similar to the Art Deco found on South Beach. It avoids right angles and contrasting colors, and just focuses on the shapes of the products that they are selling. The shapes and colors used resemble the Brazilian modernist tradition and that found on South Beach.

Address: 160 NE 41st St. Suite 120, Miami, FL 33137


Skyline from atop one of the parking garages and at the contemporary art museum.
Photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

Overall, I think that the Miami Design District is seamless. It is an incredible way to incorporate businesses restaurants and art in such a way that you are immersed into it. Even if you were to take a whole day to walk around the area, you are bound to miss something, there is just so much to see. It was beautiful and it is now one of my favorite places that I have had the opportunity to visit this semester.

I also loved how inclusive it was. The restaurants that we visited had Vegan and Gluten-free options, which is not something that is widely available in my hometown. They also had allergy-sensitive options on top of these and it wasn’t just one or the other. This is something that I am still getting used to since living in Miami, but I have no complaints about it.

My only complaint is I wish that there were more green areas in the neighborhood. For as much space as the Design District takes up, you would think that they would incorporate more greenery. As I mentioned before, most of the greenery that is placed here, as beautiful as it is, just seems like an afterthought. There are very little natural areas that were here before the neighborhood was built, if any. I think that they need to do a better job to incorporate the natural landscape in with the development that they have created.


Samantha Johnson: Miami Service 2021

Student Bio

Photo taken by Natalia Sanchez //CC by 4.o

Samantha Johnson is a Junior at Florida International University working towards a B.A. in Sustainability and the Environment with a minor in Marine Biology. She hopes to achieve not only one day a PHD but also a JD in Environmental Law and use these to make policies that will help the environment or to be involved in research that would promote this. In her free time, she loves to read and hang out with friends, but also loves to go to the beach and is extremely passionate about the environment.


Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Deering Estate located on the Biscayne Bay in Miami, FL. The Deering Estate is one of the few remaining Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) in Miami-Dade County. They are home to 8 different ecosystems including the beach dunes, Biscayne seagrass, hardwood hammock, pine rocklands, mangrove forest, slough, slough remnant, and the salt marsh. The Deering Estate also stewards 120 acres of pine rocklands.

While volunteering with them, we canoed out to a desolate island in the Bay called Chicken Key, where we helped with a beach clean-up. Chicken Key is a seven acre “mangrove island” and nature preserve located a mile offshore from the Deering Estate. It is surrounded by sandbars, tidal flats, and seagrass beds. It is also a bird rookery and is important to many different species of animals and an endangered terrapin species.


Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

I was able to take part in this opportunity as part of my Miami in Miami class through the FIU Honors College. This class is all about seeing Miami through a different light than we may have thought about it before, and to connect with it on a higher level than just seeing it as a busy city.

This relates directly to my major and what I want to do in the future. As a sustainability major, it pains me to see all the single-use plastics that are left on the beach and all the litter that people leave wherever they go. I have been interested in the oceans and the environment ever since I was a child, and it deeply affects me whenever I see how we are affecting the environment firsthand. I want to either be in the research field or be an environmental lawyer in my future, and this experience just helped me to connect to the purpose of why I’m studying this for my career and helped me to refocus on what is important.


Hermit crab found on Chicken Key.
Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

I connected deeply with this opportunity. I am a member of the Panthers Protecting the Ocean club here at FIU and we conduct beach cleanups a few times every month. It is a great opportunity to meet with people and clean up the environment and I enjoy it very much.  However, in my free time, I love to spend time at the beach with friends as well or to just walk along it at home. Whenever someone goes with me, they always remark on how I pick up all the trash I see.  

For years now I have been learning about the plastic pollution issue that we are facing. I have been taking environmental science classes since I was in high school, and experiences like this trip to Chicken Key just help to remind me what I’m working towards. It breaks my heart whenever I go to the beach and see all the pollution but being able to see it on an uninhabited protected island just made my heart break even more. We filled all the bags that we could during our time there, but there was still an incomprehensible amount of pollution on the island, and as disheartening as it sounds it just makes me realize even more why my major is important.  

