Robert Samuels, along with other staff writers of the Miami Herald has been writing this week about Unity Boulevard, perhaps better known as 27th Avenue. This thoroughfare traverses four of the most culturally and economically diverse areas of South Florida.
While the article delves into detail on the neighborhoods of Miami Gardens, Opa-Locka, Liberty City, Little Havana, and Coconut Grove, Samuels and his team wrote a particularly poignant description of the one-two punch that killed a once-vibrant, if still economically-challenged, 35-block stretch of the boulevard:
“Liberty City’s not like it was,” said Edwina Howard, 68, who was waiting for a bus near 79th Street. To her left was the Northside Shopping Centre, the neighborhood’s decrepit crown jewel of retail, now undergoing a $14 million renovation. In front of her was a burned-out hair supply store.

“Things were much better,” Howard said. “There were much better shops and they kept the place clean. I’d go to Sears or J.C. Penney at that mall. Now, I have to go to Dadeland Mall or one in Pembroke Pines.”

The area never recovered from 1980. Blacks erupted in riots that year, after an all-white jury acquitted white police officers charged with beating to death a black man named Arthur McDuffie.

Past Northside, more empty lots appear. One small matchbox house advertises collard greens. Another offers barbecue ribs. Both are locked up.

If you ask why the businesses disappeared, some say that all you have to do is look up.

You’ll see the Metrorail.

The neighborhoods beneath it — from Northwest 76th Street, the northern end of Liberty City, to 41st Street, in Brownsville — are the poorest on Unity Boulevard.

“The Metrorail decimated this neighborhood,” community activist Kenneth Kilpatrick said. “This place used to have a lot of business, a lot of good things. And then Metrorail came, and they all left.”

But why would something that was billed as the be-all end-all transit system destroy a neighborhood, rather than provide the enhancement intended? Samuels writes simply that according to Kilpatrick, the stores along this portion of the Avenue couldn’t stand the dearth of customers due to the length of construction of Metrorail through this corridor.

Having ridden the train through this area countless times, I’ve often wondered the same thing. On occasion, I’ve wanted to exit at Brownsville, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or Northside stations, and walk along the 27th Avenue corridor myself, to see if I could figure out what I might be able to do to help bring this community alive. But as sure as the train kept moving down the line, my thoughts soon turned to other items - typically my upcoming transfer to Tri-Rail.

Nonetheless, Samuels’s article, especially the part on Liberty City in which he interviews James Brimberry on becoming owner of the last remaining Royal Castle, has reignited that flame. It makes me want to drop everything and go there for one of their burgers. Perhaps that can refuel me and my once-perpetual thoughts of helping redevelop the neighborhoods the train was supposed to bring people to. This desolate space, once teeming with individually-owned and operated businesses, has so much potential to become one of the most livable neighborhoods in the county.

Robert Samuels’s six-day series, which began running Monday, concludes tomorrow with a write-up of 27th Avenue’s southern terminus, in Coconut Grove.

… Sean Bossinger is a new writer for Transit Miami. He manages the UTS Call Center at Florida International University, where he is a Ph. D. student in the Public Management program. In his copious spare time, he enjoys playing with his sons, Donovan and Logan, and spending time with his wife, Tracy. Living in Coral Gables, he frequently finds himself reading a book on the 24 Bus on Coral Way.

7 Responses to Unity is definitely unique…

  1. transitdave says:

    Maybe metrorail construction killed these businesses..on the other hand, maybe people now ride the train to better parts of town, to nicer shops, with better prices…….

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Very interesting article, thank you! As always, great blogs guys! Go FIU!

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  3. Ryan Sharp says:

    Kilpatrick makes it sound like MDT and Metrorail had the same devastating effect on Liberty City that Robert Moses’ Cross Bronx Expressway had on East Tremont and the South Bronx. The construction of Metrorail may have made it difficult for businesses on 27th during that period, but it certainly isn’t a major devastating factor like rammming an expressway through the heart of a neighborhood.

