Once I graduated from high school, still unable to drive (in the pre Uber and Lyft era), and banned from Miami’s glamorous nightlife until I turned 21, I made my way out of state and spent the next ten years hopping around the globe--truly immersing in what I thought were "real," metropolitan cities. Cambridge. Santiago. New York City. London. Madrid. Washington DC. Panama. I almost could not envision returning to Miami and settling here once again.
That was until I visited for a few days last year. As always, I stayed with my parents, who had embraced their newly acquired empty-nesting status and left their home in the suburbs for an apartment in the downtown area. I couldn’t recognize them. Once happy with a weekend routine in which the highlight was a movie rental from Blockbuster, my parents had become experts in everything fun. Happy hours. Local concerts. Staycations. “Miami is changing,” they would tell me. I’d look at them with skepticism, convinced this was just part of their relentless campaign to bring me back home.
During that visit, however, I decided to explore this changed Miami I was hearing so much about. I met with old high school friends who’d also left and decided to return. I reconnected with people I had met abroad, who had somehow made it to a city that promised good weather, a growing job industry and cheaper rent than the usual suspects up north and west. And I went to a few events ranging from professional networking sessions to a reception for finalists of a public space design challenge. The more people I met, the more I sensed a vibe of excitement and optimism I had never seen here before. I encountered youth from everywhere, with talent and ideas in abundance. I discovered new dynamic areas like Midtown and Wynwood that reflected a modern vision for the city. There was no doubt Miami was onto something.
When, a couple of months later, I packed my bags and returned, I reclaimed a 305 phone number and decided to give Miami a second chance. This time, I wouldn’t just live in Miami. I was determined to live it.
Since I arrived and continued my quest for the new awesome in town, I’ve become one of Miami’s fiercest ambassadors. I’ve gone from convincing people they need to leave to finding reasons everyone, and especially young people, should consider bringing their passions here. Through these conversations I have noticed the general lack of awareness about the exciting developments in Miami’s professional and cultural scene. If you don’t make an active effort to engage with the city, or have local friends who can plug you in, it’s usually difficult to cultivate that sense of belonging and fulfillment that’s so important to develop and maintain a vibrant community.
That’s why I decided to put together a list of “spaces” (loosely defined by their unique social, cultural and professional appeal) that provide a gateway to the new Miami. Although my recommendations are mainly for young professionals, people from all ages might be drawn to at least some. Enjoy and, if you will, please let me know what I missed and should try next. Thanks!
Connect with Amazing People
How was there ever a Miami without the Knight Foundation? The organization’s blog and Biscayne Boulevard headquarters should be the first stop for anybody wishing to engage with the city. With funding available to support small and large-scale projects across the arts, community development, journalism and media innovation, it’s safe to say the Knight Foundation is one of Miami’s VIP players. Make sure you attend the Foundation’s free community breakfasts, a twice-a-month opportunity to hear about its latest projects and meet very interesting fellow residents. Nearby, at the LiveNinja offices in Wynwood, the tech community gathers weekly for Waffle Wednesdays, a free event with, yes, waffles, and startup presentations. Also in Wynwood, a local branch of the international Toastmasters organization meets every month to help art, technology, design and entrepreneurship professionals master leadership and public speaking skills. Besides these regular meet-ups, The LAB Miami, Refresh Miami, UP Miami, and the Idea Center at Miami Dade College host constant exciting events attracting the spirited and innovative at heart.
Join Groups that Make a Difference
Miami is also home to several organizations that provide young professionals a structured, long-term space to acquire leadership skills, a network of accomplished peers and plenty of opportunities for service to the community. The New Leaders Council, for example, selects a group of fellows annually and trains them to become civic leaders. Through the Miami Foundation, people 5 to 15 years into their professional career can also apply to become Miami Fellows, a 15-month leadership program. I am a member of the Miami Hub of the Global Shapers, an international network affiliated with the World Economic Forum that groups people between 20 and 30 years of age who want to make a positive difference in their local community. Women’s Movement Now is another grassroots initiative grouping young professional women “who seek to create and maintain a space for engagement and activism.” The Young Leaders group of the local United Way also engages in a variety of volunteer projects and social events while enjoying personal and professional development opportunities. Last but not least, Habitat Young Professionals provides a platform for the “socially conscious” in support of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami.
Explore Another Kind of Fun
Miami has long held a worldwide reputation for entertainment. People from all over flock to its beaches and clubs year-round, and the recent hype around the mega-famous Art Basel fair has added an extra, sophisticated touch to the city’s cultural image. For years, however, it seemed there were virtually no options for recreation outside of the beach and clubbing scene, or the affluent art world. Young professionals looking to have fun in other, accessible ways need not worry. The new Miami also has plenty to offer in this department.
I am proud to work at Miami Dade College, to be thanked for leading Miami’s culture in the right direction. It is host to the annual Miami Book Fair and the Miami International Film Festival, which crown a packed cultural agenda throughout the year. Some of the College’s fantastic programming, which includes creative writing courses and author events, is coordinated by The Center for Writing and Literature. The literary crowd might also enjoy the events regularly hosted by The Betsy Hotel and Books and Books, a bookstore with locations in Coral Gables, Miami Beach and the downtown area. Art lovers will enjoy the Wynwood Art Walk the second Saturday of each month, when galleries in this hipster neighborhood welcome the public at night and restaurants, food trucks and music make for the liveliest evening in town. In a little quieter environment, the recently inaugurated Pérez Art Museum also hosts events for the entire family.
If music and dancing is your thing, you might be interested in these exciting, relative newcomers. The booming Arts & Entertainment District now offers recreation spaces such as Canvas, which hosts dance lessons, concerts, movies under the stars and everything in between. Fans of contemporary Cuban artists (think Kelvis Ochoa, Descemer Bueno, Raúl Paz) might prefer the programming of the refreshing Vedado Social Club, an instrumental project bridging the arts scenes of Miami and Havana. The more fitness conscious might want to check out free yoga sessions at Bayfront Park, or the Critical Mass cycling event held the last Friday of each month. Keep in mind that many social and cultural opportunities are offered at discounted prices through applications such as Groupon, TravelZoo and Living Social. Foodies can also take advantage of great deals at some of Miami’s top restaurants during the annual Miami Spice.
Stay Updated About [Cool] Local News and Happenings
If you are thinking there is, in fact, a lot going on in Miami, and you want to stay on top of all these cool opportunities, here’s some advice. Most of the groups and spaces I mentioned above have their own newsletters; look for them on the websites and subscribe. The New Tropic is another great resource to find ways to “live like you live here.” You can also review the arts scene through Infraculture and get a taste for the “authentic” Miami through the publication Miami Nice.
I also hope to keep sharing the local gems I find. Be on the lookout.