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Future cities, now! image
Photograph: Time Out

Future Miami, now! The 10 people, places and things shaping a better city today.

Take a look at the creative innovators cultivating a brighter future for the Magic City right now

By Virginia Gil
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It’s easy to be optimistic about Miami’s future when you glean the talented folks at work in our community. From the artisan and the designer to the urban farmer, there’s an inspiring bunch who are shaping industries and reimagining the ways we support one another. For instance, what may have started as short-term solutions to increasing food scarcity is now a socially distant drive-thru pantry and a network of community fridges in underserved neighborhoods. Plus, when Miamians weren’t finding ways to feed one another, we were lifting each other up with arts and culture in our homes. The Miami Book Fair and the New World Symphony are just two of the many examples of our city’s cultural beacons making our city better. Who are the most exciting innovators emerging now? It’s all here: a look at the people, places and things making Miami a better place to live right now.

Future Miami, now!

Buddy System Community Fridge
Buddy System Community Fridge
Photograph: Chris Ochoa/Overtown Community Fridge

1. The Miamians setting up fridges filled with free food for hungry neighbors

News City Life

As the global health crisis intensified and magnified food scarcity in South Florida, a new kind of grassroots activism emerged: community fridges. It began with a couple of public refrigerators placed in Miami’s hardest-hit neighborhoods and has slowly grown into a network across the county’s at-risk areas. Village (Free) DGE and Miami Community Fridge by Buddy System Miami are two of the organizations behind the relief movement. Each one employs a network of hard-working volunteers to ensure the fridges are cleaned and stocked with produce and pantry staples folks can take for free. There’s no cost or judgment attached to visiting one of the fridges. In fact, it’s not even charity, says one volunteer. “I always like to emphasize that this work is more about mutual aid and being in solidarity with one another,” says Vanessa, who works with Buddy System Miami. “What it has also proven to me is that the resources are already available, it’s just a matter of redistributing them into pockets of Miami that don’t have easy access to healthy nutritious foods,” she adds. As for the appliances themselves, they’re donated and, if you’re Buddy System, hand-painted by local artists. Donations are accepted and needed and can be made via the organizations’ Instagram pages.

Health in the Hood
Health in the Hood
Photograph: Courtesy Health in the Hood

2. The urban farmer who pivoted from planting gardens to running a pull-up pantry

When social-distancing prevented Health in the Hood from planting more community gardens—one of the ways the nonprofit connects communities with wellness practices—founder Asha Walker knew she had to find other ways to provide the community with healthy food. She launched a pull-up pantry in April, and what was slated to be a three-month initiative is now a weekly endeavor that feeds seniors in affordable housing, veterans in transitional housing and adults with developmental disabilities and their families. “Once we saw the exponential need, we realized we would need to sustain the programs for as long as possible. Our plan now is to build filling fridges into our strategic model and operate it in perpetuity,” says Walker. Folks from all parts of Miami and all walks of life show up twice a week to one of the Opa Locka Community Development Corporation centers to bags brimming with donations from food banks, such as Feeding South Florida and Farmshare. It’s quite the operation but Health in the Hood benefits from a network of diligent volunteers who are committed to feeding families in need. “Our volunteers are the best in the game! They work tirelessly during long, hot, sometimes rainy days, unloading 15 to 20 pallets of food, sorting and bagging, and carrying food to families’ cars,” says Walker, adding “we are so grateful for them.”

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The Chippy Miami
The Chippy Miami
Photograph: Courtesy The Chippy Miami

3. The restaurants that suddenly popped up and thrived

News Eating

We know necessity is the mother of invention, but the proverb has taken on a new meaning for Miami’s restaurant community. Coming up with a venue when you don’t have one has led to more pop-ups than we’ve seen in years. The growing trend is playing out in several ways. You have established businesses sharing their spaces and often their resources with up-and-coming chefs. You also get the well-known toque who’s looking to attempt something new in a low-risk setting. Pop-ups weren’t a novelty before and now their ubiquity has made them all the more a part of how we dine in 2020 and beyond.

Miami Mask Chains
Miami Mask Chains
Photograph: Courtesy Miami Mask Chains

4. The local designers delighting us with small sartorial pleasures

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. That’s been the attitude of a handful of entrepreneurial designers who’ve used their talents to make wearing a mask a fashion statement. Early on in the lockdown, we saw swimsuit designers use leftover fabric to wield vibrant face-coverings, which also addressed the mask shortage apart from being stylish.

