April 2014

Florida's urban landscape continues to evolve

by Lisa Simundson

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They are unique features of many big cities—the micro-neighborhoods that add flavor to the whole but might be overlooked by visitors intent on checking off a list of major tourism spots.

In extreme South Florida, Miami has many such mini-destinations, including one that has never been the same place twice: Little Havana. As its name implies, Little Havana was a small slice of home created by Cuban exiles fleeing Fidel Castro's regime and starting over 200 miles to the north. However, it has evolved to include scores of people from all over the Americas, including Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia and Peru.

"Each nationality has its own contributions, and together they create a new culture, Miami-style," notes Fernando Dominguez, a representative for CAMACOL, the Little Havana-based Latin Chamber of Commerce. "There are a lot of artists here, a lot of galleries and shops selling unique crafts and decorative items."

And then there's the food—meat pies and fried dough dusted with sugar, savory sandwiches of ham and turkey pressed flat for maximum crunch, fresh plantain chips and rich tamales.

Groups will want to save time to wander the cobblestone streets, perhaps visiting a cigar factory to watch the experts hand-roll cigars before stopping at an open cafeteria window for a shot of sweet, fragrant cafe cubano or fresh coconut juice.

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If your group is in town in March, and you don't mind crowds, the Calle Ocho festival is billed as the world's largest street party, filling 23 blocks of Little Havana's S.W. 8th Street with more than 30 musical stages and hundreds of street vendors.

Heading up the road from Fort Lauderdale, a town that hasn't stopped growing, is Lauderdale-By-The-Sea (LBTS), an oceanside enclave known as "the town that refused to grow up." The nickname is a reference to building height.

"Everything here is low-rise so it doesn't block the ocean," says Steve d'Oliveira, the town's public information officer. "Our predominant architectural style is Miami Modern, or MiMo, which gives us a 1950s kind of look."

A compact, walkable downtown area also recalls an earlier era in South Florida, with restaurants, pubs and shops centered on Anglin's Square. Newly expanded sidewalks and strategically placed Adirondack chairs invite strolling and relaxing.

"Our town just spent $5 million on a streetscape project to make it more pedestrian friendly," d'Oliveira says. "We put in wider sidewalks for outdoor dining, new palm trees and two new plazas down by the ocean. We created all these neat public places for people to hang out."

Groups can also hang out underwater, if they're so inclined. Just a hundred yards out from the beach is a coral reef that is popular with snorkelers. Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is also home to a collection of classic Florida-style hotels on the ocean, many offering suite or apartment-style accommodations.

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