Samantha Johnson: Key Biscayne 2022

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.


Map of Key Biscayne from Goofle Maps

Key Biscayne spans 1.40 mi2 (3.63 km2) between Crandon Park and Bill Baggs State Park. It is located at 25.691145, -80.164840 (Apple Maps). It has a countless number of stores and restaurants, good for both the community who lives there and those who come to visit. Most of the area is homes, townhouses, and communities, but there are hotels by the beach along with nature areas and other necessities to live there.

The urban area is essentially the entire neighborhood. It is made up of townhouses, homes, and gated communities. There are countless shops and businesses in Key Biscayne as well. The majority of the businesses and restaurants were along the strip in the middle along Crandon Blvd, which allows for both sides of the Blvd to be used for houses and developments.

The natural landscape is obviously an important part to the nature of Key Biscayne. Not only is it in between two major parks (Bill Baggs State Park and Crandon Park), but it also has several smaller green areas within its borders (Village Green Park, Lake Park, East Enid Linear Park, and the Civic Center Park). You can see more green parts on the map, smaller parks, and places to walk around as well. My favorite part was how well they incorporated even more green while just driving and walking around. Throughout the neighborhoods there were large trees covering the streets and the yards were lined with so much green. Even driving down Crandon Blvd there were palm trees in the median along with other plants, and on the sidewalks where the shopping plazas were there was so much green as well.


Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

Key Biscayne was first occupied by the Tequesta people until Ponce de Leon claimed it for the King of Spain in 1513. Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821, and shortly after Mary Ann Davis purchased the island and sold three acres to the U.S. Government to be used as a military reservation, where the Cape Florida Lighthouse would later be built and lit for the first time in 1825. (History of Key Biscayne, Florida)

The Davis family laid out the first town on Key Biscayne in 1839. As Key Biscayne began to prosper farmers began arriving from the north to set up plantations. A popular one that most people know is the coconut plantation by William John Matheson. Matheson died in 1930, but his three children each owned a part of the plantation. They donated the northern half to the public and the county in return built a causeway from the key to the mainland. In 1950, the middle half was purchased to build 289 homes for veterans. They also built the Key Biscayne Villas on the Beach, along with a shopping center and a school. The lower half of the island was purchased to make a state park (Bill Baggs) in 1966. (History of the Island of Key Biscayne)

The Village of Key Biscayne was incorporated in 1991.


Key Biscayne is a suburb located in Miami-Dade County. It gives residents an urban feel with many restaurants, coffee shops, and parks. Most of the residents are the owners of their homes, not many people rent here. It is home to 12,915 people, with many of them being retirees (Niche).

Graph of Population Density of Key Biscayne from World Review

Whites make up the majority of the population in the area (96.63%), with the remainder being made up by “two or more races” (1.46%), other race (1.39%), Asian (0.29%), Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (0.18%), and Black or African American (0.05%) (World Population Review). Gender is split almost evenly with 52% of residents being female and 48% being male (Niche).

The average household income in Key Biscayne is $226,086. Rentals average at about $2,548 per month, and houses average at about $1.21 million (World Population Review). 70% of residents own their homes and 30% of residents rent. Most of the residents in Key Biscayne have either a master’s degree or higher (36%) or a bachelor’s degree (37%). There are few who have some college or an associate degree (17%) and 8% have a high school diploma (Niche).

Interview with Grace Mahuron:
A resident of Key Biscayne
Grace Mahuron with her service dog Hope.
Photo taken by Grace Mahuron // Used with permission

Q: Where are you from?

A: I have been living in South Florida my whole life, and just came to Key Biscayne with my parents a few years ago.

Q: What is your favorite part about living in Key Biscayne?

A: My favorite part about Key Biscayne is how close we are to the beaches. I love being outside and in nature, so being so close to the beaches is just wonderful. I also love being close to Village Green Park and the Dog Park and being able to take my dogs there to run around.

Q: Do you think you will stay here for a while, and would you recommend living here to someone else?

A: I don’t know if I will continue living here when I finish school and move out, even though I really enjoy living here. I personally don’t think I will be able to afford living here on my own, but if you can afford it and want to be close to these places, I would definitely recommend it.


