So, my first month in Miami is about to come to an end. While my time here is short and I have by no means seen everything in the city, often a new pair of eyes picks out things that are otherwise overlooked. Remember, first impressions are important in any context, but they are especially so for cities that are trying to promote a certain image. When I was packing my bags at the beginning of January, I had a very different idea of what this city was like, which was (unfortunately) mainly based on what I’d read in tourist guides. Here are a few things I’ve noticed so far that have changed those notions:

Miami is not a “Spanish city” but a Caribbean one

Miami BeachI don’t mean that in an ethnic sense nor do I mean to discredit the large numbers of people from other backgrounds who live here. The simple fact is that Spanish language dominates here in a way that I’ve never seen anywhere else in the U.S., but there are also large numbers of people from Haiti, Brazil and Jamaica as well as Americans from other parts of the country. I’ve read a lot of complaints on forums that areas like Miami Beach and Coconut Grove are English speaking islands, but I’d disagree. However, I would say that with so many people from the region it feels more like a rich blend of America and the Caribbean, which is a nod at both its location and tropical climate. Where else in the world could you go to the Bahamas for the day or weekend by boat?

It’s multilingual

So many people I’ve met are bilingual to a very high degree or even multilingual, especially those who grew up here (regardless of their background). My Spanish is pretty good, but I have been taken aback by getting telemarketing calls and seeing billboards only in Spanish. I understand why it’s written in Spanish given that it has established itself here but it seems absurd to me to limit yourself to catering to only one portion of the population. That said, compared to the other “ethnic neighborhoods” I’ve seen in my travels, Little Havana didn’t have that many monolingual signs nor feel as enclosed. Rather it felt like just another face of the city’s Caribbean character. Furthermore, attitudes to language seem to be changing to reflect changing demographics as many public places now have signs in Creole whilst Portuguese is everywhere in Downtown.

It’s vibrant

Not to sound cliché, but with so many people coming from all over the world seeking to build a new life here, you might forget about all the new ideas they bring with them. One of the best examples of this is the Miami Beach area which has helped turn the city into a big fashion centre internationally. Areas like South Beach also have, for better or for worse, become famous internationally for its extravagant nightlife. That creativity has spread to other parts of the city, such as the design district where street art has been taken to a whole new level.

Good Public transport

It’s not Europe but it’s better than a lot of other cities in the States. Since my time here is going to be short, I have to make do without a car. Here in Miami, that is a challenge but in many other cities in the US that would be impossible! Despite what people might claim about Americans travelling exclusively by car, given the opportunity people really do use public transport over here. While it may take longer, I am able to get to work every morning by metro (and believe me the trains are full during rush hour). The Metromover that runs around downtown is actually free to use and I always see people using it.

The poor side

Despite the glam of people jetting in from the rest of the country, there is another poor side to the city that I think is more visible than elsewhere in the US.  Since I arrived I have seen a lot of poverty and locals have told me that parts of the city have long been this way. While urban decline is nothing new, it stands out much more with so much wealth visible in other parts of the city.

To summarise

I don’t mean to end this post on a down note, so I’d like to reiterate that I’m still finding my feet here and I remain fascinated by the city around me. These are just five things that have significantly changed the image of the city over the month since I arrived and mostly for the better. Hopefully next month will continue bring new things that will alter my view of the city.