May 12, 2008

Miami Misconceptions
Miami Beach, United States

Even though I was born in Florida, I'd never visited Miami until last year. My preconceived notions of the city were born out of hurricane footage shown on the Weather Channel, CSI: Miami, and an assortment of movies (such as Scarface, the Crew, and the Birdcage).

Little did I know that Miami and Miami Beach were actually two different cities, and that the latter is actually an island. Yes, Miami Beach (which contains the rather tiny South Beach area) isn't actually part of the mainland, but connected to it by bridge.

I envisioned Miami (Beach) to be a place packed full of high-rise hotels, with little space for development. But the reality is that there's still a ton of development being done on the coast. Construction is everywhere—as well as the crime. Miami Beach ranks eighth in the country for crime (by city population size), with Miami coming in at the fourth worst in the nation.

The calmer side of South Beach

By and large the majority of structures here are, at most, two or three stories. Small homes, hotels, apartments, and condos sitting on modest lots represent the bulk of the buildings. The roads are wide, and some of the streets have a wonderfully quiet, casual residential feeling to them. Even the biggest of the hotels find themselves on narrow plots of land—lending more guest room windows and balconies facing the buildings to the north or south, than the shoreline to the east.

What's amazing is that a walk around South Beach and the boardwalk stretching north finds a surprising number empty lots and hotels that are actually closed or condemned. My guess is that the landowners are making more money with less stress by letting the land appreciate in value than actually doing something with it. Maybe it just costs too much to lease.

Yes, there are indeed a few intersections in South Beach where you can stand on a corner and see a Lamborghini in every direction. Yes, the area is full of retirees and Spanish-speakers, and stunning bikini-clad Latinas mixing with the sunburnt tourists on the clean, wide beach.

It does cost a ton to live and play in this city, but of all the beaches I've seen, few come as accessibly and with so many benefits as Miami Beach—a city best experienced with bicycle or bathing suit.

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