1 – Key Biscayne Community Center

Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

The Key Biscayne Community Center opened on October 30, 2004. It is located adjacent to Village Green Park and is a vital part of the community. It provides a wide variety of amenities including: basketball, indoor playground, dance/aerobic studios, a computer lab, a fitness center, and much more. It is open from 6AM to 10PM Monday through Friday, and 7AM to 3PM on Saturdays.

Address: 10 Village Green Way, Key Biscayne, FL 33149

2 – Key Biscayne Fire Department

Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

The Key Biscayne Fire Department is led by Chief Eric Lang and is recognized as an all-hazards response agency. This means that personnel are required to respond to and handle responses to fire and medical emergencies, collapsed structures, hazardous materials, car accidents, and floods.

On September 10, 1998, the Key Biscayne Fire Department was awarded the “International Accredited Agency Status” by the Board of Directors for the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. It became the 10th department in the world and the 1st in Florida to receive this recognition.

Address: 560 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, FL 33149

3 – Cape Florida Lighthouse

Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

The Cape Florida Lighthouse is located at the tip of Key Biscayne in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. It is the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade and was first built in 1825. It has survived almost 200 years of erosion, hurricanes, wars with Seminole native Americans, and an explosion within it. It was damaged during the Second Seminole War and had to be rebuilt and refurbished. This was finished in 1846 and had another 30 feet added to it. (Florida State Parks)

Bill Baggs State Park hosts tours of the lighthouse five days a week with 2 tours a day, one at 10AM and the other at 1PM. they do not host tours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The lighthouse has 109 stairs that guests must be able to climb if they want to reach the top. (Cape Florida Light)

Address: Cape Florida Lighthouse, 1200 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, FL 33149


1 – Bill Baggs State Park

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

Bill Baggs State Park is located at the tip of Key Biscayne and is just 15 minutes from the hustle and bustle that is Downtown Miami. It is home to the Cape Florida Lighthouse which was built in 1825, and has an immense amount of history surrounding it. It is the oldest structure in Miami-Dade County, and has almost 200 years of history within its walls.

Bill Baggs State Park has many activities other than visiting the lighthouse. They have several walking and biking trails that wind through the native vegetation. It has several picnic tables and food concessions as well. Fishermen are often found along the seawall alongside Biscayne Bay. There are also two onsite restaurants, the Lighthouse Café, and the Boaters Grill. They both serve Cuban food, sandwiches, and drinks. The park is open 365 days a year from 8:00AM until sundown. (Key Biscayne Chamber)

Address: 1200 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, FL 33149

2 – Crandon Park

Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

Crandon Park was a donation made to Miami-Dade County in 1940 by the heirs of Commodore William John Matheson, who originally used the land as a coconut plantation. Their only condition was that the land would be used as a public park. In exchange for the land, Charles Crandon of the County Commission offered to have the County build a causeway that would connect Key Biscayne to the mainland. (Heritage)

Crandon Park offers visitors the chance to explore various ecosystems located on the Key including the dunes, mangroves, coastal hammocks, and seagrass beds, and to also observe wildlife including herons, ospreys, and butterflies along with plants that are not often found anywhere else. Crandon Park also contains the Bear Cut Preserve, which is a designated Environment Study Area, and shows what South Florida looked like in the past. Crandon Park also has a two-mile beach that is one of the most popular recreation destinations in all of Miami-Dade. (Facility Description)

Address: 6747 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, FL 33149

3 – Village Green Park

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

Village Green Park encompasses 9.5 acres of land and is located in the heart of Key Biscayne. It contains several multi-use fields, a half-mile jogging course, a community bandstand, splash fountain, and a small pavilion. There is also a dog park on the north side.

Village Green has multiple multipurpose fields at the north and south sides of the parl. They have portable baseball and softball backstops, soccer goals, and football goals which are set up for different teams during the sports seasons. When they are not in use, there are often people out there playing and flying kites.

Village Green Park also has a playground which has areas for both toddlers and older children, a splash fountain, and a shade pavilion with benches. The toddler play area has a shade canopy above it, and the knee wall alongside Fernwood Road also provides protection to the children in the park as well.

