Miami's Urban Renaissance
In the tourist shop windows of Miami Beach rows and rows of brightly coloured T-shirts proclaim 'I'm in Miami Bitch'. A crude pun perhaps, but the sentiment is clear -- Miami rules.
Miami is a city that has always inspired pride and envy for its core offers of escapism, partying, sunshine and sex, but until recently the quality of its urban and cultural environment lagged some way behind. A highly suburban car-based city, Miami's centres had been dominated by sprawling surface car parking lots and with some exceptions Miami's contemporary architecture was nothing to write home about.
But now the city's credentials have been bolstered by a roster of fine new buildings, some fantastic public space and an array of cultural facilities with more in the pipeline. Given the quality and coherence of these elements, it does not seem overstated to describe what is happening as an 'urban renaissance'.
Examples are all around. The recently completed car-parking garage/ vertical piazza by Herzog and de Meuron and the New World Symphony concert hall by Frank Gehry effectively book-end and reinforce Lincoln Road mall, creating a fantastic modern space for shopping and people watching.
Adding to the cultural mix is a small but perfectly formed new arthouse cinema, the Miami Beach Cinematheque, which has just opened in a prominent new position. Up the road the recent South Pointe Park has created some great quality recreational space in what was once a no-go zone. And the cherry on SoBe's cake is 'Deco bike' a Velib-style bike share scheme that turns the area into a more amenable, pedestrian-friendly space.
Simultaneously over the Bay from South Beach, the previously rundown Wynwood is being reborn as a district of private art museums. The unspectacular urban fabric consisting of block upon block of low-rise warehouses and workshops is being revitalised through enormous works of street art. Wynwood extends the regeneration begun in the adjacent Design District at the start of the millennium and is also the spiritual home for Art Basel Miami, which rolls into town each December trailing gallerists, artists, assorted global media and hangers-on.
And there is more to come. Herzog de Meuron's second major building in the city, the Miami Art Museum (MAM) has just broken ground and is set to open in 2013. This will be joined the following year by the Grimshaw Architects-designed Science Museum, ultimately forming Museum Park, a cultural hub for the city in landscaped gardens by the water.
In the context of a worldwide economic recession, with the US economy in debt to the tune of $14 trillion and rising $1 million a minute, one might expect Miami's architects to be in a downbeat mood. Quite the opposite. All of them seem incredibly optimistic about the future of their city. The feeling is that at just over 100 years old the city has only just got into its swing. Miami, at the crossroads of North and South America and the Caribbean and a playground for all, seems set to become one of the great cities of the 21st Century.