The Six Phases of a Gentrifying Neighborhood in Miami

They paved paradise and put up a mural that said "paradise."
They paved paradise and put up a mural that said "paradise."
Photo by Morgan Coleman

Gentrification is an incredibly complicated social phenomenon. At its worse, it means the local culture and identity created by lower-class folks (in Miami, often immigrants) are replaced by what seems almost like focus-group-tested trendiness and all sorts of bourgie nonsense. At its best, it means maybe an underutilized neighborhood gets a much-needed identity update.

Whatever the case, it's something Miami seems to do a lot. Now that the gentrifications of Wynwood and Edgewater are now pretty much complete (they're both around Phase 5), developers already have their eyes on what's next.

So here's our handy guide to the six phases of gentrification in Miami:

Phase 1: The Pawns Move In
The people who begin the gentrification process don't wittingly come into a neighborhood to rip it from its current residents only to see it turned into an overpriced Pleasantville in ten years. They're just looking for cheap rent. Their arrival doesn't even mean the place is the next hot spot necessarily, but it all starts somewhere. 

Art Galleries: One or two rogue galleries, usually newly established and experimental or counterculture in nature, pop up, and they don't reflect the existing local culture of the community. You're not actually sure what they reflect. Someone says the work notions at modern gestures of peripheral space while deconstructing traditional markers of identity. You see a blond wig submerged in a small fish tank full of purple water through the gallery's front window. 

Nightlife: There's no real established nightlife scene, but occasional parties pop up at those art galleries or other spaces. They attract kids under 21 wearing artfully ripped T-shirts and blunt bangs. 

Real Estate: Young people who work in underpaid creative fields begin moving here in small numbers. They seem kind of nice but mostly keep to themselves. Rents haven't gone up yet, though.

Business: New business activity is pretty low, but someone may try to open a vegan bakery with money raised on Kickstarter. Mostly, it's the same old grocery stores and barbershops that have always been here. 

Restaurants: A food truck or two might show up occasionally, maybe at a party outside one of those art galleries, but only if there's nothing better going on that night.

The Six Phases of a Gentrifying Neighborhood in Miami (2)
Copelaes via Flickr Creative Commons

Phase 2: The Pawns Settle 
At this point, the neighborhood has an emerging new identity, and the original pawns have attracted their friends. 

Art Galleries: There are enough galleries that people begin talking about the new "scene" in the neighborhood. Maybe even existing and respected galleries start moving here after their rents got too expensive in the last gentrified neighborhood. 

Nightlife: There's still no real bar or club yet, but there are now a couple of "event spaces." Street parking on Saturday nights seems to get increasingly harder to find as more and more places throw performance-art series in honor of the spirit of Nicola Tesla or nights of 30 local noise bands playing in 30 minutes. 

Real Estate: It happened in Miami Beach in the '80s with the pastels and in Wynwood in the '00s with murals. When a Miami neighborhood is in the process of gentrification, buildings get painted in all sorts of funky ways.

Business: Bodegas begin selling needlessly expensive craft beers even though PBR suddenly has become their bestseller. The first vegan bakery closed yet somehow another one opened. Hip businesses that operate their retail locations elsewhere in the city might buy an old building to use as their central distribution or cold-pressed-juice-bottling center. 

Restaurants: Someone who won an episode of Chopped uses his money to finance his own restaurant. The pseudo-celebrity chef gives an interview to New Times about how it's exciting to be one of the first new restaurants in a rapidly growing area, which is weird because there are plenty of restaurants in the area already actually — just not the type people who read food blogs eat at. This new restaurant doesn't serve things like "a side of fries." Instead, it serves "a complimentary portion of hand-cut, specially seasoned potato sticks accompanied by sriracha-dragonfruit sauce."

The Six Phases of a Gentrifying Neighborhood in Miami (4)EXPAND
Photo by Monica McGivern

Phase 3: People With Real Money Start Making Moves 
Whoops, developers have taken notice! The Miami Herald runs a front-page piece on Saturday about how the area is changing. 

