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Ocean Drive Was Great Without Umbrellas Last Week

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Both north and south of Miami, Hurricane Matthew was an unmitigated disaster. More than a thousand Haitians died in the storm, and at least 21 fatalities have been reported in the United States so far. Miami completely lucked out because the storm stayed far enough off the coast to barely graze the area.

There was even a shining silver lining to all of the ultimately unnecessary hurricane prep in Miami-Dade County. For one whole evening, there weren't any gigantic umbrellas lining the sidewalks along Ocean Drive. And a lot of Miami Beach residents seemed thrilled with the change.

"It looked great," Sherbrooke Hotel owner Mitch Novick tells New Times. Novick is an ardent critic of the iconic street's umbrella "gauntlet," where hosts and hostesses try to peddle their wares to passing tourists and lure them into their bars and restaurants. "That’s how it looked 30 years ago."

Novick was far from the only person to notice: One Facebook user even posted a video of how serene the street looked before Matthew floated by.

"Look how beautiful it is without all the umbrellas blocking these iconic buildings," user Lori Bakkum wrote.

The umbrellas have become the central focus in a heated debate over the future of Ocean Drive itself — many longtime residents and business owners claim Miami Beach's most famous street has decayed into a crime-ridden tourist trap in recent years. 

"We have turned Ocean Drive into one of the most horrible streets in America," Ocean Drive magazine founder Jerry Powers told New Times in August. "I think if LeBron was coming here today, he'd say, 'I'm taking my talents to Wynwood.'"

In response, Miami Beach officials agreed to implement a ten-point plan to addresses residents' concerns about the iconic strip. Among them: limiting the size and scope of restaurants' tables, chairs, and umbrellas. But some people, like Novick, don't think the city's plan goes far enough to fix the issues.

On Thursday night, just after local meteorologists began tweeting out news that Miami's hurricane risk had passed, a few pedestrians strolled along a calm Ocean Drive. And, sans umbrellas, the stretch was marvelous: Passersby could easily step back and admire the iconic neon lights warming the night sky overhead rather than being forced to dodge 12-foot umbrellas, restaurant hostesses, club promoters, and flying margarita glasses.

"I was admiring that you could see the buildings entirely," Novick says. "You don't have the first floor obscured with inappropriate umbrellas and awnings."

Novick apparently got so excited he whipped out a camera and started snapping shots. Here's a before-and-after series:

Novick says he isn't happy with the city's ten-point plan and thinks the awning restrictions don't do nearly enough to keep the streets clear.

"The way I see this, with what was approved, you're going to have very little improvement," he says.

Now that Ocean Drive residents got a taste of life without awnings, perhaps more folks are inclined to agree with him.

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