Last week Eleazar David Meléndez wrote an article in The Biscayne Times titled “The Definition of Downtown” in which he struggled with the description, boundaries, and definition really of downtown Miami, before finally ended up sending inquiring tourists to Mary Brickell Village. What’s most clear from this scenario is that the Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) attempt at branding has failed. DWNTWN really is no more than a visual curiosity, but becomes an annoyance when pronunciation is attempted (anyone else hearing a muffled sound?). And if it is pronounced “downtown”, well that doesn’t solve the issue of defining the neighborhood geographically or characteristically.
Like many large cities Miami has many neighborhoods. Unlike some cities, we cannot visually point out downtown for the tall buildings as they continue on for miles through many other areas of the city. South of the river is Brickell. As much as Mr. Meléndez distains the term OMNI for being named after a failed shopping mall, the term is in our lexicon now and will likely remain there. Some cities have adapted a naming convention begun in New York with SoHo (South of Houston St.) combining first letters of directions and/or area streets, …Tribeca (triangle below Canal St.), NoHo, Nolita (north of little Italy) and so on. This type of naming has become wildly popular among hipsters, artists and developers alike for energizing a neighborhoods appeal. Many cities have a SoDo (south of downtown) area, NoMa, etc. For cities that don’t have street names that lend themselves to trendy words (north of Flagler, just doesn’t seem right) older historic areas simply stick with “Oldtown”. It’s descriptive, easy to remember and say, noncontroversial, and well nothing fits the area better. River to RR tracks, bay to Metrorail, within the DDA’s boundaries, actually mostly within the confines of the Metromover loop, but “the Loop” is a Chicago thing that would probably only add confusion here.
Miami’s Old Town has walkable streets, more human scale buildings, historic architectural details around ever corner (covered sidewalks, balconies, old fire escapes), plenty of available space for shops and cafe’s with old world charm, even parking lots for weekend markets. Old Town, with boutique shops and art gallaries befitting the area (read: leave Wynwood to Wynwood) and chef driven foodie inspired cafes and restaurants drawing a more mature crowd (not just more of the douchey bar and club scene found in other party-till-you-puke parts of town). It’s a grown-up area that can appeal to everyone, locals and tourists alike. The attraction will only grow with the Flagler Street streetscape project. Some buildings have already been converted into loft style condos. The recent opening of The Langford Hotel in the beaux-arts Miami National Bank building with not one but two of Miami’s own Pubbelly Boys restaurants (with a view from the rooftop that will be a sure hit for any guest) continues the transformation of “Old Town” Miami.