I have been waiting to get this book, Losing it All to Sprawl, How Progress Ate My Cracker Landscape. I looked for it at the main library and at Borders but they did not have it. I found it today at work in the discard pile. I guess it was sent for review but the book editor just wasn’t going to chance chasing away dollar rich real estate ads. I heard the author Bill Belleville being interviewed on WLRN several days ago. This is something my wife and I talk about all the time. “Remember when we went camping that time in this place or that place? Remember how nice things used to be? I can remember when there was hardly any traffic on Biscayne Boulevard after 8:00 pm and never any real traffic on Federal Highway..”
I also can remember vividly what it was like living in a old fashioned wooden house with a fireplace, no air conditioning or screened windows. That was in an old house we lived in directly across the street from the Police Museum at 38th and Biscayne. Outside it was worn, very weathered but inside it was our home. For five years we patched holes in the roof, nailed windows and doors to keep out thieves, cut the grass, cleaned the old fashioned marble fireplace, tilled our modest vegetable patch, chased prostitutes off the front porch, visited our neighbors at the Sunoco gas station and at the Art by God showroom, or the Carpet store across the street; dealt with Net officers who brazenly walked unto the property to measure the grass every week, called tow trucks for cars broke down in the front of the house, played soccer in the back, met tourists who just wanted to take a picture of the house. Once we had an impromptu lunch for 12 bikers from New Jersey. They drove to Publix and we all ate on the front porch. Where the house stood is now an empty lot with a development sign inviting investors to give up hard earned dollars for a dream. Another building we lived in Edgewater had 4 apartment units. The top floors had decorated stone balconies overlooking Biscayne Boulevard’s Little Honduras section of town, (that used to be between 23rd and 24th and Biscayne). First the flower shop on the corner went out of business because of high rent increases, then the video store named Tito’s fell to overpricing and constant harassment from inspectors, then the Honduran coffee shop. We became friends with a father and son who owned an Art Gallery and Coffee shop next door. They invested their life savings into developing their business. The father did intricate paintings on seagrape leaves which he sold to buyers in South America. They were forced to move back to Argentina. Then Arvida Realty sold the entire block to developers who razed all the buildings. Now several condos are going up where a neighbor and I once grew banana trees and passion fruit. I walked by 24th street to see if my passion fruit vines somehow survived the onslaught of development. No luck. Now there is freshly manicured grass, aluminum light fixtures and a security guard who patrols the street in a small white car.
Who remembers the PWA? That used to be the People With Aids Center and Thrift located at 38th and Biscayne. My wife worked there as a volunteer for a year while she was pregnant with our first child. They were pushed out by changes to the zoning laws. We always interpreted that to mean that some kingpin decided that the real estate was too valuable to house a thrift store. When it went so did the Speedy Printing company next door and the Carpet store on 38th Street. That was five years ago. The buildings are still empty. If you drive across the tracks on 38th street across from the Art and Design High School there is an empty storefront where a high end furniture store used to be. I can not remember the name of the business but it was owned by another neighbor who visited often with his wife. They left when the rents were doubled. Now they continue their business in Coconut Grove. That also was five years ago and the property is still vacant. Some businesses were eventually refilled with others. I did some work for a lady from Spain who owned the Bizarre Bizarre near the Post office in the Design District. She was breaking even for years and then was pushed out because of steep rent increases. I could go on if I sat and thought about it long enough.
My thoughts are barking back to a recent conversation with a friend from the Miami Mission. Mike shared with me some of his experiences in running the Mission. They used to be located downtown and were chased to Coconut Grove and then they were forced to relocate to Overtown. He had seen it all, Zoning Law changes, political leanings, economic squeezes. One common denominator was this. Whenever they were pushed it was by the unseen hand. The signs were always there. In the Design District and in Morningside and in Overtown, the areas were allowed to rot. Drug trafficking was as legal in these areas then as it is now in the Golden Triangle of Overtown, NW 1st and NW 14th Street. These areas which are designated as prime real estate are devalued and the population is debased. Then when the time comes to develop the development can come with a profit. Who cares if a community of homeless people, drug dealers, hookers, ex convicts and habitually impoverished are displaced for development? That is the perception that is cultivated. When it was time to cash-in for the Morningside real estate every one of the prostitutes and bus stop drug dealers disappeared. A friend, Spyder, who was a drug dealer/pimp at 62nd Street was arrested and put away for ten years by the same police officers who turned a blind eye to him for years. Where did the others criminals go? They are moving to places like Liberty City and Miami Gardens. They are killing each other in turf wars and in the process they are kiling children who have not realized that a new predator has been pushed into their backyards so that the invisible hand of progress can profit from half Million dollar apartment units. Meanwhile, Miami’s civic leaders and police spokesmen are jumping up and down decrying a situation that they know they are too impotent to change. Examine all the news stories centered around the nine year old girl who was killed. She did not fit the profile. She was a good student. Her family and neighbors had always been safe. The neighborhood where they lived was safe. Then a new element is pushed into this neighborhood – Two thugs who basically have a duel in the middle of the street. Who knows, they could have come from Morningside, North Miami or even Miami Shores. One thing is certain. People are starting to ask the right questions. How are my tax dollars being used?There was no police protection for this neighborhood. Not like the police protection they now have in the Design District or in Morningside or at the local Publix Supermarket. It will not be long before houses will go up for sale in Liberty City, Net Officers will move in to speed up the process, prostition and crime will follow paving the way for the next wave of Miami development.