Art Galleries: Well, there's an art walk now — except no one calls it an "art walk" because that term is played-out. People actually do seem to be here for the art at this point, but you're not sure, because unlike in Wynwood, the galleries do serve free booze. It's provided, naturally, by liquor sponsors. 

Nightlife: The first bar or club has opened. Actually, no one can tell if it's supposed to be a bar or a club. At first, you're not sure what the name of the place is either. There's a sign above the door with three teal trapezoids, though. You hear that people call it "Traps." 

Real Estate: Developers and investors start buying up properties in the neighborhood. Warehouses are converted for purposes other than the storing of wares. Rents continue slowly but steadily rising, and more older residents start to get priced out. Kids in acid-wash jeans keep moving in. 

Business: There's a new boutique that sells a T-shirt that looks like it was used as a rag to clean an old Chevy engine. The price tag reads, "$145." 

Restaurants: Pre-existing neighborhood locals can't get into their favorite restaurant anymore. It's always booked. Some foodie tweeted about how it was authentic and a secret gem. All their other favorite restaurants are starting to close now. More eateries that serve things like "Swedish-Peruvian fusion" and "neoclassical Canadian with an emphasis on gluten-free ingredients" pop up in their place. 

The Six Phases of a Gentrifying Neighborhood in Miami (3)
Photo by Carlos Escobar via Critical Mass' Facebook

Phase 4: Peak Gentrification 
This is the point when the original pawns are still around and love the neighborhood, but more and more people from outside are starting to pay attention. Maybe the area was even featured in a slide show. 

Art Galleries: The galleries that were here in the beginning start to leave. A Parisian gallery decided to open a branch here, though, and people seem excited about it, like it legitimizes the art scene. 

Nightlife: There are now a couple of nightlife options. Traps is still always packed, but you hear people saying things like, "Ugh, no one goes to Traps anymore. I like Gender Lounge better."

Real Estate: Older buildings begin getting torn down. There are city meetings about the need to rezone. A Russian billionaire buys two blocks of the neighborhood, but no one has any idea what he plans to do with them. 

Business: A very hip Brokenly boutique opens its second location in the neighborhood. The sign outside simply reads, "Second location." There's now a place that offers $55 men's haircuts. 

Restaurants: There are multiple brunch options in the neighborhood now — more brunch options than the neighborhood really needs. 

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Photo by Karli Evans

Phase 5: No Looking Back 
Not only is the original character of the neighborhood gone, but the character that it obtained during the transition is also fading away. 

Art Galleries: Most of the art galleries have left, yet people still talk about the neighborhood as if it's an artsy district. 

Nightlife: People from Brickell start Uber-ing to the neighborhood for bar crawls. People from Brickell, for Christ's sake! A self-proclaimed "megaclub" opens, and it's horrible, but it still attracts tons of kids from Kendall. 

Real Estate: The first mixed-used midrise towers open. The new neighbors are really concerned about the lack of a dog park. When is the city commission going to do something about this dog-park situation? 

Business: Places specializing in craft beers and speciality coffees pop up, and 30-something dudes with beards are so psyched about it. 

Restaurants: Someone who has judged an episode of Chopped opens a restaurant. He says he's sick of pretentious restaurant trends and just wants to cook the homestyle food he really enjoys. The fries are actually called fries on the menu, but the price next to them suggests that you really should be paying for "a complimentary portion of hand-cut, specially seasoned potato sticks accompanied by sriracha-dragonfruit sauce."

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Photoby Karlie Evans

Phase 6: "Ugh, This Neighborhood Is Like Sooooo Over Now" 
If neighborhoods aren't careful, they can accidentally find themselves the next Coconut Grove. 

Art Galleries: There's only a Britto or Peter Max gallery left now. All the other galleries have moved on. 

Nightlife: Coral Gables moms come here looking for their kid's next stepdad. 

Real Estate: There's a veritable skyline full of luxury high-rises. People keep buying units for astounding prices, yet no one actually seems to live in them. 

Business: A Gap store opens. 

Restaurants: A few favorite stalwarts have stuck around, but now there's also a PF Chang's and an incredibly overpriced yet boringly traditional steakhouse. 

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