Do You Know Your New Urban Neighborhood?

These days, buying a condo can be confusing. One can easily get lost in all the talk about a building’s features and amenities, luxury, and exclusivity. Go to a sales center, anyone of them, and the sales representatives will go on and on about the developer, luxurious urban lifestyle, and supposed unobstructed views. Its all quite humorous. Usually, it is a spectacle of sight and sound, but I see right through the babble and distractions. Not to say that they aren’t authoritative on the matter or dishonest, because in most cases they are. You simply must know how to ask the right questions, and they must know how to answer them. They are there to make money off of you, so your best interest is mixed in with their own. I would rather guide myself. Now, I’m not trying to say that a building’s features and amenities, design, and developer history aren’t important. They are. I’m simply saying that when buying a condo, don’t get distracted by all the talk about the building. You’re not just buying into the building, you’re buying into the building’s neighborhood. Before you enter a sales center with the intention of beginning the buying process, it would be wise to have a somewhat clear understanding of how the neighborhood is changing. I personally don’t care much about what they have to say about the neighborhood, although I will listen. I want to know the neighborhood. Another thing, the projects going up these days are all quite similar. They will usually have unique, well thought out floor plans. Most have concierges, valet parking, and a gym or media facility. Some have private elevator lobbies and more extravagant pools and public spaces. The real differences are in the details, deep terraces, glass terrace railings, ceiling heights, finger print building access, additional recreational facilities, or even state-of-the-art illuminated bathtubs, like the one at the Emerald sales center. Just put aside all the luxurious lifestyle mumbo-jumbo until you‘re sold on the neighborhood. So, the first key question is: what neighborhood is the building in? And, how does that affect the residents of the building? You may be saying to yourself that this is all common sense, however when it comes to Miami’s urban neighborhoods, its not that simple.

For example, in Park West, there are six world class high rise projects going up. But, right now, barely anyone lives in the area, except homeless people. In the Central Business District, for example, there are currently no residents. Almost the whole area closes after 6pm. Yet here again, there are numerous new residential high rise projects going up. The burgeoning Uptown area, composed of formerly derelict communities, in recent history drew little attention from developers, except Tibor Hollo, or affluent buyers. Now, there are celebrities buying multi-million dollar units in proposed sleek ultra-luxury high rises. What’s wrong with this picture? It’s all unprecedented! Here, historically, there is nothing to fall back on when it comes to determining what your building’s neighborhood will be like. This poses a problem, because since no one can accurately imagine what a certain neighborhood will be like, it may very well end up being quite different from what the buyer first thought. This poses a problem that is common everywhere, but more complicated in Miami‘s urban market.

If you buy in Park West, hopefully you’ve realized that there is growing media and entertainment district just to your west. This might sound all nice and dandy, but this translates into a neighborhood packed with nightclub, bars, lounges, traffic, and pedestrians. Yes, visibly drunk people will be part of fold. So will drug use. A strip club is near by. This area is going to be bumping and grinding all night long, rain or shine. As a Park West resident, you will not be able to avoid the traffic. Hopefully you will avoid the pedestrians. The neighborhood will be noisy and energetic. People are going to converge there from everywhere for a goodtime and some culture. The Museum Park development will balance the energy of the neighborhood with some world-class culture and likely make it one of the most unique urban communities in the country. Tourists will flock to the area, and generally that result is a good indicator of high neighborhood value. Fortunately, if you live in one of the new residential skyscrapers of Park West, then you can take shelter from the crowds, noise, and traffic, up in your private sky home. It is doubtful that you will hear the noise from the streets below. In the case that you do hear distant yells or honks, the luxury of your home will help you forget the madness below.

Buyers in the Central Business District aren’t living in downtown, they are downtown, so say‘s the new ad for the Metropolitan Miami project, located in financial district of the CBD. For now, at least, that ad is accurate. However, this translates into heavier traffic than anywhere else in the area. It is situated between Brickell and Uptown–two major areas of activity. Consequently, rivers of cars will be going in and out of the area constantly. After a while, driving there may seem like a punishment. Especially when you’ve been staring at your building from your car in traffic on your way home for 20 minutes. Presumably, buyers in the area have not just taken this into consideration but are happy with it. Maybe they don’t intend to drive all that much. Maybe being in the heart of a city like Miami is enjoyable enough to compensate for the traffic and noise. The area’s drama and fast pace will certainly compliment visually stunning appearance and will draw plenty of visitors. There will not be much of a night life there. It is a center of activity, of movement between places. Everyone and everything converges there. The Jewelry District of the CBD is going to benefit from the new influx of residents. The masses will come to realize that the area is home to the best jewelry shopping in the region. Currently, there isn’t a base of permanent residents, so the area shuts down after dark. Although this will likely remain the same, as residents move in to the area, the beefed up security will translate into more flexible hours of operation and a more appealing shopping experience. Overtown is still mostly undeveloped and under-utilized. This will not drastically change for at least 5 years or so. The homelessness that is so heavily concentrated there now will have been mitigated by all the surrounding new developments and the relocating of Camillus House. This will be welcomed by the CBD residents. Still, there may not be much to prevent them from walking or transporting themselves back into the area. Although reduced, homelessness will still remain a conspicuous problem.