Address: 450 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, FL 33149


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

To get to Key Biscayne, you must drive, unless you live closer and are able to find another mode of transportation. Coming from FIU, you must drive, but depending on where you are going (Bill Baggs, Crandon Park, or just visiting the restaurants in the area) there is decent parking everywhere.

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. While I was driving through the townhouses and the neighborhood, it was clear that most of the residents use golf carts to get around, which I thought was quite interesting.

Once you are there however, the easiest way to see everything is to just walk around. Although everything seems pretty spread out, I was able to see everything during my trip by just parking at my first destination and walking to find the rest. It is also pedestrian friendly and has crosswalks everywhere and signs to remind cars to watch for pedestrians and big flashy lights for when you are crossing the street.

It was quite daunting to drive through here at first and to figure out where I was going. I usually just drive through this little town to get to the beaches and to Bill Baggs, and never really thought about the dynamics of it before this project. I was also surprised because it reminded me a lot of a town back home where I live, with the number of townhouses that were around seeing lots of residents driving golf carts instead of regular cars. There was even golf cart specific parking! I suppose that if you were living here, it would make sense to just drive a golf cart around because everything you need is close together, unless you have to leave the village.


1 – Artisan Kitchen and Bar

Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

Artisan Kitchen strives to bring “honest, simple and healthy food” made from scratch every day to serve their guests using the “best ingredients available”. They serve Venezuelan Cuisine, and serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desserts.

For breakfast they are known for: many different types of arepas or cachapas and also serve tequenos, croissants, and omelettes.

For lunch they are known for: different types of sandwiches, empanadas, croquettes, and salads.

For dinner they are known for: signature dinners such as grilled octopus, and huevos estrellados, and also have Venezuelan bites, Spanish bites, and bruschettas.

Address: 658 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, FL 33149

2 – Milanezza Kitchen Bar Market

Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

Milanezza is an Argentinian restaurant in Key Biscayne. They are known for private dining and to host private parties. Their outdoor terrace and indoor dining area are ideal for hosting private events. They accept large party reservations and buyouts in advance. For parties they transform the main dining area into a dance floor with disco lights and a DJ. They offer small bites menus and Open Bar packages.

They are known for their fresh market items which include a variety of Argentina products, breads, chicken, cold cuts, cheeses, empanadas, seafood, fruits and vegetables, meats and sauces, and homemade pastas and sauces.

For their regular menu they are known for: tapas, empanadas, different appetizers, different types of homemade pastas, salads, burgers and sandwiches, and of course Milanezza.

Address: 700 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, FL 33149

3 – El Gran Inka

Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

El Gran Inka is a Peruvian restaurant located in Key Biscayne. They have another location in Dolphin Mall as well. They have 12 restaurants open and operating throughout the U.S., Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. They bring the “most typical Peruvian dishes through unique creation of dishes with a touch of gourmet”.  They provide a “gastronomic and cultural experience” which helps to maintain its unique atmosphere.

On their menu they are well-known for their ceviche bar with many different types of ceviche, but also serve tiraditos, sushi rolls, and other options from the oven and gill, and from the sea.

Address: 606 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, FL 33149


1 – The Island Shop

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

The Island Shop in Key Biscayne has been open for more than 30 years. They have a wide range product selection with everything from home décor, table and bed linens, candles, baby clothes, jewelry, and much more. It is very popular for tourists and locals alike.

They believe that their product lines are made so that no customer that comes in will leave empty-handed. They say that there is something unique for everyone that you need to buy for. They are also known to personalize stationary, stickers, create wedding invitations, and much more. (The Island Shop)

They are open Monday-Saturday from 10AM to 6PM and are closed on Sundays.

Address: 654 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, FL 33149

2 – Tinky’s Gift Shop

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

Tinky’s Gift Shop isn’t your typical tourist trap gift shop. It has gifts for everyone that you may need to buy for, and it is a great small business to buy from. The prices may be a bit more than what you would spend at a local store, but they have items that you won’t find otherwise outside of the Key.

Tinky’s Gift Shop is open from 10AM-6PM Monday-Saturday and are closed on Sundays.

Address: 608 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, FL 33149

3 – Velisa Salon

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

Velisa Salon is a Beauty Salon in Key Biscayne. They provide beauty, cosmetic, and personal care. It is in the same plaza as Tinky’s Gifts, El Gran Inka, The Island Shop, and Artisan Kitchen and Bar. They provide many services including haircuts, dyes, highlights, styling, and manicures.