Where and What

The Deering Estate. Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

We met at the Deering Estate at 10:00AM on October 6th, 2021. From here we walked to where the canoes were, and we then began our one-mile paddle out to Chicken Key. I was a little concerned because I don’t have a whole lot of experience canoeing, I typically prefer to be in a kayak. However, the girls I was with in my canoe had some previous experience as well and we were able to figure it out together.

We made a couple stops along the way and were able to canoe through a part of the mangrove forests and talk about why they are important to Florida and to the environment. We paddled the rest of the way to the uninhabited island after this. Once we got to the island it was evident why there are so many clean-ups being held here. There was pollution everywhere, you could see it from the moment we got to the banks. We spent some time to eat lunch and to swim in the water.

After this we began our cleanup. There were so many different types of debris, ranging from the tiniest microplastics, to bottle caps, to even shoes. I ended up filling up the whole bag that I had and was grabbing as much trash as I could hold as I was walking back.

Once everyone was gathered back where we started, we began our trip back to the Deering Estate. It was harder to get back than it was to get to Chicken Key because the winds had shifted and so had the tide. When we did get back, we had a slight debrief and loaded all the bags into the back of the truck of one of one of the workers, and then we emptied them into the dumpster for a job well done.



Miami in Miami at the Deering Estate. Photo taken by Deering Estate Staff // CC by 4.0

There were a few things that worked in our favor this day and some that didn’t

I think that the most challenging part was that we were canoeing a mile to Chicken Key, and that most people had never done this before. I know that there were many people who were worried about this excursion, but once they were out on the water, they were better. We were unable to go as two separate classes this semester, so both classes had to go this day. This was the hardest part for me personally because it forced me to come out of my comfort zone and be with people that I had never interacted with in the past. It typically takes me several interactions with someone before I am comfortable with them, and I didn’t have this opportunity beforehand. Also, since both classes went together, there weren’t enough canoes for there to be two people to a canoe like there is supposed to be. Most if not all the canoes (including the one I was put in) had to have three people in it, and this made for a challenge when trying to get the weight centered and for working together.

However, I loved that we were using reusable bags for this excursion instead of plastic bags that would produce more trash in the environment. Although I only filled up one, I walked back to camp with my hands completely full of everything else that I picked up along the way that I couldn’t fit in my bag. I spent most of my time picking up the microplastics this day because I know what impacts they have on the wildlife and the environment. It took me a while to fill my bag due to this, but I ended up walking through an area that had countless numbers of plastic bottles and other debris that helped me to fill not only the bag I was holding but others as well.

Overall, I think that this experience was very rewarding for everyone involved. I know that most of the people in my class are not STEM majors, and it was very interesting for me to see their reactions and hear their thoughts about what we were doing. It also helped me get out of my comfort zone to meet new people that I don’t have in my class, and I consider myself to be close friends with some of them due to this experience.

Works Cited

Bailly, John William. “Miami in Miami Destinations.” Miami in Miami, 26 Aug. 2020,

“Campfires Archives.” Deering Estate, The Deering Estate Foundation, 1 Nov. 2021,

“Conservation.” Deering Estate, The Deering Estate Foundation, 2 Nov. 2021,

“Miami Museums: Miami Historical Sites.” Deering Estate, The Deering Estate Foundation, 7 Nov. 2021,

Samantha Johnson: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Photo taken by Faith Tullier //CC by 4.o

Samantha Johnson is a 19-year old junior at Florida International University. She was the youngest at her high school graduation and graduated at 16. She later graduated from Indian River State College with her Associates Degree. Samantha is currently studying Sustainability and the Environment with a minor in Marine Biology. She hopes to one day achieve not only a PHD but also a JD in Environmental Law. In her free time, she loves to read and hang out with friends, but also loves to go to the beach and is extremely passionate about the environment.

Downtown as Text

Downtown Miami.
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

“Walking on History”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Downtown Miami, September 8, 2021.

