By Craig Davis, Craigslegz.com
MIAMI – Some places get by forever on reputations of grandeur that may no longer be merited.
There are prominent cities, including a notable personal favorite, which I’ve returned to and found to be not nearly as great centers of interest and activity as they once were or are purported to still be.
No need to step on anyone’s sacred urban cows here. This isn’t about them anyway.
This is about reinvention and resurrection. So here’s an emphatic hallelujah to what’s going on in Miami, particularly the cultural awakening in the Wynwood neighborhood.
Until recently it was known for blight and decay, and in just a few years has become a hip hub of art and creative expression.
It is a revelation in a time when much is in decline.
We live in a period of remarkable technological innovation that sadly has coincided with an alarming erosion of most everything else – economically, politically, socially, culturally.
When you travel extensively, it is easy to be frequently disappointed by cities that have changed and no longer measure up to their hype.
That’s why thousands are drawn to the renaissance at Wynwood, 10 minutes west of South Beach, where the buildings and sidewalks are vibrant canvases, transformed into mind-bending murals by artists from throughout the world.
Most intriguing is that of an urban area plucked from despair that is on its way up. This one’s changing fast. It’s fluid. It will be different a month from now.
Wynwood may become too big for its own good. Maybe it already is headed that way. But there’s still room to grow.
The vibe is alluring, and happening right now in places like The Wynwood Yard (56 NW 29th St, Miami, FL 33127), an outdoor gathering place for music, food and drink a couple blocks off the main thoroughfare.
Such as on a sunny Saturday in January, a rare jacket day in Miami with the wind whipping the palms and the Magic City Hippies laying down their Indie funk and reggae hip hop originals with some vintage covers mixed in. They managed to give “Benny and the Jets” a fresh feel.
Did I mention, no admission charge for the SaturDaze event at the Yard?
Just wander in, grab a spot on a blanket or rug in front of the stage, toss the beanbag in the game area at the back of the yard or grab a bite at one of the food trucks (one had a barbecue duck sandwich that was superb).
The best spot to chill and take in the scene was the corner of the centerpiece Thyme Bar, where they were serving hot spiced-apple cider – spiked, of course, and going fast in the brisk weather – and Flower Power punch.
What stood out was of the overall friendliness and easy-going atmosphere of the event.
Wynwood is a hipster haven. The crowd at the Yard was in step with the description without taking it to the extreme. Predominantly young, though not entirely. Fashionably casual. Ray-Bans standard issue.
What struck me was that it was reflective of the new face of the nation, which is trending to varying shades of mocha. With emphasis on ‘varying,’ it is fresh and interesting.
It underscored how antiquated it is for a place like Iowa to set the tone for the presidential primary season. The beat of the nation isn’t coming from the heartland. It’s in places like Wynwood where expression and ideas aren’t constrained by convention.
Wynwood is the product of a visionary real estate developer, the late Tony Goldman, who had a knack for bringing blighted areas back to life. He accomplished that in technicolor by buying up rundown warehouses and inviting artists to give them new life and personality.
It was Art Basel that first drew attention to Wynwood in the early 2000s. But the area has really took off since 2009 when Goldman opened Wynwood Walls (2516 NW 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33127), which may be the grandest display of sanctioned graffiti anywhere.
More than 50 artists from 16 countries created the massive murals covering 80,000 square feet of walls in a permanent outdoor display that has been featured in the New York Times, BBC News, Vanity Fair, Forbes and other mass-marketed media.
Goldman vision, according to the project’s website: “Wynwood’s large stock of warehouse buildings, all with no windows, would be my giant canvases to bring to them the greatest street art ever seen in one place.”
The concept was such a hit Goldman bought the adjacent property and created Wynwood doors.
The best part, as at The Wynwood Yard, is it’s free. No fee to enter what is essentially a central park art walk.
Will the area remain a breath of fresh air and color?
Traffic and parking is already a problem in Wynwood. A story in Art Pulse magazine noted that gentrification is already settling in and rising prices are pushing artists out.
It’s a familiar trend in many places where the quaint gives way to corporate. The best advice about Wynwood is, experience it while it’s hot – and cool.
The arts district, which has more than 70 galleries and many boutiques, restaurants and bars, as well as Miami’s first craft production brewery, is a neighborhood north of downtown and roughly bounded by Northwest 36th Street (north), Northwest 20th Street (south), I-95 (west) and Northeast 1st Avenue (east).