By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Not that the area destined to become Miami Shores was just a depot. From the start it was billed as a luxury destination. While lacking a meticulous planner on par with Coral Gables's George Merrick, the Shores was staked out by a series of perspicacious hucksters. In a fit of geographic hyperbole, one land company billed its 2500-acre plot as "America's Mediterranean." Others plugged smaller chunks of land on WQAM radio, which broadcast standing-room-only concerts of the Miami Shores Orchestra performing such favorites as "On Miami Shore" and "Miami Shore, You're Calling Me."
For the shrewd investors who had plotted the land, the chiming of the register was music enough. On September 3, 1925, for instance, land-hungry buyers snapped up 400 one-acre lots of leveled mangrove that were barely covered with sand. In less than three hours, $22,414,700 changed hands. The land company had to carry the booty to the bank in barrels. The boom, of course, soon went bust; two devastating hurricanes and the Depression put a damper on development. But by 1932 the town had coalesced enough to incorporate, elect a council, and officially proclaim itself Miami Shores (conveniently ignoring that a nearby city, which was to become North Miami, was already using the name).
From the beginning, village fathers exhibited a suspiciously Coral Gables-like passion for rule-making, enacting - among other lunatic ordinances - a law requiring that cats wear bells, an edict subjecting owners of barking dogs to prosecution, and later, a curfew on the use of power lawn mowers. For the first fifteen years of its existence, the prim community remained a quiet outpost of affluence, playing "the village beautiful" to the Gables's hallowed City. The only notable addition to the Shores was the sprawling country club built in 1936. Ironically, the club that would later become the seat of bayfront aristocracy was built by Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration.
After World War II the village hit another boom era. Drawn by its manicured lawns and quaint downtown district, hordes of suburb-hungry families jacked the town's head count to 5000 by 1952. Fifteen years later, the population had grown to 9000 and available housing was growing scarce. The influx brought no significant ethnic diversity. Census figures show that in 1970, the city was less than one percent black. Those who remember the Shores of this era invariably use the same word to describe the place: heaven. "It was the American dream, you know, right down to Main Street," recalls west-sider Bryan Smith, who grew up during the Fifties. "People didn't have to lock their doors. The streets were safe." Tight control over zoning and code enforcement has allowed Miami Shores to retain a tranquil, Mayberryesque ambiance. Crisply defined blocks stretch on and on without convenience stores, malls, or other unsightly urban fixtures. A vigilant crusade against commercial exploitation has kept cafes and shops off of Northwest Second Avenue. The sedate downtown strip, long coveted by developers as a CocoWalk-in-waiting, remains lined with banks and law offices.
But while the Shores was perfectly content to stop growing 30 years ago, the rest of Dade exploded. Unincorporated neighborhoods mushroomed around the village, bringing a shifting cast of immigrants to the outlying areas. Highways and major thoroughfares replaced placid two-lane roads. And the effluvium of this urban sprawl -screeching cars and trolling criminals -imbued Miami Shores with a siege mentality. By the Eighties, bars were going up on windows and high-tech alarm systems were being employed to supplement beefed up police and civilian patrols. The village beautiful, in short, paid a dear price for trying to live the myth of Eisenhower in a post-Reagan reality.
Seen from this perspective, proponents argue, the barricades should be embraced as the measure that has, in one fell swoop, liberated the Shores from its xenophobic trembling. "Before the barricades, people were afraid to leave their homes. The streets were empty," recalls Barbara North Burton, whose exclusive east-side enclave was corraled with barriers in Phase I of the operation. "Now you have people outside all the time; joggers, kids, pets. People get together and talk about issues. We've created a very desirable residential area."
Peter Muller calls the process retro-fitting. "What they seem to be doing with these barricades is redesigning the town in the mold of planned community," explains Muller, the chairman of the University of Miami's geography department. "For most of the new luxury developments, the basic plan is to dig out an artificial lake, use the dirt to encircle the housing, and set up one entrance with a guardhouse to regulate who comes in. In the end, it's building a wall to protect a way of life."
There is no question, Muller says, that this process of girding will surge as the nation's blighted downtowns spill into once-isolated suburbs. Law enforcement officials are turning, in ever greater numbers, toward crime prevention through environmental design, a pseudoscience spiced with paramilitary buzz words such as "defensible space" and "access control." Muller points to the growing number of communities - more than nineteen in Dade alone - that have erected aesthetically pleasing barriers and/or guard stations to keep out traffic and riffraff. Even once-Bohemian Coconut Grove has resorted to barricades to deter traffic in residential neighborhoods. And Shores officials are quick to note that calls for barricade advice have come in from numerous communities, including nearby Surfside and Bay Harbor Islands.