Miami is rich with history. From the Tequesta who have lived here since its origin, to the railroad being built by Henry Flagler, Miami has faced many changes and diversity.

The Tequesta people had been living in Florida for generations. It is thought that they had lived in South Florida for over 2,000 years. They were one of the first tribes to settle in South Florida and settled in the Biscayne Bay area. They lived along the Miami River, and the chief lived at the mouth of the river. They lived here from about 500 BCE through Spanish colonization until about 1763.  

Miami was founded by Julia Tuttle who lived in the area. She was a rich woman and ran orange groves on her land. In 1894-1895, there was a major freeze that killed off most of the citrus in Florida, but not in Miami. At the same time, Henry Flagler was constructing his railroad to transport citrus to the northern states. The freeze impacted his business immensely and he was later sent a few oranges from Julia Tuttle with the invitation to extend his railroad down to Miami.

When Henry Flagler made the deal with Julia Tuttle to come to Miami, part of the deal was to make a hotel. They decided to build the Royal Palm Hotel. They had to level the mound of an ancient burial ground for construction to begin. The clearing for the hotel began in 1896, and it opened in January of 1897. When the mound was there, it used to face the Miami Circle. The Miami Circle is a source of many archeological findings. It contains many different Tequesta artifacts including shell, stone, bone, and pottery. It is also thought to have been the place where a Tequesta hut was once standing.

Lummus Park is the oldest public park in Miami. It was established in 1909, and holds both the home of William Wagner, and the slave quarters from Fort Dallas. Both of these buildings had been relocated from their original locations because they were going to be demolished. Mary Brickell Park contains the mausoleum of the Brickell family, and now allows visitors to walk through the park with their dogs.

What made the most impact on me when we were walking through Downtown was the realization that we were walking on sacred and hallowed ground. I thought that Downtown Miami was mesmerizing but learning about the history behind it left me with an eerie feeling. From walking through Lummus Park, to walking through Mary Brickell Park, and just through the city itself it all felt wrong knowing what had occurred there. I was in awe of the buildings because I have never lived in such a big city, but learning about the history it felt wrong. It astounds me how there is an archeological site that is now underneath a Whole Foods.

I am a superstitious person by nature and knowing that we had been walking through and walking by ancient burial grounds got underneath my skin. I just kept feeling like I wasn’t supposed to be there. Burial grounds are considered sacred because that’s where people bury their family, friends, loved ones of all kinds. If someone were to go around and disturbing these places nowadays, they would be in trouble, but this did not occur back then. I will never understand how someone could trade precious history and burial sites of someone else’s people just to make a profit. I had a really hard time wrapping my head around the fact that a different people used to live there and had buried their people there. It really saddens me to think about it, but I am not surprised. People will always more about making a profit for themselves than other people, and I truly believe that this is where we have failed as a people. Downtown Miami is just one sign of this, but it has happened all around the world. I just hope that future generations will learn from our mistakes and not make the same ones we did.

Overtown as Text

Overtown – a history.
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

“Misconceptions in History”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Overtown, September 29, 2021

When moving to Miami, I was told to avoid certain neighborhoods because they “are not safe” or “that’s not a side of town you want to be in”, etc. I never questioned this because it was either my parents or my grandparents telling me these things, and they had lived down here for most of their lives. My parents grew up in Hialeah and my grandparents currently reside in Pembroke Pines, and when I mentioned to them that I would be visiting Overtown for class, there was just silence. Then the lecture came, “don’t wander off”, “make sure to stay with your group” and even “that isn’t a good part of town”.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I was caught by surprise. Overtown was beautiful, different, and just stunning overall. I had never walked through a town that has such deep roots and scars from their history, or if I did, I never realized it before. I believe that it is the misconceptions of this town and the history of this town that lead to the concepts and fears that people link to it.

This all relates back to the concept of segregation and racism that the people of Overtown experienced. Overtown was founded in 1896, and was originally called Colored Town. It was created around the time that Henry Flagler was bringing the railroad to Miami. It was built during the time of Jim Crow Laws, and the rules and regulations in the town were created due to these laws.

