Little Havana Could Become "Brickell West," Lose Blue-Collar History, Activists Worry

Little Havana in the late 1970s.
Little Havana in the late 1970s.

A battle is brewing for the soul of Miami's most iconic neighborhood.

Little Havana, the spiritual home of the Cuban diaspora that populated the area in droves following the 1959 revolution, is still mostly a blue-collar immigrant neighborhood. But proposed zoning changes for taller condos and more commercial development have activists worried those residents could be pushed out. Developers and city officials backing the changes argue they would revitalize an economically depressed neighborhood, but critics are pushing back.

"The war is going to begin," Yvonne Bayona, a longtime resident and activist, tells New Times. "These high-rises are going to come, and they're going to eat us if we don't act quickly."

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The first affront on their neighborhood, activists say, came last October, when the city moved to reduce an existing 1.5-car-per-unit parking requirement in an effort aimed at attracting more urban, carless residents.

But the weightier assault came last month, when commissioners gave preliminary approval for a measure that would change zoning laws to allow for five-story buildings, with a maximum 65 units per acre, and new commercial development.

Earlier this month, the city's planning board moved to designate a two-block section of the neighborhood with historic preservation status, but activists were dismayed at the small area covered. Marta Zayas, another longtime resident, sees an attempt by developers and the city to turn Little Havana into West Brickell.

"You're going to make it one of these trendy hot spots now," she says.

Zayas and Bayona also take issue with arguments made in favor of the zoning change by Commissioner Frank Carollo, who didn't respond to New Times' requests for comment.

Carollo has claimed the changes would reduce the neighborhood's high crime rate and improve walkability; instead, Zayas says, the moves amount to gentrification and classism.

Zayas has planned a historic tour through the neighborhood this week to highlight how little would be covered under the historic status change.

"We may not have the same amount of money," she says, "but we have the same rights."

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