Maybe because I’ve lived on three continents and moved so many times, I am fairly comfortable with change. For the most part, I see change as progress, as something positive. Recently however, I was more than a bit disturbed by the changes I noticed in Miami Beach and nearby area.
My husband and I haven’t been to our condo for two and a half years. Certainly, this is not a long time in millennial terms and not even in terms of an ordinary human life span. The changes we noticed were overwhelming. In the mere span of thirty months, a lovely beachside motel turned into a sprawling twelve-story condo, obscuring the ocean. In my mind’s eye I could still see the families who vacationed here with young children frolicking on the beach, flying kites and scrounging for seashells.
The new condo with its glittering façade shows no signs of life. I don’t know if that is because the apartments have yet to be sold, or the new residents remain cocooned in their luxe digs.
At first, though I missed the low-rise motel and its charming life on the beach, I didn’t think too much about it. Then we took a stroll down the block only to be faced with ever-larger hotel and condo behemoths. Hulking towers of glass, pushing rudely out toward Collins Avenue as if they owned it! The scale of these mega architect buildings is quite obscene. For now they are still under construction so it isn’t yet evident how the residents of this half a square mile town (the other half is water) will deal with vastly multiplied traffic.
The beach path hidden behind these monstrous buildings will soon become just a memory to street passerby and access to the beach will either shrink, or be so obstructed as to be useless for the families who don’t have the privilege of living in this town.
I was so taken aback by the short walk down the block that I hardly turned my head to look just across the street from our own building. When I did, I had to stop and remind myself I was still at my building. Rising in front of it was yet another new hotel.
Mind you, this is tourist central with plenty of amenities for visitors. It isn’t as if developers are filling in some remote un-built area. The streets here have been developed with relatively low-rise houses and hotels for years.
It seems as if a bunch of property hungry dogs have been unleashed as part of the economic recovery post the 2008/2009 collapse. Perfectly nice low buildings and every scrap of open space are being devoured by newer, less human scale, edifices. And who will fill them? It is not likely that the middle class who has suffered most in the collapse will avail themselves of these gleaming monstrosities.
Based on the conversations I’ve had with some locals, it looks as if foreigners from South America and Russia are buying most of the new condos. I have no qualms with the new buyers being foreigners. That is actually the only thing I do like about it. They bring color of different cultures, cuisines, and music that makes the Miami area so special. But, please, these giant buildings are destroying the character of the towns and beaches in the area.
As we delved farther afield from our condo and visited our once favorite spots on Lincoln Road, I was even more appalled. The Lincoln Road area has been a Phoenix rising from the depression of the 1970’s. I was greatly saddened, back then, by the empty storefronts and garbage carried aloft by strong winds. The area was pathetically deserted. Its once lovely fountains dry, buildings crumbling.
By the nineteen nineties, the area woke up from deep economic depression. Art galleries popped up along new storefronts sporting the latest in beach fashions.
Lively tones of salsa wafted from restaurants, crowds walked down the street closed to traffic; an American version of the passagiata. Beautiful to watch by those that recalled the past decline.
Two an a half years ago this is how Lincoln Road still looked to us on our annual winter pilgrimage. Not this time. First, we were stunned to see the gleaming Apple store had moved away from the center of the hubbub. We could hardly believe our eyes seeing the boarded up storefronts, one after another. Locating our favorite restaurant amid closed stores to its left and right we inquired, “What happed here?” It turns out that the rents have skyrocketed.
If you have ever visited Miami Beach you’ve probably strolled down Lincoln Road and passed Van Dyke, one of the busiest bar/eateries. We didn’t eat here frequently because of the crowds. But we remember well the music emanating from the open front door and the jovial crowds. Apparently, the monthly rent tripled to around a hundred fifty thousand dollars a month! The owner could not triple the prices for the food and drinks, so he closed. Same story for one restaurant after another, all victims of rapacious development.
What now? Will the crowds begin turning away from the shuttered storefronts? I might. It was a depressing sight, reminiscent of the earlier decline in the seventies. All this in just thirty months! That kind of pace of change even I cannot stomach.