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Little Havana Revitalization Plan Released, Will Now Go Into Action

Domino Plaza on Calle Ocho in Little Havana.
Carl Juste
Miami Herald
Domino Plaza on Calle Ocho in Little Havana.

A plan for the future of the historic Little Havana neighborhood was released Tuesday after two years of preparation. 

The "Little Havana Me Importa" effort launched in 2017 after the neighborhood was named a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Since then, more than 2,700 residents have given their input about the future of their neighborhood through workshops and surveys. The collaboartion is being led by PlusUrbia, the National Trust and private sector developers.

The organizations involved will now take steps to implement changes to the neighborhood as laid out in the plan. Among them are more parks, affordable housing in vacant lots and changes to protect the neighborhood from flooding caused by sea level rise. 

City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez praised the work of the organizations involved, including the urban design and planning group PlusUrbia. 

“There has never been a more comprehensive study of a neighborhood in Miami,” Suarez said Tuesday at a launch event in Little Havana's Koubek Center.

The surveys found residents want more affordable housing, fewer demolitions of buildings and more parks.

Parks and green space were a focus for Lindsay Corrales, program officer for the Health Foundation of South Florida, which funded part of the plan. 

“Health is actually woven throughout the master plan,” she said.

Little Havana is low on green space: only 1.6 percent of Little Havana’s total land is dedicated to open space. A report from PlusUrbia and the National Trust described the neighborhood as “park starved.”

The health foundation is funding parts of the plan, including Live Healthy Little Havana, a community led initiative to improve health in the community. In collaboration with Urban Impact Lab, Jose Marti park will undergo restorations to become the “hub of health” in the community.

Residents in Little Havana have above average levels of diabetes and obesity, according to the report, with 40 percent of residents surveyed saying they get no physical activity. Corrales says parks can improve health and quality of life for residents.

“Neighborhoods can support healthy habits,” she said. “The recommendations in the master plan will make changes that are more supportive of healthy lifestyles.”

Residents also feared development in Brickell and Downtown would raise their rents. To combat this the plan is to build “compatible infill” on vacant lots. Residences and businesses will match the style of their neighbors ensuring the “spirit” of the neighborhood doesn’t change.

There is enough space for 10,000 new residences and 550 new businesses, according to the plan. All of them can be built without destroying an existing building.

Little Havana is notably affordable for Miami: 87 percent of residents pay less than $1,000 a month in rent. The renter-majority neighborhood makes up almost 20 percent of the city’s rental properties.

Most buildings are below three floors so elevators are not required, keeping rent low as maintenance costs are limited.

Another part of the plan involves making sure the neighborhood, which borders the Miami river, will be inhabitable if sea level rise occurs. About 30 percent of the area studied is in a high-risk flood zone.

Juan Mullerat is the president of PlusUrbia Design. He said that changes need to be made now to prepare for the future. 

“The building code needs to be updated, the zoning codes need to be updated and we need to make sure that people live there and are protected from inclement weather,” he said.

County Commissioner Eileen Higgins, who represents Little Havana and Brickell, said the plan was a victory for the people of Little Havana. Her sentiment was echoed by Raissa Fernandez, chair of Live Healthy Little Havana.

“Keep fighting, because the American dream is a reality,” Fernandez said in Spanish to the residents of Little Havana.

Copyright 2019 WLRN 91.3 FM

Gerard Albert III is a senior journalism major at Florida International University, who flip-flopped around creative interests until being pulled away by the rush of reporting.
Aaron Sánchez-Guerra is a recent graduate of North Carolina State University with a BA in English and is a bilingual journalist with a background in covering news on the vast Latino population in North Carolina. His coverage ranges from Central Americans seeking asylum to migrant farmworkers recovering from Hurricane Florence. Aaron is eager to work in South Florida for its proximity to Latin American migration and fast-paced environment of unique news. He is a native of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas of Mexican origin, a Southern adoptee, a lover of Brazilian culture and Portuguese, an avid Latin dancer, and a creative writer.