The Jim Crow Laws were used as a way to control the African American community. They were used all around the country at the time, but in Miami they were used to create Colored Town. It was originally built for the African Americans that were employed by Henry Flagler when he was building his railroad, but it was later used as a community for its Black residents and was a neighborhood that they were forced to reside in.

The most interesting thing to me was when we met members of the oldest black churches in Miami. The members of Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church talked to us about how important the churches are to the community. Both churches were important to the Civil Rights Movement, and Martin Luther King Jr even spoke at Greater Bethel. His speech here was the start of SCLC’s (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) Crusade for Citizenship. There are members of the church that were there the day that he spoke, and we were able to stand where he stood on that day in 1958. They are able to speak about the impact that this interaction had on them, and it was incredible to hear their story and to know that part of history.

After going to these places and talking to the members of the community, I realized that there are a lot of misconceptions about this neighborhood. The people who live here were so welcoming and were happy to tell us about the history of Overtown. I wish we had more time to talk to them and to see more of the city. It made me realize that the things I had been told were outdated. These ideas are from a time where people weren’t openminded, and had made assumptions about he people living in Overtown without knowing any better. This caused the extreme levels of racism and segregation that occurred in this city, and I have come to realize that this is how it starts around the world as well. I now wonder what other places have this stereotype about them and why this may have occurred.

Vizcaya as Text

Vizcaya – architecture and sculptures.
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

“Cultural Appropriation or Ignorance”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, October 20, 2021.

Vizcaya was built in 1912 by James Deering, who envisioned it as a place to live and restore his health. Deering named this place “Vizcaya” to honor both Spain and the Biscayne Bay on which Vizcaya is located. He was greatly interested in landscaping and plant conservation, which helped with the vision as well. He hired both Paul Chaflin and Diego Suarez to help bring his vision to life. Chaflin was his Artistic Director and Suarez was the Landscape Architect. As you are walking through both the house and the gardens, you can see the Spanish, Italian, and French influence. You can clearly see how these different cultures have made their way into Vizcaya and have become part of its character.

When you are first walking around the grounds, you see statues of Ponce de Leon and Belvizcaya. They are carved out of stone and have a distinct Roman feeling to them; they resemble the carvings that would’ve been seen around the city and are like those of the Greek and Roman gods in that manner. 

When you start heading down towards the house, you see an archway that clearly has Roman influence in it. It has shields and helmets which date back to the wars from this era and makes you wonder if it is appropriate for it to be shown in someone’s house. Inside the house there is a statue of Dionysus (The Greek god of wine and ecstasy) welcoming you into the home. This tells you a lot about James Deering himself and how his house is used for parties and makes me wonder if he knew who this god was and what he represented or if he just liked that he was holding wine and decided to use it in the fountain.

Later when walking through the gardens you will encounter a fountain that looks like it was plucked out of the middle of a French Square. It doesn’t make sense to be in Miami, and yet it fits in with the bizarre atmosphere of the whole area. Another section of the garden has a maze that closely resembles the Labyrinth in Greek mythology. In mythology the Labyrinth was created by Daedalus and was used to contain the mythological creature the minotaur.

After walking through Vizcaya, through the gardens and all the available rooms in the house, I got to thinking about how different the atmosphere is everywhere you walk. James Deering seems like any billionaire nowadays, where they see something they want and they have enough money to buy it, and then they do whatever they want with it. This feels like a form of cultural appropriation since Deering has adopted all these different symbols and themes seen around the grounds.

Mythology is important because it reflects on past civilizations and allows us to learn about them and how they lived. Knowing that James Deering just thought it looked cool completely takes away the importance of mythology and why it even exists. As with the Roman arch, knowing that the symbols on it were used for people who were involved in the war to respect them, and then using them on the arch because it went with the theme without knowing what they were used for is just another inappropriate way that they have been integrated into society.