    If this was unequivocally true, we should generally see a snaking path of desolance all the the way from Kendall to Medley. Obviously, however, since this is not the case, there are many other factors that need to be considered to understand why NW 27th Ave is the way it is today.

    I’d be happy to continue doing such, but it would be better represented in a post than the comment section.

    With all that said, I think it’s important to view Liberty City the way Sean does here, looking forward toward using transit to reinvigorant the community instead of simplistically blame it for its demise. We’ll try to take a closer look at Liberty City in the coming months to determine how it can become more prosperous and livable without wholesale gentrification.

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  4. Sean Bossinger says:

    Transitdave and Mr. Sharpe make great observations; both of which I am very much in agreement with. Perhaps people from the Liberty City area do use the train to get to other, “better,” shopping opportunities; and, the train definitely doesn’t drive the wedge into the community the way SR 112 or I-95 did when they were built.

    However, I think the point Samuels (and his subjects) were trying to make, was that the businesses within this area were marginal to begin with, and the construction pushed them over the edge.

    Without defendable quantitative or qualitative research to back up Kilpatrick’s claim that Metrorail was the causal agent in the demise of these businesses, we’ll need to rely on his familiarity with the community to trust his claims.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    The 1980 McDuffie riots burnt down many of the businesses along 27th Avenue… by the time the Metrorail was being built in 1982 there were few businesses left to be impacted by construction. Contrast 27th Avenue to 79th Street and the businesses along that street under the Metrorail alignment are doing fine. Mr. Kilpatrick is simply wrong.

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  6. Kilpatrick says:

    First of all, I think I know a little about Brownsville and its business corridors as my family owned and operated businesses there for many decades.

    Secondly, I interviewed with Mr. Samuels for over two hours and all that he came up with was a statement that was more of a segway to my point than it was a ridicule of the current rail efforts. I clearly communicated the equalibrium of my quoted statement with my hope for the redevelopment of 27th Avenue through Transit-Oriented Development along the corridor and the fact that a plaza located directly across the street from the station is home to one of the busiest and most successful Bank Americas in South Florida….I would know THAT too. Mr. Samuels most notably decided to omit the fact that I led a community-driven process called a “Charrette” that resulted in the award-winning Model City/Brownsville Charrette …the MASTER PLAN for redevelopment of the area. Point is, I didn’t make that statement in a vacuum and it was just a footnote on the bulk of our interview (which was the HOPE that the community has thru the Master Plan by which WE created - which includes ALL of 27th Avenue in Brownsville)..

    McDuffie riots devastated the community: true. But the 1980’s version of Metrorail was just as oppressive or worse. Today’s metrorail development version contains plans to mitigate the impacts to surrounding areas with affordable housing and retail to accommodate the ANTICIPATED losses to businesses, etc. This is not an amenity to community’s like Brownsville whose unemployment rate is routinely set at 20%. This is MANDATORY! Because this was not in place in the 80’s…”it decimated this community” I stand-by that TRUE statement that would have been confirmed by the OTHER business-owners along the corridor had Mr. Samuels interviewed them as I asked him to.

    Sharp said that, “If this was unequivocally true, we should generally see a snaking path of desolance all the the way from Kendall to Medley.” Absolutely INCORRECT. The metrorail serves areas that had then, and still has today, social-economic indicators that are POLAR-opposites of those in Brownsville..there is no comparison. There is, “defendable quantitative or qualitative research to back up” my ascertions (FEIS 2007) for Mr. Bossinger et al..

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  7. Tony Garcia says:

    Kilpatrick, thanks for clarifying your position in the article. I tend to agree that within the context of ’80’s era land use regulations - Metrorail had a deleterious effect on its surroundings. I would like to think that we have learned a lot since then (other cities have), but considering the lack of TOD’s and reformed zoning regulations around the Metrorail I remain skeptical.

    PS. The Brownsville Charrette Plan is a great model of how we should be thinking about the areas around the Metrorail - pedestrian friendly, dense and walkable.

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