|This 1885 watercolour by Winslow Homer is called “A
Garden in Nassau”. Ironically it was used 14 years ago for
this Grand Avenue Vision Plan. Read more about it below.
This is the start of an extensive series on Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove.
There is a humanitarian crisis currently happening on Grand Avenue.
Yesterday a number of residents in a blighted building along Grand received eviction notices. The biggest problem they have is that there is no place to go. One couple I’ve spoken to, with several children, has been looking for a new place for months in order to escape their moldy and bug infested apartment. There is absolutely nothing available in their budget and they feel as if they are being gentrified out of the neighbourhood.
The truth of the matter is they are.
At one time the western end of Grand Avenue was the bustling Black business district of West Grove. Today it is one of the worst slums in Miami. The reason West Grove remained a cohesive Black neighbourhood has to do with the efforts of one man who made a difference: E.W.F. Stirrup. And, just like the Stirrup House, which anchors the opposite end of the historic Black neighbourhood, it has undergone a campaign of Demolition by Neglect. [Read: Who Is To Blame For the Destruction of the E.W.F. Stirrup House?]
Ironically, the west end of Grand, blighted as it is, has become some of the most valuable real estate in Miami, having been bought and flipped so many times over the last few decades by speculators looking to gentrify an entrenched Black neighbourhood. Now nothing less than a concrete canyon from Margaret Street west will allow the land to pay for itself. Furthermore, due to Demolition by Neglect, there’s almost nothing left along that stretch worth renovating and saving.
|Click to enlarge
This map demonstrates how close Grand Avenue is to
the E.W.F. Stirrup House. Identified on this map are
many stories covered in the Not Now Silly Newsroom.
A quick Grand Ave history lesson: The street always suffered from institutional racism, because that’s what always happened in this country. However, it started its slide into irrelevance after segregation was outlawed. Once the folk in West Grove could shop anywhere, the businesses along Grand Avenue no longer had a captive clientele.
Over the next several decades systemic racism kept this end of Coconut Grove in near poverty, even as the other end — the White end — of the 33133 zip code became one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the entire country.
Last month the rapacious developers, hoping to gentrify these people out of existence could hide their slum no longer. Local NBC 6 did an exposé, and interviewed District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell in the process. [Read Residents of Derelict Coconut Grove Building Facing Homelessness. I was unable to embed the video, but it’s not for the squeamish.] The issue of Grand Avenue was suddenly in the news, especially after Miami Sues Coconut Grove Landlords for Renting Moldy, Sewage-Filled Apartments, Jessica Lipscomb writes:
Parts of the roof have caved in, creating a breeding ground for mold. Raw sewage, including pieces of toilet paper and human waste, sometimes flow in front of the tenants’ front doors. Recently, the landlord cut the power to the outdoor lights, cloaking the building in dangerous darkness after sunset.
But rent is only $400 a month, an almost unheard-of bargain in Miami, where residents in nearly every stretch of the city are being squeezed by rising housing costs. It’s about all Coats, who is unemployed, can afford to pay each month. “The rent is just getting ridiculous,” she says.
Now the City of Miami is taking legal action against the owners, who — under five corporation names — have 12 properties in Coconut Grove, all of which, the city says, are in various states of disrepair and code violation. The city is fighting to force the owners to pay to relocate all of the tenants to clean and safe apartments they can afford — and many fear they could become homeless if no alternative is provided.
There was a stay of execution on last month’s evictions after Commissioner Russell filed his lawsuit. Until yesterday, that is. Many have already left, but the remaining residents have all been told they have to be out by November.
LET’S BE CLEAR: While these rich, White, deveopers have been buying and selling these properties — and now suing each other — the pawns that have been allowed to live in their fiefdom are suffering. Little money, if any, has been spent on these buildings. Or, on this entire stretch of Grand Avenue, for that matter. This is another clear case of Demolition by Neglect. Unlike the Stirrup House, which was empty, real people are being affected by these deplorable conditions.
Read more in A History of West Coconut Grove from 1925: Slum Clearance, Concrete Monsters, and the Dicotomy of East and West Coconut Grove, by Alex Plasencia, for their Clemson University thesis.
That’s why it’s more than a little ironic that the 2002 Grand Avenue Vision Plan used “A Garden in Nassau” for its cover. The implication of using Homer’s painting would have been crystal clear to those who chose it. The biography Winslow Homer, by Nicolai Cikovsky and Franklin Kelly, describes Homer’s first time in the Bahamas, where he completed some 30 paintings:
Rest by Winslow Homer
Homer’s purpose was clearly to gather as many pictures representative of the scenery of the island and the lives of its citizens as possible, for his watercolors embrace a wide variety of subjects. However, he seems to have been particularly interested in the day-to-day activities of the black inhabitants. There was a substantial African population on Nassau, because English planters had brought slaves to the island to work their plantations. Slavery was abolished in 1834, but the economic conditions of former slaves and their descendants remained extremely difficult. Several of Homer’s watercolors, such as “Rest” and “A Garden in Nassau”, hint at the lingering effects of slavery by showing black figures standing outside the coral limestone walls that typically surrounded white homes, suggesting that they were excluded from the world within.
Nothing depicts the dichotomy between East Grove and the historic Bahamian neighbourhood of West Grove more than the Nassau paintings by Winslow Homer. What the committee that chose his painting for the 2002 Vision Plan could not have known is how little would get done in the intervening 14 years. Presenting this optimistic plan to the City of Miami, there was no way they could have known that the metaphorical wall between the two ends of Coconut Grove would get ever higher.
I’ll be sharing more of the 2002 Grand Avenue Vision Plan — along with the very human stories of people living in this section of town — in the coming weeks. However, I just wanted to provide some historical context before I get too deep into this series.
Here’s some more context from 2009 by filmmaker Ellie Tinto-Poitier, narrated by Jeffrey Poitier:
version of this documentary, please contact me.
My Freedom of Information requests from the City of Miami are beginning to add up, not to mention all the other costs of researching systemic racism and corruption in Coconut Grove