I have come to realize that when this happens, most people don’t know that they are disrespecting these cultures. I think that as a society we should learn more about these different cultures so that it doesn’t seem like we are stealing or disrespecting their beliefs. I know that this is hard to do 100% of the time, but when it comes to buying things for your mansion or your home, I feel like you should at least know the meaning behind it. I wonder what other places are like this around the country, and am continuously shocked that someplace so beautiful can have such a dark history.

South Beach as Text

South Beach – beauty and inspiration.
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

“Strong Women Empower Women”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at South Beach, Miami, November 3, 2021.

South Beach is one of the most popular places to visit in Miami, and rightly so. It is a beautiful area with a unique atmosphere, it is truly remarkable. The designs of Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival, and Miami Modern, are unlike anything I have ever seen. It was all so unique, and you can see why it is so popular amongst tourists.

As many people know, I am studying sustainability for my degree, and I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that South Beach was once a mangrove forest. It is a barrier island set between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean and was essential to the Seminoles who lived here at the time and was also important to marine life because mangroves are estuaries. When Carl Fisher began development of Miami Beach, it caused the destruction of the mangrove forests on the island to occur and has led to many of the environmental issues that Miami Beach is facing today.

However, this isn’t what stood out to me. I wasn’t surprised to learn that this area had experienced environmental degradation in order to become what it is today. I was most inspired by the other woman of Miami who made an impact on this city. Miami is well-known for being influenced by strong women. Julia Tuttle is known for being essentially founding Miami, but now we have Barbara Baer Capitman in Miami Beach.

Barbara Baer Capitman is known for founding the Miami Design Preservation League in 1977. The Miami Design Preservation League is an organization that “preserves, protects, and promotes, the architectural, cultural, social, and environmental integrity of Miami Beach and the surrounding areas. It’s sole purpose is to fight to protect and preserve the neighborhood that makes South Beach, South Beach. By 1979, the National Register of Historic Places listed a square-mile Art Deco district on its register. Capitman died in 1990, but in her time, she had devoted her life to preserving this neighborhood, and I think that is so impressive and inspiring.

Learning about Barbara Capitman has just shown me even more how one person can make a difference. Seeing what she has done and knowing that if she hadn’t stood up for this place that it would have been demolished and replaced with skyscrapers just shows how impressive she is. The Art Deco district is beautiful and thriving due to her efforts to protect it, and just caring enough to even want to save this beautiful place. For her it wasn’t about the money, it was just about keeping the neighborhood as it was, and I think that is amazing.

I aspire to be someone who makes a difference. Learning about these powerful women in Miami makes me strive for this goal even more. I don’t want fame or fortune; I just want to be remembered for doing my best and making a difference. I love learning about people that our history books have left out. Before this class, I had never heard about half the people we have talked about, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have shaped this community. Capitman strived to protect what she loved, and that is what I want to do as well. I can’t wait to learn more about these incredible people, and hope to one day have my name up on that list as well.

Deering as Text

Deering Estate- a Natural Bliss.
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.o

“Escape from Reality”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Deering Estate, November 17, 2021.

The Deering Estate is one of the only places in Miami that shows how it was before urbanization and industrialization. It still contains all of the Aspects that Miami had before it was called Miami, before Flagler brought his railroad down, before Vizcaya was built, and before everything else that happened on this land.

It is made up of 8 distinct ecosystems including: beach dunes, Biscayne seagrass, hardwood hammock, pine rocklands, mangrove forest, slough, slough remnant, and the salt marsh. The Deering Estate stewards 120 acres of pine rocklands. The pine rocklands used to encompass over 186,000 acres, but nowadays they only cover 2% of their historical range. The largest intact section that remains encompasses less than 4,000 acres in Long Pine Key, within the Everglades National Park. The Deering Estate is devoted to preserving and protecting these natural ecosystems and the native plants and wildlife that live within them.

