Is Miami’s Design District leading an urban shopping revival?

By | June 4th, 2012 | 8 Comments

The Design District is a sign that urban shopping districts are coming back, according to Richard Florida. -- photo by Flickr user wallyg

Richard Florida, author of The Rise of The Creative Class and a leading thinker on the modern city, spies in the evolution of Miami’s Design District a “tipping point back toward urban downtowns”, not just here but nationwide: “After years of neglect, decline, and abandonment, downtowns across the United States are poised to come back — and not just as redoubts for hipsters, artisanal food, indie music, and trendy boutiques, but as major shopping destinations.”

In a new article in The Atlantic Cities, Florida chronicles how downtown shopping districts gave way to suburban malls in the ’70s after shoppers had been moving out of the city for decades. Now, he says, the shopping centers — and the shoppers — are coming back to the city, and the Design District, which recently lured Bernard Arnault’s LVMH group (Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Christian Dior) from the Shops at Bal Harbour, is a bellwether of the trend.

Some might say that Miami’s success in luring high end shopping back into the inner city portends little if anything for harder-hit small and medium-sized cities that don’t have Miami’s global influx of wealthy part-time residents and tourists. But they haven’t considered just how bold LMVH’s experiment is. They are moving their shops out of one of the most affluent, if not the most affluent malls in the country, into an urban center which is essentially untested.

If cities like Cleveland, Detroit, and Newark don’t have Miami’s glitz and glamour to bank on, they too are surrounded by wealthy suburbs, which are similarly well-supplied with high-end malls. Suburban Detroit has its Somerset Collection; Newark has the Mall at Short Hills in nearby Millburn. And, like Miami, those city’s downtowns have the infrastructure and the character to support the kind of development that DACRA brought to the Design District.

Now, some people don’t see the Design District’s development into a decentralized version of the Shops at Bal Harbour as an unadulterated boon, despite the fact that, as Florida points out in the story, it was recently a crime-ridden, “somnolent district that almost no one but professional designers ever went to.” I’m actually quoted in the story expressing my wish that the Design District had a book store and a few more good/affordable restaurants to accompany the mostly upscale establishments there. “… in a zoomed-out picture, the Design District would seem to work as hipstery Wynwood’s sophisticated cousin. But I still lament that a place whose scale and architecture I find so alluring offers me little to do other than occasionally splurge on a meal at Michael’s or Sra. Martinez.”

That said, I share Florida’s enthusiasm about the general trend of people moving from the suburbs back into the city, a shift that could have huge, positive implications for a sprawled-out metro like Miami. “From where I sit,” Florida says, “what’s happening in Miami is something of a bellwether, an unmistakable sign that the economic and commercial center of gravity is shifting away from the suburbs and back to the urban core. We are at a similar inflection point today to the one we experienced in the 1970s, when retail abruptly decamped to the suburbs. Only this time, the impetus is the other way around.”

To read the full article, visit

8 Comments on “Is Miami’s Design District leading an urban shopping revival?”

  1. 1 Barry said at 11:25 am on June 5th, 2012:

    Mixed emotions, crossed opinions but, at this point, a net positive so far. The core of the city has gotta be solid, needs density. Next level is to see some sort of affordable housing/native resident initiative take root, YEARS down the road but at some point it must be at the forefront of the redevelopment agenda.

  2. 2 Jordan Melnick said at 11:34 am on June 5th, 2012:

    The problem with “placemaking”, or whatever developers call it nowadays, is that you can’t make a place and expect it to feel organic. Miami neighborhoods are developing as niches: Wynwood is for the arts/hipsters, Design District is for the upscale crowd, Midtown is for young families. It all feels very staged. I’m not against niche districts across the board, but in the long term I think it diminishes the potential of the various neighborhoods. People start to identify as Wynwood types as opposed to Midtown or DD types, let alone Brickell types. Better for all, including the developers, if people feel more comfortable to cross boundaries, no?

  3. 3 Barry said at 12:33 pm on June 5th, 2012:

    Of course, homogeneity is a slow journey to blandness, no matter how interesting the like parts. The tricky part in this is there’s only so much a “planner” can do to push this, on some level it’s up to the people (outside the businesses like LVHM) to opt in or out, for a young family to decide they’d prefer to be nearer to the arts in Wynwood or vice versa, no? Is the cost of real estate so vastly different between the areas? (I genuinely don’t know)

  4. 4 carlos said at 11:59 am on June 12th, 2012:

    The Design District in miami is just a pretty idea, for those who come visit miami , i would quickly pass them by through the design district because i frankly can not afford anything in the area. There are many area in miami that are growing as hot spots for wynwood is great for art, but as an vibrant area it needs more than just artwalk once a month, the design district has nothing to offer besides to those people who can afford to shop and eat there, coconut grove used to be a place to visit but slowly it has seen a downturn with many shops closed and besides the bars there is no night life. Downtown which used to be the center of miami is slowly building itself to be a destination for resident but many area remain a ghost town after 8pm that it can be very intimidating to those not from the area.

    Miami is a growing city that is included in the articles of many magazines but it is still not there, many areas that are growing are secluded from each other and do not provide much to the residents that live in the area, i have been resident of miami for 23 years and would like it to continue grow by adding more incentives for the residents to walk around to get all the things they need instead of driving everywhere. Another thing that needs to improve is the transportation, miami is a driving city to get around on public transportation is only bearable during rush hour on weekdays other then that you are stuck traveling for hours getting from one place to another.

    i do not want to come off as criticizing how neighborhoods are developing within miami but wish for more connectivity between residents and their environment, and more connected between neighborhoods. The design district and wynwood are only seperated by one street but they feel worlds apart.

  5. 5 Bob Cox said at 12:16 pm on June 12th, 2012:

    Mr. Melnick,

    Places like Midtown might seem staged to you but remember one thing, Miami has a HUGE percent of latino people. People who live in countries where places like Midtown (safe to walk outside at any hour) just simply do not exist. You probably grew up somewhere nice and safe. If this were anywhere else I’d say you have a point. But this is Mayami papi.

  6. 6 Jordan Melnick said at 12:36 pm on June 12th, 2012:

    Bob, I grew up in Miami in a safe neighborhood. Lucky me. If I understand it correctly, your premise is that Miami neighborhoods need to be staged or insulated to protect from danger? What’s to stop someone from waltzing into Midtown right now and shooting 50 people? Nothing that I can see.

  7. 7 BARRY said at 12:48 pm on June 12th, 2012:

    “People who live in countries where places like Midtown (safe to walk outside at any hour) just simply do not exist.”

    Are you serious, Mr. Cox? I haven’t been all over the Caribbean/South America but where i HAVE been (a few places between Havana and Mar Del Plata just t draw a map) that’s exactly what you find: slums separated by mere blocks from the most posh districts and the unwritten rule that even though they’re this close, one is for a certain kind of person and the other may as well be a foreign country… unless of course you’re cooking or cleaning for the haves.

    The posh districts are extremely safe, where do you get this myth that nowhere in Central/South America can citizens walk outside at any hour? Unfortunately they’re also brutally exclusive. It’s this exclusivity that Jordan’s contesting and that you seem to think is necessary for the safety of said districts. Slippery slope, my friend.

  8. 8 Bob Cox said at 1:43 pm on June 12th, 2012:

    Did I say that? No. I say for Miamians like you, places like Midtown seem staged. But for people (like me) who come from countries where not even rich people in gated communities are safe from crime, kidnapping and murder, places like Midtown offer a chance to see/live what you’ve been living your whole life.

    That’s all I’m saying.

    Good day.

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