As The Dissident, J.J. Colagrande turns his critical eye on Miami culture. This week: Mourning the death of Wynwood as a locals' scene.
Wynwood, long considered Miami's hippest, trendiest, coolest neighborhood, is no longer that hip or trendy; in fact, burgeoning Wynwood might officially be risky business.
Dozens of out-of-town media outlets have heralded the neighborhood lately. In December, The New York Times noted how "the newfound allure of Wynwood is the latest testament to how art... can sprinkle its metaphysical magic and transform even the bleakest places."
Newfound allure? That's rich.
Locals know Wynwood has been alluring for years; in fact, many locals will tell you Wynwood's decline is already apparent. Indulge me two examples.
The first example: Clive's. After 38 years in the neighborhood, the Jamaican eatery on North Miami Avenue, next to the Electric Pickle, closed its doors forever last Saturday. The Miami Herald reports a prominent Miami Beach group has rented the space with the intention of opening a restaurant.
This might appear to be a good thing -- even an upgrade, some may argue. But on the contrary, Clive's is just another example of the gentrification occurring throughout the neighborhood as rents are tripling, even quadrupling in some instances. It may be business, but it's cruel. A business like Clive's provided the neighborhood authenticity, reliability, consistency, and comfort. Clive's felt like home. You can't erase 38 years.
Now the Wynwood institution has joined the other businesses and locals that have put their blood, sweat, and tears into the neighborhood and are now leaving en masse to the tune of Bob Marley's "Exodus."
Those who've given to Wynwood are not being rewarded. The neighborhood, once a stellar representation of Miami's growth, pulsing and teeming with street art and spirit, is quickly evolving into a haute real-estate-driven Babylonian artistic Ponzi scheme.
Example number two: Last week, Romero Britto teamed up with Chris Brown to paint a mural and a few portraits to be auctioned for charity. To be fair, their event was for a good cause, Best Buddies International, an organization establishing leadership programs for the developmentally challenged. But still, if you cut through the optics, how does something like that even happen? If glitter is the herpes of art, Romero Britto and Chris Brown painting a mural together in Wynwood is full-blown AIDS transfused with gonorrhea.
What's worse: The PR stunt created the biggest headlines to come out of Wynwood all month. This reflects Wynwood's shift in focus from art to cheap celebrity culture.
And it's just the latest example. In February, the big news out of Wynwood was that within one week, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Jonah Hill all dropped by Panther Coffee, and Michael Bay filmed a Victoria's Secret commercial. By comparison, important cultural news such as a planned auction of Banksy street art and Art Wynwood (which tellingly takes place in midtown) went largely unnoticed. It's tempting to blame the media, but news outlets are just catering to their readers; anybody who's been to Second Saturday Art Walk in the past several years knows that local culture is no longer the main draw to Wynwood.
So the hood has been commoditized -- no question. Most of the people you'll find there these days are newbies and tourists. But what about the people who made the neighborhood? Where are the locals going?
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Tomorrow, they'll be at the inaugural First Friday Downtown Art Walk. The event will feature the very same blood, sweat, and tears that once built Second Saturdays in Wynwood and the Design District -- Bas Fisher Invitational, Dimensions Variable, TM Sisters, Turn-Based Press, and many others. Look at the plan. It's huge. This is where the locals are, and their event has all the ingredients to become what Second Saturdays were five years ago.
Meanwhile, as trendier and more upscale restaurants and businesses pop up in Wynwood, what will Wynwood become -- a pseudo-haven for the out-of-touch? The next Brickell? Maybe this is inevitable so-called progress, but I'm still sad to see the old Wynwood disappear, piece by piece.
J.J. Colagrande is the author of the novels Headz and Decò. Follow him on Twitter.