The Deering Estate is also home to the Cutler Fossil Site and the Cutler Burial Mound. The Cutler Fossil Site was excavated in the 1980s and is considered to still be an active site. It has revealed a Paleo-Indian shelter and bones from the megafauna (animals/organisms) that lived here during this time in the era known as the Pleistocene Era when sea levels were much lower than they are currently. The Cutler Burial Mound is one of the few remaining prehistoric mounds in Miami-Dade County. The mound is about 40 by 20 feet at its base and is about 5 feet high. It is believed to contain 12-18 burials of the Tequesta peoples. (*DISCLAIMER*: These areas are not open to the public! You need permission from the Deering Estate to visit, they provide guided tours to the Cutler Burial Mound if you go to their website!)

As a sustainability major, this was one of my favorite trips in this class so far. It is so important to keep these natural places in the environment when industrialization is threatening to take them all away. I love how even in Miami, a city that is so busy and constantly changing with the times, that there are places like the Deering Estate that you can go to that take you back to a time where any of this ever existed. The Deering Estate is located on the Biscayne Bay, but it is in an industrialized neighborhood. Just down the road there is a Starbucks and a Subway, and it is crazy to think about these things when you are in the Estate. Just being here takes all of your worries away and brings you back to your foundations. It helps you connect to the land and the people who lived here before you, and this is something that not many people are able to experience. Just by standing in this area where the Tequesta people stood and lived, made me realize once again just how finite life is. It is so important to be able to be a part of something like this, to be able to bring yourself back to nature and take away all of your worries in this life. Life is more than work or school, and being able to go here, just helped me reconnect to life and what it means to be alive, as cheesy as that may sound.

Rubell as Text

Exhibitions in the Rubell Museum.
Photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

“Something More”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Rubell Museum, November 24, 2021.

The Rubell Museum (previously called the Rubell Family Collection) was created by Don and Mera Rubell. The Rubell family has been collecting art for the past 54 years. Their collection consists of 7,200 works by more than 1,000 artists, and they are continuously adding to it.

We had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Rubell herself. When asked about which piece was her favorite, she explained that it is a nearly impossible question, like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. She continued by describing how during different periods of her life, she has had different pieces that mean more to her than others, but it isn’t necessarily her “favorite”. She said that it depends on what is going on in her life, and I think that it’s beautiful that she sees her life in the pieces that she collects. She described how the exhibit that relates to her life the most right now is the candle exhibit in the front room. She described it as both candles representing her and her husband, and how the candles are on different tracks in life, they still intertwine in the middle. This meant a lot to me because it just helps to relate to how even though you and your significant other may be on different walks in life, you can still make it work because your lives will overlap at one point or another. I think that it is a beautiful representation of how life works in mysterious ways and brings you to the people you are meant to be with.

Before this trip, I had never truly understood the concept of contemporary art, it never stood out to me. I never found something that drew my attention away from everything that I had been worrying about that morning, until I came here. I loved having the opportunity to hear from Mrs. Rubell herself but being able to immerse myself into the works of Yayoi Kusama was by far my favorite part of the day. Both the “Lets Survive Together” (the infinity mirrored room) and “Where the Lights in My Heart Go” exhibits were so mesmerizing. I loved the how the mere 30 seconds that I spent in both exhibits felt like a lifetime, I didn’t want to leave. The “Where the Lights in My Heart Go” exhibit completely took my breath away as I felt like I was standing in the stars. It was these exhibits that made me realize that art isn’t just something that is for art majors, but it can be enjoyed by everyone. I truly feel like they connected me to something bigger, and I would do anything to have spent longer in these rooms.

Untitled as Text

Untitled Art Fair – South Beach Miami.
Photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0


By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Untitled Art Miami Beach, December 1, 2021.

Untitled Art is “An innovative and inclusive platform for discovering contemporary art. It balances intellectual integrity with cutting-edge experimentation, refreshing the standard fair model by embracing a unique curatorial approach.”.

It was founded in 2012 by Jeff Lawson. This year there are over 145 international galleries and organizations featured. Not only do they have these international galleries, but they also connect the best of contemporary art with live events and artist performances and are expected to have more than 40,000 attendees during Miami Art Week.

