It's probably just as well that the government center courtyard isn't extravagantly landscaped and decorated, because it would most certainly be overshadowed by the real-life dramas that unfold there on a daily basis. Its location is a natural magnet. The Metrorail's government center stop is directly above it. Within your field of view is the Miami-Dade Cultural Center, the county courthouse, the central bus terminal, the main public library, and various government buildings. It's hard to imagine a resident or tourist who hasn't at one time or another crossed the courtyard, at least on the way to someplace else. But it's the people with nowhere else to go who make the place so engaging. The benches invite area bums and crazies to sit a spell while being regaled by their own. Relatively quiet Sundays, when the missionaries drop by to sermonize to the apparently drunken flock, might even be the best time. Unlike other people-watching spots, however, you won't just be a spectator here. You'll become part of the entertainment when, without fail, somebody will approach you hoping for "spare" change, some attention, or simply directions how to get out of there quickly.

Suicidal bicyclists are nothing new to downtown, South Beach, the Grove, and other auto-clogged communities, but lately there's been a number of them who have tossed out the delightfully revealing bike shorts and tight shirts for three-piece suits and Italian leather shoes. This development might be nothing more than fallout from the metrosexual trend that somehow made it okay for guys to pluck their eyebrows (bleccch). Who cares? It's hot, hot, hot. Now some gearshifting Einstein needs to figure out the mechanics of pedaling around glamorously in evening gowns and cocktail dresses.

In recent years the CRA, created to revitalize long-suffering Overtown, routinely handed out taxpayer money for a plethora of intangible goods and services, often "with no evidence of board approval," as Miami's auditor general Victor Igwe put it not long ago. Like the $4250 a CRA employee received (on top of his salary) to photograph bus benches in the Bahamas. Or the $125,000 former county transit administrator Vernon Clarke was handed to study bus stops for eighteen months. Or the $200,000 per year in consulting fees that went to Richard Judy, ex-director of the county aviation department. (He was fired in 1989 after commissioners learned he'd spent $300,000 without their approval.) In all, some $17 million seemed to have disappeared over a period of years. Finally the FBI, the IRS, and the State Attorney's Office took notice, which concentrated the minds of city commissioners. In December 2002 they ousted executive director Annette Lewis, a protégée of Art Teele and a specialist in invisible-project budgets, pleasant obfuscation, and ignoring public-records requests. Lewis was replaced by former assistant city manager Frank Rollason, who looked around, didn't like what he saw, and began making changes, including firing Judy because he couldn't figure out what the guy was doing for $200,000 per year. This past January commissioners voted to create an independent oversight board for the CRA and to rotate the troubled agency's chairman, stripping Teele of the title he'd held and the fiefdom he'd controlled for six years.

In recent years the CRA, created to revitalize long-suffering Overtown, routinely handed out taxpayer money for a plethora of intangible goods and services, often "with no evidence of board approval," as Miami's auditor general Victor Igwe put it not long ago. Like the $4250 a CRA employee received (on top of his salary) to photograph bus benches in the Bahamas. Or the $125,000 former county transit administrator Vernon Clarke was handed to study bus stops for eighteen months. Or the $200,000 per year in consulting fees that went to Richard Judy, ex-director of the county aviation department. (He was fired in 1989 after commissioners learned he'd spent $300,000 without their approval.) In all, some $17 million seemed to have disappeared over a period of years. Finally the FBI, the IRS, and the State Attorney's Office took notice, which concentrated the minds of city commissioners. In December 2002 they ousted executive director Annette Lewis, a protégée of Art Teele and a specialist in invisible-project budgets, pleasant obfuscation, and ignoring public-records requests. Lewis was replaced by former assistant city manager Frank Rollason, who looked around, didn't like what he saw, and began making changes, including firing Judy because he couldn't figure out what the guy was doing for $200,000 per year. This past January commissioners voted to create an independent oversight board for the CRA and to rotate the troubled agency's chairman, stripping Teele of the title he'd held and the fiefdom he'd controlled for six years.

