When local residents and activists learned about plans to change the zoning of Little Havana, we were worried. We learned that some developers were already “branding” the eastern part of the neighborhood as “West Brickell”; they wanted to build much higher buildings in the neighborhood, too, once they achieved the change in zoning.
We feared not only the loss of our historic buildings, many of which feature spaces where resident can interact with passersby and maintain a sense of connection with their neighbors, but the displacement of residents themselves.
So we fought back. I was one of the activists who spoke out at City Hall, met with the planning department and other stakeholders, promoted our cause on social media and via petitions, and spoke to journalists for both local and national media, including National Public Radio (hear this clip from All Things Considered), local NPR station WLRN (read the transcript here), the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald and even The New York Times! I also wrote about the upzoning in a blog post. Nearly forty local stakeholders joined my walking tour of the part of Little Havana affected by the proposed zoning change (East Little Havana)–an area in which I have lived for more than a decade. I also participated in a video documentary promoting our cause.
Our activism made a difference.
The Dade Heritage Trust got involved, as did the city’s office of Historic Preservation, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation ended up including Little Havana on its list of 11 Most Endangered in the United States. Then the National Trust teamed up with local partners, including local urban design firm PlusUrbia and the community-based initiative Live Healthy Little Havana, to launch a study of the neighborhood and consider broader efforts to protect it.
Then in January 2017, the Trust announced that it was naming Little Havana a National Treasure. Coinciding with the announcement was the City of Miami’s decision to revisit its plans for upzoning (i.e., increasing density through building height). Instead, the city is working on drawing up design standards and guidelines, as well as incentives for affordable housing. The National Trust has included Little Havana as part of its #savingplaces campaign, and now local partners are working together on the next steps to ensure that Little Havana does not become “West Brickell.”