Arts
4:48 pm
Wed October 10, 2012

The Nine Best Blocks In South Florida

For the first time since the 1920’s, young people across the United States are migrating back to the urban cores, and leaving the suburbs behind, according to U.S. Census data.

Gone is the dream of white picket fences and perfectly manicured lawns. This generation favors walkability, vibrant street life, bicycle lanes, and public transportation in their daily lives. Because of this shift in 

If you don't like South Florida, wait a minute -- cause it's gonna be different.

migration, many inner cities are being revitalized as redevelopment projects cater to these new urban residents – and South Florida is no exception.

Here at WLRN we teamed up with The Townhouse Center, The Knight Foundation, and The Miami Herald to host South Florida’s “Best Block Contest” – asking you to help us find the best block, by sending us photos and videos of your favorites.

Espanola Way is South Florida's Best Block

A panel of expert judges sifted through 170 photo and video entries to come up with this final list, including judges' notes:

Photo of Allapattah submitted by Albert Harum-Alvarez.
Credit Albert Harum-Alvarez

9) Allapattah. The stable working-class heart of Allapattah has a lot of potential. Foot traffic and mixed-use buildings abound.

8) Midtown. The massive, brand-new Midtown Miami development has been a huge success. Built in the mid-2000's, the formerly blighted area is home to various mixed-use high-rise buildings that consist of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars on the ground floors, and residences above the businesses.

7) Design District. The ongoing makeover of the Design District embraces pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use urbanism, says the panel. It's come a long way in a short time. Back in the 80's and 90's, the area was all run-down warehouses and wholesale cloth shops. Now it's home to art galleries, creative firms, high-end shops, eateries, cafes and bars.  

6) Wynwood. Beautiful street-graffiti murals and new cafes, restaurants, and bars have made the once- 

Photo of Wynwood neighborhood in Miami submitted by Rudi Navarra.
Credit Rudi Navarra

forlorn warehouse zone into a unique, budding arts district along Northwest Second Avenue, say judges. The epicenter of Miami’s budding art culture, Wynwood hosts a monthly artwalk where thousands of South Floridians gather to eat, drink, and mingle at the dozens of art galleries that open their doors for that special event.

5) Little Haiti. There’s an unusual and promising urban alchemy on display in the block of Northeast Second Avenue in Little Haiti, say judges. The street is lines by brightly hued immigrant shopfronts, a community garden and two Miami counter-cultural, rock’n’roll stalwarts, Churchill’s Pub and the Sweat Records store.

4) Clematis Street. An iconic and resurgent South Florida block richly varied in its uses and urbanism. The block is very walkable, and has available transportation options, such as a trolley line and a car-share program. A lively streetscape that in time-tested fashion encompasses cafes, bars, restaurants, apartments and offices over the shops, a regional theater, and a popular park overlooking Clematis Street's terminus at the   Intracoastal Waterway.

Calle Ocho in Little Havana.
Credit Bieber Silverstein Group

3) Calle Ocho. This signature street is home to landmarks like the renovated Art Deco Tower Theater, Domino Park, and long-lived café restaurants like El Pub. Guayabera and Cuban memorabilia shops line the streets as well as newcomers like the Azucar ice cream shop with its colorful, oversized ice-cream-cone frieze.

2) Miracle Mile. Pedestrian-friendly urbanism rules Coral Gables’ main commercial street. Sidewalk café tables abound under the expansive shades of awnings over broad sidewalks, which are separated from busy traffic by parked cars. Sidewalk dining, simple techniques and street furnishings helped to transform this once-sterile, car-oriented 1940s shopping street, jurors say.

1) Espanola Way. This “very special place,’’ as one juror puts it, leapt to the top of the competition as the most complete and polished block in South Florida. Designed as an artists’ district at the height of the land boom of the 1920s, this splendidly renovated block today boasts a dense confluence of walkability, first-rate Mediterranean 

Espanola Way in Miami Beach. This photo by Barry Miller won third place in the South Florida Best Block Contest.
Credit Barry Miller

Revival architecture, hotels and apartments, and cafes, shops, art galleries and entertainment that is unmatched by any other street in the region. The narrow street, the intricately decorated building facades, their consistent yet varied street frontages, and shady awnings and street trees provide an intimate atmosphere and a richness of experience that draws crowds of tourists and locals alike to Española Way both at night and by day – the ultimate proof of an urban block’s success.

One of the judges, author and historian Arva Moore Parks, says that many of these blocks would not have been considered just a decade ago. 

"I always say about South Florida it’s like what Mark Twain said about the weather in New England," said Parks. "He said if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute, and I say in South Florida, if you don’t like South Florida, wait a minute – cause it’s gonna be different.”

To see all the video and photo submissions check out wlrn.org/bestblock – and tell us which one is your favorite.