What Separates Us?

Introduction: 

In Miami, for the most part, the separation of groups of people is easy to identify. Looking beyond the obvious divides, such as the naming of immigrant neighborhoods like “Little Havana” and “Little Haiti”, I am more focused on literal separation. Infrastructure is booming in Miami due to the development of high-rise luxury condos, tourism, and a growing financial district. A consequence of this is a mass influx of people coming in and out of the city everyday. While Miami does have a transit and bus system, the building and maintaining of Miami’s highway system tells a much deeper story about power dynamics in the city. This blog is focused on I-95 and it’s direct impact on segregation. 

Background: 

Interstate highways are used as tool for development. They are needed to connect people to cities, and are symbols of urbanization and economic growth. The building of I-95 in south Florida is no exception. The building of I-95 in Miami took place in the 1950’s with completion in the early 1960’s. The interstate reshaped the city in many ways: More commuters could live outside of the city and drive to work, tourists were able to visit, and developers were able to make the city more assessable to winter residents, real-estate moguls, and big businesses. The question then became, where would the interstate be built? 

The Cost:

Through homes and a booming community, I-95 now divides the historic Overtown community- an African American neighborhood. Generations of families lost their homes due to this “public works” project. People were separated from community life because they lived on the “wrong side” of the interstate. One can see homes on either side up against the guardrails, and abandoned community centers, shops, and restaurants. What is most troublesome to me is that the builders did not include an exit for Overtown. What does this mean? It means that Overtown is not important or worthy of an exit because no one using I-95 would need or want to go there. This is where I see the power dynamic most strongly. Who can say a town is unworthy of an exit? If you have building power in this city, you can pretty much do whatever you want. 

The Lasting Impact:

 In Miami, this is not an independent story. People with power have been uprooting and disrupting vibrant communities for years. Because the have the power and money they can do this. They say “We are making Miami better!” or “This will lead to a boom in tourism!”. When really this is extremely harmful to the people who already live in the city. Marlins Park, the baseball stadium of the Miami Marlins, was built in the middle of the community in Little Havana (with the help of the tax payers!). There are restaurants, Laundromats, auto shops, and family homes built all around the park. Would you want this in your backyard? Currently there has been an ongoing debate in Little Haiti over whether or not to build a Soccer Stadium and bring a soccer team to Miami. The Board of County Commissioners just approved the sale of the land. Again building a multi-million dollar soccer arena next to homes, schools, and disrupting the community. The reality is that this will happen regardless of public outrage, because that’s how power systems work here. 

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Growing up, I was able to see how walls of separation can be torn down. I grew up in a large Presbyterian church in New Jersey. I remember that a Temple was being evicted from their worshiping space in town and asked the church if they could rent space from us. In Presbyterian fashion the session met multiple times to discuss this decision, but ultimately approved the merger. Offices for the Rabbi and Pastor were only feet away from one another. On Friday nights the cross was covered by a sheet, and people came to listen to the Torah. On Sunday mornings, the sanctuary was uncovered and Presbyterians listening to the Scriptures. In my mind this was beautiful. How cool was it that I was able to sit in the same pew for church and to see some of my friends be Bar Mitzvahed?! Looking back at it now, I understand that not all communities of faith would have been so welcoming. This is the challenge with “separation”, unfortunately, is not everybody is aware of the beauty that comes from tearing walls (symbolically and physically) down; yet many are active agents in using “separation” to do harm.  

-JG