USA Travel – Miami City Profile

by Nigel Blackman

Miami sometimes feels like a huge Hollywood set. The cliches about the city and its illustrious beach community, Miami Beach – nearly all of which are based in fact – are but a small part of Miami’s colourful mosaic.

International financial deals are not the only thing happening in Miami. The city’s concerts, theatre performances, gallery exhibits, ballet companies and museums offer plentiful cultural stimulation and world-class entertainment. Located in picturesque south Florida, Miami is a popular location for television and movie crews.

Fashion photographers from glossy magazines pose their models against the backdrop of the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico or the deep blue Atlantic Ocean. Looking at Miami’s striking skyline, home to corporate headquarters of hundreds of international financial institutions, it is hard to image that until recently southern Florida was a landscape dominated by mosquito-infested swamps. The first Spanish explorers of the region, arriving in 1513 with Ponce de Leon, declared it completely uninhabitable.

The real history of the city, which was founded on 28 July 1896, began with the advent of the railway. Freezing Canadians and New Yorkers climbed aboard to escape to beautiful, sunny Miami. In the 1920s, during the days of Prohibition, Miami was known as a city with legalized gambling and less than serious efforts to enforce the ban on alcohol. The result was a building boom. Little by little, starting with hotels and apartments, the Miami skyline began to rise.

Melting pot for Latin Americans. After Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba in 1959, a stream of refugees poured into south Florida. The impact was enormous. Hoards of Cuban refugees arrived in Miami, settling in the neighbourhood called “Little Havana”. There, salsa music resounds in the streets, men play dominos and chess in the parks, and the air is thick with the aroma of coffee and cigar smoke.

A trip along the palm-tree-lined Ocean Drive, Miami Beach’s famous boulevard in the heart of its famous Art Deco district, offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, the beach and, of course, the rich and famous. With its uniquely “Miami Style” Art Deco architecture, the entire district is under historic protection today Rich with pastel colours and full of eclectic details, there is no other cityscape like it on Earth.

Unfortunately, the building boom of the 1920s also caused considerable damage to the natural environment. Over 120 hectares of the unique Everglades wetlands were drained to provide Miami with water and sewage facilities and dry land on which to build. Even today, south Florida draws millions of litre of water from the Everglades.

Interrupting the water cycle that supplies this magnificent natural landscape with moisture and nutrients diminishes the vitality of the biosphere. At present, national parks and wildlife preserves protect barely 20 per cent of the Everglades watershed.. The unique flora and fauna of the Everglades were added to the UNESCO List of World Natural Heritage Sites in 1979. Still, the environment was classified as endangered in 1993.

No stay in Miami would be complete without a short trip to Coral Gables, one of the first planned communities in the country. Distinguished by its beautiful Spanish colonial-style villas, Coral Gables also boasts elegant country clubs, world-class art galleries and the University of Miami.