Perhaps more than any other community in Florida, Miami-Dade -- its business, and cultural base, its politics, its community dynamics, its perception elsewhere, its 'feel' -- is defined by demography.
Quality of Life
Ocean Drive in South Beach is known for its Art Deco hotels and night spots. [Photo: billwisserphoto.com]
» Diversity: Miami’s rich demographic salad bowl consists of residents from at least 120 countries, speaking more than 65 languages.
The New World Symphony has annual attendance of more than 80,000 and plans to build a new academy campus. [Photo: Craig Hall]
» Diversions: Clubs and restaurants, including the ever-changing, vibrant South Beach scene. Professional sports teams in football (Dolphins), baseball (Marlins), basketball (Heat) and hockey (Panthers). Attractions like the Miami Seaquarium, MetroZoo, Fairchild Botanical Tropical Garden and Monkey Jungle, and 80 parks. Everglades National Park.
» Cultural Infrastructure: The annual Art Basel exhibition. The newly opened Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. The Miami City Ballet and New World Symphony. Numerous theaters and museums, including the Miami Art Museum and the Wolfsonian at Florida International University.
» Allure: Miami’s tropical ambience and weather give it a unique style and appeal for both young people and families. Child magazine named Miami the fourth-best city in the country to raise a family. The city boasts some of the nation’s most stunning modern architecture and is a fashion center and a base for some of the top modeling agencies in the world. Forbes magazine ranked Miami as “America’s Cleanest City” in 2008.
» Economic Vitality: The area’s international connections and appeal have positioned it well for success in the globalizing economy. The area’s unemployment rate, once higher than the state’s average, has remained below average as the economy has slowed, possibly reflecting the strength of international trade. The Beacon Council, Miami-Dade County’s economic development partnership, represents the area aggressively.
» Higher Education: The University of Miami and Florida International University are strong points, along with Miami-Dade College, formerly a community college, now the largest and most diverse degree-granting institution in the nation.
» Human Capital/Immigrants: The presence of so many recent immigrants, many of whom are poor and don’t speak English well, creates vitality but also huge challenges for the social services and educational infrastructure.
» Traffic: Commute times — an average of 30 minutes one way — are among the highest in Florida. Nearly 70% of the county’s residents drive to work — alone.
» Crime: The crime rate within the city of Miami has fallen in recent years but still remains high. Most municipalities in the county, including some upscale communities like Pinecrest, do poorly on various “crime index” measurements, particularly on property crimes like burglary and motor vehicle theft. The predominantly Cuban blue-collar community of Hialeah has among the lowest crime indices of the county’s 35 municipalities.
» Housing costs: Housing affordability has been a major problem for the area, lessening somewhat as the real estate bubble burst.
» Vulnerability: The county is among the most vulnerable in the U.S. to hurricanes.
» Housing: Nearly two-thirds of homeowners and renters spent more than 30% of their income on housing in 2007.
» Air Quality: The county ranks high on releases of toxic substances and some pollutants, but air quality is good on nearly nine days out of 10.
» Governance: The city of Miami has come light-years after teetering on the edge of bankruptcy in the late 1990s. The administration of city Mayor Manny Diaz has provided sound fiscal leadership and broadened the city’s tax base while abandoning old-style exile politics in campaigning for office. Similarly, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez is trying to use new “strong mayor” powers to bring more accountability and integrity to a county government short on both.
» Reputation: Some businesses with presences throughout the rest of Florida avoid south Florida, particularly Miami-Dade, because of the area’s reputation for crime and corruption. Both, to varying degrees, are real, but the perception often says more about the comfort level of Anglo businesspeople with Hispanics than it does about Miami’s business climate.
» Growth: Developers have tried to push development beyond the county’s urban services boundary. It will be a major test of county government to continue to hold that line.
» Water: The county has one of the lowest water-reuse rates in Florida and one of the biggest water-supply challenges.
» Mass Transit/Transportation: The Metromover, Metrorail and Tri-Rail give the area the beginnings of a real mass transit infrastructure that saw ridership explode as gas prices rose. Currently, the biggest challenge is the possible loss of state funding for a $1.7-billion tunnel between the port and I-395.