Now we’re seeing the advent of the mask chain, the trendy accessory that helps keep your mask close at hand and prevents its elastic from stretching out. Locally, Ashley Finestone is one of the people stoking the craze with the launch of Miami Mask Chains. “Once masks became mandatory in Miami and nothing like this existed yet, I thought to myself ‘Okay, now there really has to be a better way;’ I just wanted a clean and simple way of having my mask with me wherever I go,” says Finestone, who started with one simple design and expanded her brand to include seven collections sold across 60 retail stores in North America, plus a new line of silk masks.

Gelareh Mizrahi, who months ago fundraised to buy N-95 masks for healthcare workers, also launched a colorful collection that includes two styles of the convertible mask chains (they double as chokers) as well as a version to hold your phone. During a time when we’re all washing our hands incessantly, keeping them free is another way to make sure they’re germ-free.

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Bang Bang Bakehouse
Bang Bang Bakehouse
Photograph: Courtesy Bang Bang Bakehouse

5. The bakers are turning their home kitchens into thriving businesses

News Eating

Second only to the proliferation of takeout and delivery, the rise of the at-home bakery dominated Miami’s culinary landscape during the lockdown. From trained pastry chefs and award-winning bakers to skilled cooks, people across South Florida turned their private kitchens into small commissaries for sweet innovations. Instagram was everyone’s preferred place of business, luring customers with vibrant shots of oozing chocolate chip cookies and towering cakes made by the same hands who photographed them and—in most cases—were responsible for delivering them. With their entrepreneurial spirits and mindblowing creations, these small ventures have changed the local dessert game for the better.

Drive-In
Drive-In
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. The folks making drive-ins cool again

We’re not a nostalgic city (in fact, we like to knock these down instead of preserving them) but lockdown made us feel some type of way about drive-ins. It got us out of the house when being in our cars was the only thing we were legally allowed to do. North Miami’s entertainment complex Dezerland Park kicked it off with a series of outdoor flicks, while Hard Rock Stadium bucked the trend with its on-field experience and outdoor lounge setups. Out west at the Fair Expo Center, Miami got its first drive-in entertainment space, featuring concerts, panels and other kinds of live performances. Though not as prevalent as when they first emerged at the height of lockdown, drive-ins are still making it possible to get out and socialize without actually having to interact with strangers—which is just how we like it in 2020.

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Vecinos Marketplace
Vecinos Marketplace
Photograph: Courtesy Vecinos Marketplace

7. The virtual marketplace connecting locals and Miami small businesses

News Shopping & Style

Remember the experience of browsing a Miami flea market? The thrill of discovering a new artisan or maker? Vecinos Marketplace is helping us tap into that feeling at home. The virtual market brings together independently owned, Miami-born brands on a single online platform, making it easy to shop all kinds of local designers in one place. Not unlike a department store, Vecinos sells items across multiple categories like food and drink, apparel and accessories and homewares. Launched during lockdown by business partners and neighbors Rafael Barrera and Yvonne Chen, Vecinos connects small retailers whose digital footprint is limited to nonexistent with conscientious shoppers interested in supporting local.

NWS at Dezerland Park
NWS at Dezerland Park
Photograph: Courtesy New World Symphony

8. The performance halls bringing live music to our living rooms

Remember concerts? You might have to think real hard to recall the experience of sitting in an audience to watch your favorite musicians perform live. Thankfully, the New World Symphony and the North Beach Bandshell have made it so we can all enjoy the musical experience at home. The NWS kicked off its 33rd season with a special drive-in WALLCAST at Dezerland Park and will continue its beloved tradition of outdoor concerts throughout the year with additional performances at Hard Rock Stadium. Over in Mid-Beach, the Bandshell together with the Rhythm Foundation have a full “Virtual Season Of The Arts” in the works. Performers such as NuDeco Ensemble will take the stage while audience members tune in remotely. In-person experiences are in the works but, for now, these two institutions have found a way to give local culture vultures the best of both worlds.

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KYU Wynwood
KYU Wynwood
Photograph: Courtesy KYU Wynwood

9. The restaurants that turned their streets into dining rooms

News Eating

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. At least that’s the attitude Miami restaurant owners adopted in the face of dining room closures. Venues that didn’t previously offer outdoor dining or only had room for a handful of outdoor tables made it work with improvised set-ups that have us doing double-takes. From dreamy gardens and portable stage risers to done-up driveways, Miami restaurants continue to get on in unexpected ways.

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