Brickell is the most established urban neighborhood in Miami. There aren’t too many surprises there. Over 50 new projects are approved for development in the area. Therefore, what you see now is not necessarily what you will get in two or three years. Brickell has been accustomed to a lower kind of high density. Let me explain this further. One building has always a lot more space than it needs. The buildings there are high density, but for years have stood on spacious plots of land with ample drive ways entering the buildings. Guard houses are common there. They will not exist in most buildings in Uptown, for example, where the density will be higher. Currently, the area is becoming much more densely populated. New projects are seeing two and three phases. Driveway entrances are no longer as ample as they used to be. This is all to be expected. But, what Brickell lacks is a community niche. There are banks and residential buildings. There are a few night spots and certainly many nice restaurants. But what is the over all character of the area? Well, as of right now, it doesn’t seem to have a community identity. You know the CBD is where all the big business is at. Park West has the nigh clubs, media facilities, and museums. Uptown caters to the Arts Community with the Performing Arts Center, Anderson Opera House, galleries, and Design District. But what does Brickell offer. The answer is: a little bit of everything. Sure it won’t have museums, or numerous nightclubs, but it does have the potential for becoming downtown’s shopping district. Mark Brickell Village is an indicator that such a shopping experience could work in Brickell. The whole area is very pedestrian friendly, and traffic isn’t as bad as other areas of downtown. Over all, Brickell will define a more quiet version of urban living, where you will find street joggers, bike riders, dog walkers, flirting couples, pedestrians in suits, and café drinkers.

The Uptown Area, north of the 836, east of I-95 and South of Little Haiti, is too large to consider all at once. There are at least 77 new high density residential projects approved for development in the area. On the southern part, near the Performing Arts Center, it’ll be safe to assume that you will find an area catering to the performing arts. Already there are plans for the Anderson opera house, which will be home to the Florida Grand Opera. Interestingly, to the west of the PAC, there is an area of under utilized commercial structures. They are old, ugly, and unfit to remain standing. Yet, there are no real plans to do anything with the area. Will it remain a magnet for homelessness and drug dealings? It is doubtful. What would make sense, is if the city were to do a study that took into consideration the viability of turning the area into a theatre district. Being in the performing arts district would be convenient enough I suppose. We currently have no such district. Of course what I mention now would be similar to the theatre district running along Broadway in Manhattan, except that it’s simply an idea, and even if it were to become a reality, then it would take years for it to fully develop. Nevertheless, the presence of the PAC alone will add class and culture to the area and draw visitors by the thousands. Traffic, as will be the case for most of the area in and around downtown, will be especially bad around Biscayne Blvd.

Moving north and west up into the Uptown area you currently find plenty of vacant lots, under utilized buildings, and a lower income neighborhood called Wynwood. Recently, the neighborhood has been labeled the Wynwood Arts District. This is because the area has become the home to several small art galleries and artist studios. This trend has continued and will continue into the future. The area seems to be developing a bohemian character, but the new ultra luxury high rises being built along the Edgewater side of Uptown will offset the bohemian character for a more exclusive one with its affluent demographic. Importantly, as you move west away from the bay, you will find that a majority of the new developments are mid-rises, which means that this neighborhood will develop an urbanity that is different from the neighborhoods to the south. However, the combination of art, culture, and money will certainly serve Uptown well, but there still is the problem of homelessness and drugs, which will hopefully be mitigated by gentrification and a growing police presence accompanying the infill of new projects and residents coming to the area.

The Midtown Miami project will anchor all the new high density development in the northern side of the Uptown area and push new developments west as well as south and north of it. Brickell, in its hey day, did not see westward development at all. Only recently has Brickell seen high density development west of Brickell Avenue. Uptown will be different. High density development will occur more rapidly here than it has in Brickell in the past. Keep in mind, Uptown is anchored by the PAC district in the south, Midtown Miami in the center, and the Design District in the north. This means that the area will have a lot of help with its progress and a general sandwich effect will fill-in the numerous vacant lots. It is interesting to note that the highest concentration of vacant urban lots and small commercial structures is in the Uptown area, which means that the area is more ready to absorb new development activity with much less demolition. Still, it is too soon to feel out what the neighborhood’s identity is shaping out to be.

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