» Schools: The Florida Department of Education gave Miami-Dade schools a “B” overall in 2008.
» Why I Live Here
— Ricardo Taño Feijoó is a principal at architectural firm RTKL.
» A Competitor’s View
Florida Trend asked an economic development professional in a market that competes with Miami-Dade to assess the area:
» Strengths: “Miami is one of the greatest cities in the Western Hemisphere — situated at the “crossroads” of trade to and from Central and South America. Its global significance for over 100 years, along with its rich diversity in culture, language and history, helps to position Miami as a “Super Region” unto itself. In many ways, Miami is a microcosm of the new economy, blending spectacular opportunities for newcomers and lifelong residents, facing the growing challenges of this new century, years ahead of other parts of our country. The world is now focused on this great region of America and is ready to follow its lead.
» Weaknesses: “Because it’s a complex region with competing priorities, combined with competing local governments and overlapping civic organizations, it’s difficult to “connect” Miami with the other regions of Florida. Accessing leaders is a challenge, since the “civic architecture” does not yet enjoy a shared regional platform or a shared vision when it comes to its collective future. Miami has every opportunity to lead all of Florida, but at the same time, Miami must recognize that it is part of Florida, understanding that the growing strength of other regions in our state will only work to complement the growth and strength of Miami.
» City of Miami (pop. 404,048, second most populous in Florida): High-rise condos dominate the skyline and give the city plenty of glitz, but the three largest "lifestyle groups" in the city, according to the real estate firm CLR Choice Inc., are mostly lower-income, with high concentrations of Hispanics and African-Americans. Two of the big groups are single elders in older apartment rentals and young renters with children who hold service and white-collar jobs; the third group consists of over-65 retirees who tend to live in homes or duplexes they've owned for a long time. The city's crime rate has fallen substantially since the early 2000s, but the personal crime risk index is still three times the average for Florida; the property crime risk is more than twice Florida's. More than 20% of the population makes less than $10,000 a year. More than half make less than $30,000. According to CLR Choice, the cities most like Miami demographically include Highland Park, Mich., a suburb of Detroit; East Cleveland, Ohio; and New Orleans.
» Downtown Miami: Business core and Bayside retail center and Bayfront Park, new Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and America Airlines Arena. Dealt a serious blow last year when the state Department of Transportation pulled out of the tunnel project to the port, which was seen as a must-have to allow the port to grow and relieve downtown of truck traffic congestion, which will only get worse now that the port's landed a big new container operation. Meanwhile, developer Miami Worldcenter has an ambitious project to turn nine city blocks into a grand project with hotels, residential units and a promenade.
» Brickell: Once purely a financial hub, this wealthy area is alive with condo development and young climbers and singles. Much native Miami wealth resides in the neighborhood. The condo boom saw Brickell become trendy, with plenty of upscale restaurants and bars.
» Little Havana: Still the low-end home of new immigrants and old Cubans.
» Wynwood: Once very tired, known for warehouses and poverty, it's slowly gentrifying with galleries and is a hopping place during Art Basel, though still plenty gritty with much for urban pioneers to do.
» Star Island, Fisher Island, Hibiscus Island, Indian Creek, Pinecrest, Brickell Key: Where the rich live.
» Coral Gables (population 42,794): Just a few miles from the airport, the pedestrian-friendly town is well known for its restaurants, art galleries, boutiques and theater. Home to the Biltmore Hotel and the University of Miami. Almost one-third of the city's population is Cuban. Per capital income is just over $46,000.
» Upper Eastside: A swath hugging Biscayne Bay running from just north of downtown up through the municipalities of Miami Shores and El Portal. Desirable, well-functioning communities, popular with families both gay and straight (in part thanks to a charter school), home to churches, community activities, a more affordable alternative for those priced out of Pinecrest and Coral Gables.