While walking around the art fair, I realized just how much it made sense that we have this in Miami. Miami is such a rich and diverse community with many different peoples and cultures. It is something that you won’t find in any other city, it’s just “Miami”. It is so much more than a city where people party all the time or drive fancy cars, it is full of people from so many different backgrounds

Just how each piece is different, so is every person that lives here. Every piece has its own story and background, and some may not make sense to you but will make sense to someone else instead. Each piece is original and makes sense in its own country or culture, but they also make sense here in a completely different area amongst other pieces that are amazing in their own way. I loved seeing how the art from Ghana as bizarre as it may have been, made sense when placed next to that of France or Miami. They were all different, but when put together under the same roof it was all Art, there were no differences.

I think that this is what not only drew me to Miami, but to contemporary art as well. I never thought I would be living in a big city, much less the place my parents moved away from, but the more I researched FIU and the more I have learned since I moved here, it is a decision that will change my life forever. I link this to contemporary art because I had never understood the concept of contemporary art before this class, but after seeing how everyone has different ideas and they are all so beautiful in their own way, I am more interested in it than ever before and I want to take the time to go to more art fairs and museums in the future. I think that it is incredible how one trip made me see art differently, and I love how I am connecting this to the city that once stressed me out, but I am now so over my head in love with.

Everglades as Text

Everglades National Park
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0.


By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Everglades National Park, January 12, 2022.

The Everglades National Park is a critically important ecosystem in South Florida. It is an hour drive away from the craziness of Miami and entering it can only be described as entering another world.

It encompasses exactly what South Florida used to be before industrialization. It is a beautiful landscape that encompasses 1.5 million acres of tropical and subtropical habitat and is one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. It is home to about 40 threatened species, 300 fish species, 50 species of reptiles, 300 species of birds, and 40 species of mammals, including the American Alligator which is a keystone species and the invasive Burmese Python.

One of the most important communities in the Everglades is that of the Periphyton. Periphyton at first glance doesn’t look like much, but it is essential to life in the Everglades. It is a community of organisms including cyanobacteria, dinoflagellates, algae, fungi, microbes, plant detritus, and small invertebrates. As a primary producer it is the foundation of the food chain and is essential for the primary consumers that live there. It also creates a habitat for many small creatures including worms, insects, and even eggs, on its surface or inside it. Periphyton is also especially important because it is excellent at absorbing water, so during the dry season animals will still be able to use it as a source of water after all the water around it has dried up.

We walked through the Cypress Dome as well, which is also important to this ecosystem. It is home for many species of wading birds, fish, orchids, and air plants, and it is also where alligator holes may be found. Cypress domes are so interesting because it is made up of Bald Cypress trees, and the oldest trees are found in the center while the young ones are found on the outskirts. In the middle of the dome the water is deepest because the ground will start to give away under the oldest trees, and Cypress trees can’t survive in that deep of water so it will continue to deepen as the older trees begin to die off. This is also when alligator holes begin to form. Alligator holes are important to wading birds and fish especially during the dry season because it is one of the only places where water is stored during this time, which is what makes alligators a keystone species.

This all just brings me back concept of home. When I think of home, I am tossed between my home where my parents are, my dorm where I currently reside, or I often think of my relationships because when I’m with them I feel at home regardless of where we may be. Home is different for everyone, but the characteristics are the same, it’s somewhere where you are safe and protected, have shelter, food, and water, and perhaps are surrounded by your loved ones. The Everglades has all these aspects for the species that live in it, and it feels this way for me as well.

When I am here, I feel completely at peace, like I am at home. Even though I am far away from my parents and those I love, I love being here because it is just another part of me. I love being able to go to these places and to connect with them. We took a moment in the Prairie to find a spot and just stand in silence for a minute, and it was so calming. Hearing all the sounds of the birds, feeling the rush of the wind, and the sogginess of my shoes was oddly comforting, and I would do anything to go back and do this again. It is so important to connect to the environment and whenever I can do this I just feel at ease, and I can’t explain it any better than being at “home”.

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