Velisa Salon is open from 9AM-7PM Tuesday through Saturday.        

Address: 606 Crandon Boulevard, Key Biscayne, FL 33149


Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

Overall, I think that Key Biscayne is a beautiful community. I love how everything goes together so well, and how close everything is to the beach as well as Bill Baggs and Crandon Park. I enjoyed walking through the neighborhood and finding out where everything was. It is a neighborhood that I had never really thought about since I normally only see it in passing as I am driving to Bill Baggs and back. I never had a reason to stop here before, and I was pleasantly surprised. They have a wide variety of restaurants and stores, and it was probably comical to see me walking around in awe at how much they had to offer. I also loved how they incorporated their green areas into the neighborhood. The placement of the trees and shrubs along Crandon Blvd and all the side streets just brings everything all together. Also, by having Village Green Park is right on Crandon Blvd so you see it as you are driving, it shows just how lively the neighborhood is, and I think that it was well done.

My only complaint is how close the houses are to each other on the East side as you are driving south on the island. I drove through here to see the neighborhood and to see how everything was laid out, and found it surprisingly hard, and my car isn’t even that large. However, I think part of the problem was because it was very busy by Key Biscayne Community Church, and it looked like they were holding a fundraiser of some sort. This made it challenging to drive through as there were cars parked everywhere, and I was surprised that they had houses right across the street from the church. I understand why most of the residents drive golfcarts on the island, it seems like it would make navigating through these areas much easier.


Samantha Johnson: Miami Service 2022

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 Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, FL. 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.

Deering 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. It is breathtaking and truly beautiful.


The different weeds we pulled that were once taking over the gardens.
Photos taken and edited 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 to my major and what I want to do in the future. As a sustainability major, I love to spend time outside and in nature. Volunteering at Vizcaya gave me the opportunity to give back to a place that I love to visit, and to help them with maintaining their gardens. They only have three horticulturalists on site, and it is challenging for them to keep up with all the maintenance that needs to be done. It was calming to be able to spend time in Vizcaya and get away from the craziness of final exams and everything that comes with the end of the year. I enjoyed helping the staff at Vizcaya and hope to go back again sometime.


A picture of the weeds I had pulled from one section.
Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

I connected deeply with this opportunity. I was excited to be able to volunteer with an organization that I love to visit, and to help them continue keeping their gardens beautiful like they have for years. I loved being able to just take time for myself because that isn’t something I have been prioritizing lately. Even though I was still doing something for my class, it was calming to sit in the gardens and just breathe. I didn’t have anything I needed to do at that moment, and it was refreshing to be somewhere without having to worry about everything that I needed to work on once I got back home. This opportunity helped me remember that I love to volunteer and give back to the community, and it is something I need to fit into my busy schedule. I hadn’t done anything like this all semester and knowing that I was doing something good for me and my mental health, but also good for Vizcaya, made me feel fulfilled and helped me to refocus on what is important.

Where and What

Our volunteer group working in the gardens.
Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

On April 9th, 2022, I met up with Natalia (a fellow classmate in Miami in Miami) and we drove over to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. We had to be there by 9AM and were expected to be there until 12PM. This volunteer opportunity was open to the public, so when we got there, we met up with the rest of the volunteers that were also spending their morning there. We met David Hardy, the horticulturalist that oversaw our group. We began walking as a group to where we were going to volunteer, and he told us about Vizcaya and a bit about the gardens. He also explained what we would be doing for him in the gardens, and why what we were doing was so important. He was the one that told us that Vizcaya only has three horticulturalists and that they greatly appreciate their volunteers.

Once we got to the area that we would be working in, David explained to us that we were there to pull the weeds that were beginning to overtake that section of the garden. He showed us which ones to pull and gave us the tools we needed to begin. It sounded very simple, and I didn’t think much of it until we began.

