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Little Haiti Sunday Stroll Refuses to Be "the New Wynwood"

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What comes after Wynwood? The development of the formerly overlooked neighborhood, once a strictly industrial cityscape, into one of the most buzzed-about destinations in the nation has everyone speculating what the city's next big move is.

Wynwood and its infamous Second Saturday Art Walks have some people complaining that they're over capacity, and seeking the next up-and-coming arts destination in Miami. Artists are adapting and using this momentum to reintroduce the city to its own hidden treasures. That's especially true of the most recent happenings in Little Haiti, as Yo Miami and the area's community set out to inaugurate the first-ever Little Haiti Sunday Stroll.

This Sunday, March 3, Little Haiti will reclaim its stake as one of the city's cultural hubs. Yo Miami teamed up with Sweat Records, Little Haiti Cultural Center, and Moksha Family Arts Collective in hopes of dispelling the negative notions associated with the neighborhood's reputation for crime and poverty. Instead, it seeks to expose what Yo Miami likes to refer to as one of "Miami's best-kept secrets" in terms of the Haitian Kreyol and Francophone cultures rich in art and history.

As part of the free, bimonthly (every two months, not twice a month) Sunday Stroll, people will have the chance to familiarize themselves with the neighborhood during a daytime, family-oriented (or post-Saturday hangover) event in an area nearly double the size of Wynwood Art Walk.

"Little Haiti isn't the new Wynwood; it's Little Haiti. We have an incredibly unique local culture and variety of established businesses but don't have the population of art galleries that Wynwood does. Most of the business owners here are OK with that, as we're growing organically with road and façade improvements and would enjoy not having our rents quadrupled anytime soon," Lauren Reskin, cofounder of Sweat Records, says. The beloved indie music store connected to punk watering hole Churchill's Pub has seen the area transform since Sweat's establishment seven years ago. Yuval Ofir, founder of Yo Miami, has also seen Little Haiti grow over time.

Yo Space, originally a warehouse owned by Ofir's father since the '90s, became home to Yo Miami's art ecosystem a little over a year ago. Initially an idea for a food truck rally, Sunday Stroll ultimately expanded into its current state to bring more traffic into the area. "But after talking about the idea to several established members of the community, we ended up taking things in a little bit of a different direction. We agreed that it would be much better if we took a grassroots approach to organizing the events and letting the whole thing grow organically," Ofir said.

The community is immediately recognized as one of the poorest areas in Miami and has struggled to survive. "I do think there's a stigma associated with the area, and it's not necessarily unwarranted. The neighborhood is definitely in the midst of transition, but I think the same thing can be said about a lot of areas in Miami right now. I know that, personally, I've had more enjoyable weekends biking through the neighborhood with my fiancee than I can count, and have never felt unduly concerned for our safety," Ofir said.

Newly renovated storefronts painted brightly in pastels and the Caribbean Marketplace, recreated in the likeness of the homeland's Iron Market in Port-au-Prince, are a few of the sights to take in. New bike lanes and ample parking facilitate event-goers who are encouraged to carpool and pedal together as they visit the designated "hotspots" in participating locations scheduled for the Stroll, including the Little Haiti Community Garden, local bookstores, restaurants, Fusse Studios, and of course Sweat and Yo Miami, which will be hosting another one of its signature Average Joe Art Sales at Yo Space. If:Miami, an open source entrepreneurship project, will also be on the grounds introducing their team and what they've been working on as a non-profit. Los Chamos Food Truck will also be serving up delicious arepas and empanadas, and although their cuisine is Venezuelan, it just adds to the cultural coming togetherness that Miami inspires.

The Little Haiti Cultural Center, which made a name for itself through work to reform and act as a voice for the community, is excited about the partnerships backing the project. The Center's Big Night, Little Haiti, held every third Friday of the month for free, has helped draw people to the neighborhood. "It could be another destination as far as the art world is concerned. I think that's better than saying it's the new Wynwood...people are coming out who would never come into this area before, I think it's just merging people together and the curiosity is there as well," Marie Vickles, visual arts coordinator at the Cultural Center, said of the development.

As Little Haiti is adapting, it refuses to allow surrounding borders (cough Design District cough) encroach on its territory any longer. The residents of the community are responding well to the changes, "I met with some of the local NET officials and small business owners and everyone is gung ho. We're starting small but would like to grow this into something regular that people look forward to," Reskin said.

Little Haiti Sunday Stroll takes place all over Little Haiti, but a good starting point is Yo Space, at 294 NE 62nd St., Miami. The walk takes place Sunday, March 3, from noon to 6 p.m. "Hotspots" will revolve around 54th, 59th, and 62nd streets.

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

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