Land of the Rich and Home of the White

Morningside is supposed to be open to the public. So why is it closed off like a private club?

Hoever, the security guard, doesn't volunteer information, but he has straightened out matters for confused motorists. "People see the security guard and think they're going to ask them questions," Hoever says. "Sometimes people pull up and ask, 'Can we no longer get to Morningside Park?' Or 'How do we get to the park?' Some don't even bother asking; they just see the guard gate and turn around."

Some Morningside residents such as Patrick McCoy, a former civic association board member, disagree that the park population is dwindling. "I personally have not noticed any change," McCoy says. "I think the park is widely used during the weekend, and now we have the unfortunate development of Jet Skis, which we never had in the past, and that certainly has increased."

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Ruth Adedeji and her two young children, who live on NE 62nd Street, had the playground almost to themselves. A hundred yards to the east, a few couples wandered among tree-shaded picnic tables, gazing out on the bay. The jogging trail was dotted with folks in T-shirts and sweatpants. The park's pool, tennis courts, and soccer field were unoccupied. Adedeji says she turned back when she first came upon the Morningside guard gates not long ago. "I used to come [to Morningside Park] all the time; I've been in Miami ten years," she says. "But I drove up one day and when I saw the gates up, I thought we weren't allowed to go in any more. So I passed it up. Then later I thought, This was a public park, so let me ask if I can go in. And they let me in."

Twenty yards from the playground, Michael Crawford and his wife, Vernita, were shooting hoops as their three kids and a niece chased one another back and forth across the basketball court. Crawford, a 30-year-old Miami native, says he practically grew up playing in Morningside Park. Now he lives on NW 100th Street and holds two jobs, one of them with a landscaping company that often works on projects in Morningside. Crawford, who is black, agrees the barricades and guard gates probably keep some people from coming, but he isn't bothered. "Used to be, man, you couldn't find a place to park," Crawford muses. "Sometimes fights would break out. A lot of homes were being burglarized. The crime kind of took people away [from the park]." He takes off his baseball cap and runs the back of his wrist across his forehead. Behind him Vernita is adjusting their Rollerblading younger daughter's neon-bright kneepads. "They have the right to protect their neighborhood," Crawford concludes. "It's a lot safer environment now."

A few blocks away, a navy BMW stops alongside Conraad Hoever's guardhouse. The car is packed with young, sportily dressed black men who are looking at him questioningly. He doesn't try to explain, just motions the BMW forward so he can see the license plate. He writes down the number and pushes the gate-lifting button, and the car glides down the street. "Probably going to the park to play in a soccer game," he speculates. "They have 'em most Sundays. I recognize a lot of the guys who come every week."

Hoever emigrated to the United States ten years ago from Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana). He now speaks perfect English, substitute-teaches during the week, and is applying to law school. Until his full-time teaching certificate comes through, he says, he's grateful to have this weekend security job. "I used to live in a gated community," Hoever remarks, stroking his close-cropped beard. A silver badge is pinned to his short-sleeve khaki shirt; an arm patch reads Dade Line Security (a black-owned subcontractor). "But you had to tell the guard who you were going to visit, and then he would call [the residents] to ask permission to let the person in. Here, we have to let everybody go through. We're not really deterring anybody. I don't know why they want to waste their money on this."

Realtor Norah Schaefer, a Morningside resident, says some area homes have increased by five times in price over the past couple of decades. But the gates, she believes, are not the reason; it's a general shortage of housing. "I think guard gates keep us in the running as far as property values," Schaefer says, "because everybody else has them."

kathy.glasgow@miaminewtimes.com

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