When we started, everyone had gloves, a spade to carefully dig up the weeds, a cushion to put our knees on and reduce the strain on our backs, and we all had either a trash bag or a large flowerpot/bucket. I personally took the bucket because I figured it would be easier for me to carry around. I began in the section furthest from the rest of the group. I didn’t want to be in someone else’s space knowing that I would be annoyed if someone was in mine. Walking through this section I thought it was crazy how many weeds there were. Whenever I have come to Vizcaya, I had never noticed this, and I assume that most of the visitors wouldn’t have either. What I had previously thought was just part of the design turned out to be weeds stuck in spaces they weren’t supposed to be. Even after I thought I had pulled all the weeds in my area, I realized that there were several I had missed every time I turned around. It was very tedious, but enjoyable. I then understood why it is so important for people to volunteer, especially with this organization, because there just isn’t enough labor to be able to keep up with what is needed.

We finished volunteering around 12pm and went back to meet with David. We began dumping out our buckets into the trash bags, and it was rewarding to see how the work each of us did add up when it was all put together. We loaded everything up onto his golf cart and returned all the tools that we had used. We thanked David for giving us the opportunity to volunteer with Vizcaya and to give back, and he thanked us for coming out and taking time out of our Saturday morning to volunteer and help lower the workload that the horticulturalists must do by themselves.



The results of our volunteer opportunity.
Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

As I’ve said before, I really enjoyed volunteering at Vizcaya. The whole experience was well organized, I don’t think there was anything that could’ve been better, it all worked well, and I want to come back to volunteer again. I enjoyed working in the gardens and am grateful that it gave me the opportunity to recenter myself and take time to do something that I love instead of going 100 miles a minute like I normally do.

I think that this experience was very rewarding for everyone involved and will recommend it to anyone who asks me about volunteer opportunities in the area. even though I am going home for the summer, I can’t wait to be back in the fall and make time to volunteer with them again before I graduate.

Works Cited

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

Bailly, John William. “Vizcaya History.” Miami in Miami, 18 Jan. 2019,

“What’s in a Name?” Vizcaya, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, 7 Sept. 2021,

“Who Was James Deering?” Vizcaya, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, 24 Aug. 2021,

You too can volunteer at Vizcaya! Follow the link below:

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”.

Coral Gables as Text

Coral Gables – “the City Beautiful”
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

“More than Words”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Coral Gables, January 26, 2022.

What stood out to me the most on this trip, was not only the controversial past with its founder George Merrick, but just how the whole neighborhood went together. From the architecture of the Biltmore to the Books & Books that was once a clinic, Miracle Mile, and the Coral Gables Museum which was originally the fire department, there was something new to look at around every corner and a story behind everything.

Coral Gables was founded in 1925 by George Merrick. He wanted the city to be attractive to both businesses and residents. When speaking to his salesman he would say “Remember that what you are selling here is not just land. It is not just a piece of ground on which to put a house. What you are really selling is romance, the stars, the moon, the tropics, the wind off the blue water and the perfume of flowers that never grew in northern climates.”

While walking around the city, I was surprised at how different it was from other parts of Miami that I have been to, but also how similar it was in relation to Vizcaya and South Beach. Merrick was greatly influenced by James Deering’s Vizcaya and Charles Deering’s House. The area is filled with wide, tree-lined avenues that are named after Spanish and Italian towns. Most of the buildings were built in Mediterranean Revival, which is what Merrick took from Mexico and Central America, and contains plazas, parks, and fountains. Even though this is something I wouldn’t normally expect to see, I wasn’t surprised that it is in Miami.

We made a visit to the Biltmore, and as beautiful as it was inside, my favorite part of walking through Coral Gables was walking down Miracle Mile. I loved how it was made so pedestrians could walk through at a distance away from the cars. It was very charming and unlike anything I had seen at home. Miracle Mile is an outdoor shopping mall with over 150 ground floor businesses and hundreds more upper-level office spaces. My favorite part were the signs made by Hank Willis Thomas named “The truth is I welcome you“. It features “messages of truth” translated into 22 different languages. Each sign contains a line from the Truth Poem written by Hank Willis Thomas and Ryan Alexiev. The phrases of the poem “showcase universal statements about the human condition and the translations communicate the essence of each English statement, as opposed to a direct interpretation”. I thought that they were beautiful, and they resonated with me in way that I can’t explain.

River of Grass as Text

Nike Missile Site and the Everglades.
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0


By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Everglades National Park, February 16, 2022.

