MIAMI – THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Miami Nikki Beach
Miami Nikki Beach

The city of Miami is one of America’s younger metropolises. Located in the American state of Florida, that state (including the area now known as Miami) was originally settled by Spanish explorers in the 1560s. With that colonial power and Great Britain alternatively controlling it over the centuries, Spain ceded Florida to the U.S. in 1821.

The city of Miami didn’t officially exist until 1896, with a population of just over 300. The city got its name from a river of the same name that ran through it. The name “Miami” is actually borrowed from the Mayaimi Indians who once lived some miles northwest of the city, toward Lake Okeechobee.

After going through a wave of prosperity during the 1920s, which first made Miami a vacation destination and a site for real estate development, the local economic suffered during the Depression in the 1930s. World War II, though, gave the Miami area an economic boost, since the U.S. military built a base there to defend that part of the country against German U-boat submarine attacks. By 1940, Miami’s population grew to over 170,000 residents.

Perhaps the biggest impact toward the city’s future was the Cuban Revolution of the late 1950s, which resulted in a large exodus of middle and upper class Cuban professionals who relocated mainly into the Miami area. Since then, the Cuban exile presence, as well as latter waves of middle and upper class individuals from other Latin countries helped make the city into the unofficial “capital of Latin America”. By the 1980s, they helped turn Miami into a major export center for goods being shipped into various Latin countries. Because of the economic instability of some of those countries (especially during the Latin debt crisis of the 1980s), wealthy Latins and companies based in South America felt more comfortable conducting their banking with Miami (given the U.S. banking law’s protections of depositors’ funds against bank failures). This gave the Miami area’s banking sector a huge boost, which it still enjoys to this day.

The city’s designation as the “unofficial capital of Latin America” was reinforced by the presence of studios for Spanish-language U.S. networks Telemundo, Univisión and Telefutura, as well as producing soap operas (“novelas”) and news programming for audiences in various Latin countries. That, as well as over 1,400 U.S. companies setting up the headquarters of their Latin American operations there (especially in Brickell Avenue – Miami’s answer to New York’s 5th Avenue, as well as in the wealthy Miami district known as Coral Gables).

By the 1990s, Miami began attracting hip young European vacationers (especially to Miami Beach). Them, along with American, Latin and other visitors, helped make Miami a popular tourist destination. Miami Beach benefited the most from this upsurge in tourism, since that once run-down part of the city went through a revival – complete with various hotel groups buying and renovating formerly abandoned Art Deco-style buildings, high-end retailers like Armani setting shop there, and trendy nightspots like Club Liquid and Crobar attracting celebrities like Madonna and designer Gianni Versace (who once owned a mansion in South Beach, before his untimely death in 1997).

A local magazine, Ocean Drive, helped make Miami a fashion center of the U.S., due to its steady features of top-name fashion models, as well as its success in promoting Miami as a luxury lifestyle destination (complete with marketing the million-dollar condo apartments that were being built in South Florida at the time). Thanks to a construction boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Miami’s skyline was transformed, ranking it the third most impressive in America – just after New York and Chicago.

Along with this land activity, its shoreline and air space were also very busy. The Port of Miami is the world’s busiest cruise ship port (with major cruise ship companies headquartered there), and Miami International Airport is the busiest airport in Florida — with the city being the largest gateway between the USA and Latin America.

These days, Miami attracts over 38 million visitors a year, spending an estimated US$17 billion. Miami’s status as a major American tourist destination is confirmed by the city hosting various world-class events, ranging from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Miami, to Art Basel, and even the electronic music events “Winter Music Conference” and “Ultra Music Festival” (which attract the “who’s who” of the international dance music scene, along with various record labels and radio stations).