» Key Biscayne: This wealthy enclave was once the home of Richard Nixon's winter White House. Many residents here are happy that the Rickenbacker Causeway separates them from Miami. Many simple, small homes, cute and quaint, have given way to McMansions, but there's still a healthy mix of condos and single-family homes, though all have gotten extremely high-priced. Key Biscayne is popular with South American immigrants.
» Bal Harbour: A tony village known for its upscale shops, it's a destination for many international shoppers.
»Kendall: Very much suburban Florida, just with a mix of every nationality and culture. It's still unincorporated, very residential, soccer fields, parks, good schools, a developing business base - home to Beckman Coulter and Baptist Hospital, its largest employer - middle class but trending upward in parts. Serious traffic.
» Miami Lakes: Think of it as Kendall North, a real mix of ethnicities, the Graham family's epicenter, still cows in fields to get the tax ag rate. Grahams have carefully developed it.
» Hialeah (population 215,692): Florida's sixth-largest city is dominated by low- to middle-income residents, but with a higher mix of homeowners than Miami and more families with children. Poor on paper, it's an industrious, working community. Once an apparel-making hub, Hialeah still has a large manufacturing and packaging sector. Nearly three-quarters of the city's population is Cuban, with a high concentration of immigrants - nearly 73% of the residents are foreign-born. The personal crime risk index, according to CLR Choice, is lower than the national average in all categories except motor vehicle theft. The risk of personal crime is half that in Florida overall. In the region, Hialeah is known for its slugfest politics.
»Miami Beach (population 94,017): While Miami Beach still has many lower-income retirees, the city's two biggest demographic groups are both young. One group consists of lower- to middle-income Hispanic households, renters, in a mix of singles and families holding white-collar and service jobs. The other is a group of up-and-coming immigrants that CLR Search calls "urban achievers," both singles and families, with lower-middle incomes but better educations and better long-term prospects. The city also has a sizable group of high-income residents, professionals ages 45-64, with advanced degrees and upscale lifestyles. Despite a relatively more affluent population mix, the city still suffers from a substantially higher risk of personal and property crime compared to Florida overall - robbery, larceny and motor vehicle thefts are crime hot spots. The center of tourism in the county, Miami Beach is popular with both tourists and residents for its vibe, restaurants and eateries. It's large enough to have distinct areas - South Beach, Lincoln Road and Little Buenos Aires around 71st and Collins. The area near the Julia Tuttle Causeway retains Miami Beach's Jewish roots and remains a residential center for Orthodox Jews.
»Opa Locka: Historically black, poor. There's a push to use the old general aviation airport there as a redevelopment hub.
» Aventura: Known for its mall. A north suburb, more Jewish, more dense, condos, increasingly Latin.
» North Miami Beach: Heavily Haitian and Caribbean. A massive revitalization project on the water is a victim of the real estate market collapse.
» Pinecrest: A small municipality south of Miami, it's known for its large, leafy suburban lots and for being family-oriented, expensive and more Anglo.
» Doral: With its proximity to airport noise and warehouses, it seems odd that it turned out to be known as a place with a posh resort and heavy concentration of affluent Colombians and Venezuelans. Gated communities and truck traffic. Carnvial is based here. U.S. News & World Report says it's one of the 10 best places to retire.
» Homestead: South Miami-Dade's agricultural land and trees have given way to thousands of new single-family homes. The agriculture-suburb dynamic is in play everywhere. Affordable but a long commute to Miami. Major economic engines: Homestead Miami Speedway, home of the last NASCAR cup race of each season and Homestead Air Force Reserve Base, which the Beacon Council hopes to make the home of the Western Hemisphere's only major aviation industry show, modeled on the famed Paris Air Show, the world's largest. It says something that a Mercedes-Benz dealership just opened in Cutler Bay.
» Sunny Isles Beach: From snooze land to thriving international gateway for Russians and other immigrant groups. Home to the new Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort.
» Design District: 18 square blocks just north of downtown Miami. Developer Craig Robins has turned the area into a place to shop for high-style furnishings, view art collections and enjoy design. Now that he's beefed up the district's culinary offerings, Robins has set his sights on creating a fashion destination in the Design District.