This trip to the Everglades was different. We hiked through and saw two of the oldest structures in the Everglades, but what stood out to me on this trip was our stop at the Nike Missile Site.

The Nike Missile Site was completed in 1965 in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. This was the closest the U.S. ever came to a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union. The site includes: three missile basins, a missile assembly building, a guard dog kennel, barracks, and 2 Nike Hercules missiles.

By the time the site had finished construction in 1965, it had 22 buildings and 18 surface-to-air Nike missiles. The site was fully functional from 1965-1979 and remains virtually the same today as it did in 1979. It was added to the Register of Historic Places in 2004.

What fascinates me about this whole thing, is how President Kennedy handles the situation. Even though they were in the face of war, he kept his cool and made his decisions based on his prior experiences. He knew what it had been like to be in war, and he didn’t want to do that again. He was mocked for insisting on using a blockade, but if he had not done this, he would have started a nuclear war. If he had allowed his troops to invade, they would have encountered over 10,000 Soviet troops and would have been massacred.

All I can do is compare this to what is currently occurring between Russia and All I can do is compare this to what is currently occurring between Russia and Ukraine. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we were under different administration? Would we have sent troops over already? Would we still be watching and waiting? I have listened to people say that we should be backing up Ukraine already and have troops over there defending them, or that we should’ve bombed Russia while we had the upper hand. I don’t know how this is going to play out, none of us do, but I can’t help but wonder how we will be portrayed in history books in 50 years or so. What will future generations learn about this event, will they be learning it as WW3 or another event that could’ve led to WW3 but didn’t? As terrifying as it is, I know that it will depend on the decisions of our world leaders, and I hope that they will look back on the past to make their decisions because at this point, we are just reliving history all over again.

Wynwood as Text

Wynwood – A collection.
Bottom left photo taken by Professor Bailly, all others taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0.


By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Wynwood, February 23, 2022.

Wynwood is an eccentric neighborhood home to many art galleries, retail stores, antique shops, bars, restaurants, and most importantly open-air street art. It is recognized as a destination for “art, fashion, innovation, and creative enterprise”. It is one of the largest creative communities in the United States.

In the mid-late 1900s, Wynwood was a hub for Caribbean immigrants and housed Miami’s Garment District. In the early 2000s, developers and property owners renovated old warehouses, factories, and other buildings into the businesses that are still standing today.

Wynwood is popular for its restaurants including Panther Coffee and Zak the Baker (bottom right picture). There are also popular bars and stores in the area, but Wynwood is best known as “A hub for contemporary and street art”. There are more than 70 galleries which sell pieces at all prices.

One of the most popular spots in Wynwood is Wynwood Walls. Wynwood Walls opened during Art Basel 2009. It was made possible by Tony Goldman who came with the simple idea of: “Wynwood’s large stock of warehouse buildings, all with no windows, would be my giant canvases to bring to them the greatest street art ever seen in one place”. He wanted to create a center that people would be drawn to and want to explore. Goldman also believed that graffiti and street art were under appreciated and not respected historically, and he wanted to change that. Since Wynwood Walls was founded, it has seen hundreds of artists representing different countries and has covered over 80,000 square feet of walls.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting this neighborhood. I had been to the Design District before, but when asking my parents about Wynwood before I went with class, they weren’t sure what I was talking about even though they used to live down here. I was pleasantly surprised and blown away at how different this neighborhood was than others I had visited with this class.

Although I didn’t take many pictures while walking through Wynwood, I, like so many others before me was stunned by the street art. I wish I had taken more time and care to take more pictures this day, but the great thing about living in Miami is I can go back whenever I want. I will make plans in the future to go to Wynwood Walls and visit the different restaurants in the area as well.

Key Biscayne as Text

Bill Baggs State Park
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0.

“Giving Back”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Bill Baggs State Park, March 16, 2022.

Bill Baggs State Park is located at the tip of Key Biscayne and is just 15 minutes from the hustle and bustle that is Downtown Miami. It is home to the Cape Florida Lighthouse which was built in 1825, and has an immense amount of history surrounding it. It is the oldest structure in Miami-Dade County, and has almost 200 years of history within its walls.