Much competition hangs when it comes to this award. We're happy about that. Upstart gallery Rocket Projects in Wynwood comes to mind, with its community art activism and edgy programming. Then there's Fredric Snitzer Gallery, the darling of Art Basel with the strongest collection in town. And who can forget the Moore Space's stellar exhibitions by artists like Jim Lambie. Meanwhile, lost in the fanfare of big parties and large art crowds elsewhere, Casas Riegner has slowly established itself as a gallery willing to take risks while representing consistently strong and compelling work. From abstract artists like Eugenio Espinoza and Danilo Dueñas to installation pieces with slim commercial hope, the gallery also offers video, photography, and mixed media pieces that, like all the work here, never fail to challenge.

Not just a single charity, Hands on Miami is more like 70 charities in one. Since 1993 this extensive community-service network has been making it easy for busy city dwellers to do the right thing. Want to deliver care packages to AIDS patients? Build a house for a cash-strapped family? Read to kids in need? Hands On Miami will help you find the service opportunity that fits your hectic schedule. Last year, the organization claims, Hands On Miami volunteers logged more than 53,000 service hours. Once each year Hands On Miami Day brings together as many as 3000 volunteers for a full day of good work and good cheer. Nearly every week Hands On Miami holds an orientation meeting to introduce would-be volunteers to a variety of initiatives across town. Go to the Website to find out how Hands On Miami can help you help others.

Not just a single charity, Hands on Miami is more like 70 charities in one. Since 1993 this extensive community-service network has been making it easy for busy city dwellers to do the right thing. Want to deliver care packages to AIDS patients? Build a house for a cash-strapped family? Read to kids in need? Hands On Miami will help you find the service opportunity that fits your hectic schedule. Last year, the organization claims, Hands On Miami volunteers logged more than 53,000 service hours. Once each year Hands On Miami Day brings together as many as 3000 volunteers for a full day of good work and good cheer. Nearly every week Hands On Miami holds an orientation meeting to introduce would-be volunteers to a variety of initiatives across town. Go to the Website to find out how Hands On Miami can help you help others.

Located west of Biscayne Boulevard immediately north of Miami Shores, this is a big city and a small town rolled into one. Incorporated in 1933, the tiny municipality -- less than a square mile in area -- is close enough to Miami's urban core to allow for easy access to downtown or the beaches. But by remaining steadfastly residential (there are no commercial structures at all in Biscayne Park) and avoiding urban-style development, the area has retained its neighborhood aesthetic. Oaks fill the spacious medians and shade the streets. Ten full-time police officers help maintain a pedestrian-friendly environment by strictly enforcing speed limits. With fewer than 3500 residents, the community has an intimate feeling about it, which allows resident to keep a close eye on their mayor, village council, and police department. Mayor Ted Walker brags of the seventeen parks dotting the tree-lined streets (some are basically very large medians, but they're big enough for picnics and contribute to the community's lush greenery). Homes -- mostly built in the Fifties on 75-by-135-foot lots -- range from $200,000 to about $450,000.

Located west of Biscayne Boulevard immediately north of Miami Shores, this is a big city and a small town rolled into one. Incorporated in 1933, the tiny municipality -- less than a square mile in area -- is close enough to Miami's urban core to allow for easy access to downtown or the beaches. But by remaining steadfastly residential (there are no commercial structures at all in Biscayne Park) and avoiding urban-style development, the area has retained its neighborhood aesthetic. Oaks fill the spacious medians and shade the streets. Ten full-time police officers help maintain a pedestrian-friendly environment by strictly enforcing speed limits. With fewer than 3500 residents, the community has an intimate feeling about it, which allows resident to keep a close eye on their mayor, village council, and police department. Mayor Ted Walker brags of the seventeen parks dotting the tree-lined streets (some are basically very large medians, but they're big enough for picnics and contribute to the community's lush greenery). Homes -- mostly built in the Fifties on 75-by-135-foot lots -- range from $200,000 to about $450,000.

The Tom Hanks megahit movie Big connected with audiences thanks to the actor's uncannily guileless portrayal of youthful joy. Listening to Boog Sciambi broadcast Florida Marlins games on WQAM-AM (560), including the team's unlikely ascent to a World Series championship this past season, brought that same feeling to mind. Sciambi, an old-school announcer with an eager-to-please voice, sounded so damn glad to be there it was impossible not to be infected with his enthusiasm. The opportunity for Sciambi to broadcast high-profile games must have been a big chance for career enhancement, but what made listening to him such a joy was that, underneath the announcer, you could hear the kid whose dreams were coming true.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®