the lectern banner

By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Street art and Miami's urban revitalization

Although I still have 50 or so final student papers to grade, my classes are almost done. I spent the weekend in south Florida, taking advantage of a promotion through the frequent hotel guest program in which I participate. (When I made the reservation, I assumed that we would already have had several weeks of frigid weather in Boston, while in fact our eerily warm Thanksgiving period meant that it turned really cold only about two days before I left for the Florida warmth.)
A highlight of the visit was an afternoon in an edgy art district that has recently sprouted up less than two miles north of downtown Miami -- a bit south of the previously edgy but now mainstream Miami Design District -- called Wynwood. The story of this area is amazing and instructive. It once had shoe factories and warehouses, now long gone. What's left is some desolate blocks with auto body shops and warehouses. The architecture consisted of concrete one-story box structures.
A few years ago a real-estate developer (who was one of the people who had been involved in the resurrection of South Beach in Miami twenty years ago) basically bought up the entire neighborhood, I'm sure for a tiny sum. He proceeded to commission a number of artists to do wall paintings (aka graffiti) on the auto body and warehouse store fronts, and to set up space in an abandoned building lot for various artists to set up studios, and in the abandoned lot next door to display the outdoor works of different artists.

The developer's daughter set up a restaurant, and more recently another restaurant appeared, this one commissioning wall paintings by the artist Shepard Fairey, known (at least to non-art types such as me) as the designer of the Obama t-shirt from the 2008 election campaign. (Here is a link to the art on the restaurant walls, which will give you a feel for the art in the area as a whole.)

I was amused to see that the text on the stop sign at the street corner outside the newer restaurant had been changed -- apparently officially, this wasn't spray painted or anything -- to SHOP. On the main drag was parked a police car-like car from a private security service, but nobody was inside. A steady stream of tourists, though not huge crowds, were on the streets, taking a lot of pictures.
I found this whole transformation fascinating. One reaction was that if you could do something to beautify and make exciting this wasteland, there is virtually no urban space anywhere that is without hope. A second was how a smart investor made an investment in some infrastructure -- the works of art he commissioned -- to bring about the transformation.
What is happening in Wynwood is a dramatic version of changes that are happening in many cities -- pioneered by the transformation of Soho in Manhattan and the abandoned warehouses of Quincy Market in Boston.  But it is a dramatic version of that phenomenon, because the original area was so forlorn, lacking the diamonds in the rough of Soho or Quincy Market. While in Florida, a Swedish friend I was visiting reminded me that I had passed on visiting her husband and her in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, sharing the East Coast prejudice against the city that I now no longer even am close to having.

"Miami today is like LA in the '70s," she commented, on the upswing into a real world-class city. These kinds of changes to the urban landscape make me at least optimistic that the ingenuity and reinvention that are so central to American culture and economic vitality are not dead.

Posted on Dec 13, 2011 at 12:09 PM

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group