After being built in 1825, it was later damaged during the Second Seminole War and was rebuilt in 1846. It remains the oldest standing structure to this day. We had the opportunity to climb up the lighthouse and see the incredible views from the top while also learning about the history, and although this was fascinating my favorite part of the day is what we did after.

After lunch, we participated in an exotic species cleanup. Exotic species are species that are those that are human introduced. There are exotic non-invasive which are those that do not present a danger to the environment, humans, or the economy, and exotic invasive which present a harm directly to humans or the economy or to the ecology of the environment.

The species we removed goes by many names, they are called Devils backbone, mother of millions, and alligator plant. They are currently found in only one area of the park, so they although they are exotic species, they are currently not taking over and can be managed by park rangers and volunteers who come out and remove the plants.

When we went to the park, most of these plants were in bloom, which made them easy to identify by their large stalk with red flowers that rose high above the plants themselves. They were easy to remove as well, but even though we spent over an hour in the location that they are found, there were easily hundreds of plants still there and the complete eradication of the species will take years to complete, if it can ever be accomplished.

This was my favorite part of the day because even though it was manual labor and it was hot out, I felt good knowing that I was doing some good for the environment. I love being out in nature, and since my major is Sustainability, we have done a lot of talks and lectures about invasive species and the like. Being able to go out and do something about this issue was extremely rewarding because I felt like I was making a difference, and that is everything I want to accomplish with my degree. I can’t wait to go back and do this again when I am able to, and hope that I will have this opportunity soon.

Coconut Grove as Text

Coconut Grove.
All photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

“Everything Changes”

By Samantha Johnson of FIU at Coconut Grove, March 30, 2022.

When we went walking through Coconut Grove with class, we visited two different churches and a cemetery. They were all beautiful and breathtaking, and although people don’t normally say that about a cemetery, I felt a real connection when walking through there and can only say that it was incredible to experience.

We went to the Coconut Grove Cemetery first. It was first used as a cemetery in the early 1900s, when the Bahamians who lived here relocated their prior cemetery to this location. It is connected to the “Grove Bahamian Cemetery” which is now called the Charlotte Jane Memorial Cemetery in honor of E.W.F. Stirrup’s wife. Something weird but cool about the cemetery is that they filmed the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” here! The same statue that’s in the video is in the cemetery, and although that doesn’t sit very well with me, it is certainly interesting. The cemetery also has 12 “head-and-shoulder” stones, which can only be found in Miami-Dade County. Today the cemetery is cared for by the Coconut Grove Cemetery Association.

The Christ Episcopal Church was founded by West Indian churchmen that wanted their church to be rich in Bahamian culture. They had their first meeting on March 24th, 1901, in the home of two of the founders, and the founding members were Mr. & Mrs. E.W.F. Stirrup, Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Roberts, Mrs. Lula Reddick, Mrs. Catherine Anderson and Mr. Azariah Sawyer. On December 20, 1901, Bishop William C. Gray visited and officially organized the congregation officially known as Christ Episcopal Church.

At the Christ Episcopal Church, I was deeply moved by the stained-glass pieces that they had. I had never seen stained glass that was not depicted with the traditional sense. I thought it was fascinating that one of the pieces had Martin Luther King Jr. in it, and how another one that they had included their saints as women. I think that we often get hung up in the “traditional values” (Not that I’m saying those are wrong) and are not open to the fact that we don’t know what Christ looked like, or any of his followers.

I find it fascinating that another neighborhood in Miami has Bahamian influence, and it feels like nobody truly knows about the history behind it. I feel like this does not do the people who lived here or their families any justice. When we visited the Christ Episcopal Church, the volunteer met with us told Professor Bailly who later relayed to us, that she is originally from Coconut Grove, but she had to move from the area due to the increase in taxes in the area, and that she now lives in Homestead. She has family in the Bahamian Cemetery, and her family has been involved in the church for generations, and she now must drive over an hour to go to the church where she volunteers and grew up in. This is honestly really saddening, and I know that her story is one that is not only shared across the community, but throughout the U.S. I was deeply touched when Professor Bailly told us about this, but I feel like that just shows even more how much of an influence this community has on its people, and people need to know about the history behind these areas instead of watching them get turned into completely different neighborhoods than they were before.

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