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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Welcome to Miami, Part Uno

I've read a number of postings responses about relocating to Miami and many are helpful. Yes it is true, if you do not speak Spanish it may be somewhat difficult to manage at times in Miami-Dade County. And yes the drivers don't use their indicators when changing lanes and will cut you off, much as in Latin America. It is also true that Miami Beach and Miami are different- South Beach, the southern tip of Miami Beach, is very NYC-urban and, while enjoyable for everyone, is geared to tourist. The cities and county has notoriously corrupt government, almost comically so. And yes, there was massive "White Flight" in the 90's. And finally, the city of Miami is the poorest big city in America, from the US Census in 2000 and has been updated as a close third in the 2005 Census update. The county however ranks only within the top ten in "poorest urban counties". There has also been an influx of English speakers from the North and mid-west in the past 5 years of all ethnicities and ages.

Having said that, the crime rate has declined drastically from the cocaine cowboys’ era, and the city has had an extraordinary amount of real estate speculation and tremendous housing development. That means a bust might make it extremely affordable. Condo prices in the great buildings in the downtown area (convenient and beautiful) are already falling! Rents are cheap as dirt now, at least compared to similar coastal areas.There is a huge mixed use development called Midtown and another for downtown East Kendall (Datran) that will probably be extremely livable and convenient in a sort of urban/suburban way.

South Beach is non stop entertainment especially, Lincoln Road or Ocean Drive or better still some of the surprisingly affordable upscale hotel clubs that offer entertainment, dining and dancing, etc. Miami Beach has went downscale and profitably so, catering to the MTV / BET crowd of youthful spenders. To make up for this it has created quite a cultural calendar. None of your young creative but unpretentious types here, save that for cities' with respectable arts scenes. This is wine and cheese, art and entertainment for the ignorant and pretentious with little taste but lots of money. See Miami's Art Basel (Art Debasedel.) We would all be better if the locals would stick to kitschy paintings of beaches and palm fronds. I could expand on the topic of Miami's cultural vapidity but I will save it for some other day.

Coconut Grove, Coral Gables (Miracle Mile) and South Miami have interesting little downtowns. In order to not get annoyed with their limited size and offerings you will have to rotate. Downtown Miami, once a half razed half decrepit waste is being rebuilt with splashy condos and river walks, museums and performing arts centers that may rival the best in the biggest U.S. cities. Right now Bayside, a tourist trap with an undeniable cool view for outdoor dining often with live music (minus the Hard Rock Cafe Giant Guitar!), is about all there is downtown however.

There is probably no better place to watch a professional football or baseball than Joe Robbie stadium (I refuse to call it Pro Player), or a basketball game in the Triple A. When the teams are not winning and sports editors are grumbling, fickle fans make a Marlins or Heat game dirt cheap. Dolfans are not so easily dissuaded. There are several of malls with Aventura, Dadeland and the Falls being my favorites in Miami-Dade.

In Broward Sawgrass Mills, The Galleria, Pembroke Lakes in Broward are better than anything in Dade. Every national retailer can be found in abundance on US 1/South Dixie in Miami and Broward is pretty well served throughout. Most of the economy goes through public employment and spending. Miami Dade Community College, University of Miami, Florida International University (FIU), Public Health Trust and Jackson Medical System, Miami-Dade County Government, Miami-Dade Public School system, South Florida Workforce, DEA and Customs are all your largest employers. The private sector is dominated by small business. There is a high level of ethnic tension between the power-brokers of public employment. With the exception of county government department heads and U.M. and the public school system, virtually all employment is held by Hispanics (55% of the population), whether it be Cubans (23% of the population) or other Hispanics of Caribbean origin (Puerto Ricans and Colombians). There is some discrimination against Central Americans by other Hispanics. For many of these jobs your ethnic qualifications are more important than say, your degree. It is said that a degree from UM or FIU may be better than Yale and a degree from Havana High is better than Harvard for government employment : )

Health care, tourism, finance and construction are the other big industries. The latter two also require Spanish fluency. Huge Baptist Healthare system (Baptist Hospital) and hospitals in Miami Beach are pretty welcoming regardless. Perspective teachers will want to look at shortage areas, and look at licensing requirements. MD public Schools recruits nationally, especially under their first rate new superintendent. The state has a centralized and highly fair system and for you lawyers out there, Bennett Brummer, the Public Defender, recruits nationally and is considered the best training ground for defense lawyers in the country!

If you are going to start a business in Miami proper and you are an English speaker, deals with tourists, or people from outside the immediate area, take an intensive Spanish course, or hire bilingual office assistants. I also suggest that you get a temporary local voice mail or forwarding number if you are searching for jobs; may even get your mail forwarded from a local mailbox. Locals tend to believe that you not serious about relocating because every winter they receive a deluge of out of town applicants who never really go through with the move.

Pinecrest, Cutler Ridge, East Kendall, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, South Miami and Miami Beach are your best bets to get along speaking English in Miami-Dade (county) for now. South Beach is an eclectic mixture of Gay, young and small family transplants from NE and mid-west, retirees, Israelis, Argentines. I suspect downtown, including and especially Brickell / Miami River areas, will attract more and more domestic migration, or as they are often called arriving Americans. The long stagnant American Jewish population is already growing and getting younger.White Flight, abated in the 90's elsewhere, was sharpened because the southern part of the county was struck by Hurricane Andrew in '92. Whites originally left the Central Dade with the influx of various Latin Americans and a skyrocketing crime rate linked to the cocaine trade wars, now seemingly settled. Even though most of the areas like Kendall and the Hammocks were spared Andrew's wrath, the population was traumatized and moved largely to Broward Central Florida of out of state. The public sector and small businesses, previously dominated by a slim White Majority became Hispanic by the late 90's. The growing pains of corruption and mismanagement that followed is (fingers crossed!) on the decline.

Again, crime is down, taxes are very low, regulation of business is virtually non-existent (for good or bad). There are SOME good schools, public and private and the people are laid back (except when driving or language challenged). Most importantly with the weather, and tropical flora and the sea and beaches... IT'S BEAUTIFUL!

For those who choose to continue the trend, in Broward I would suggest Plantation, Weston, Miramar as your best bets in South Broward, though Fort Lauderdale has some nice new condos and gem neighborhoods, especially it's old Victorian neighborhood. Broward has all the same local employers, with more municipal employment but less jobs at their colleges, i.e. FAU, Nova Southeastern, Broward Community College.

Local papers for South Florida are the Herald (often criticized as a booster sheet), while you also have the slightly more informative alternative weekly, the Miami New Times and its partner the Broward/Palm Beach New Times (great place to find an apartment or house to rent) and the other big paper Sun-Sentinel (or the OTHER Herald). So I would say to anyone- sure, plan your move, take your time and if can be helpful let me know. South Florida is great if you know what to expect and it is hell if you don't.

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