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Mistress of the Americas

By Jan Nijman

Publication Year: 2011

As a subtropical city and the southernmost metropolitan area in the United States, Miami has always lured both visitors and migrants from throughout the Americas. During its first half-century they came primarily from the American North, then from the Latin South, and eventually from across the hemisphere and beyond. But if Miami's seductive appeal is one half of the story, the other half is that few people have ever ended up staying there. Today, by many measures, Miami is one of the most transient of all major metropolitan areas in America.

Miami: Mistress of the Americas tells the story of an urban transformation, perfectly timed to coincide with the surging forces of globalization. Author Jan Nijman connects different historical episodes and geographical regions to illustrate how transience has shaped the city to the present day, from the migrant labor camps in south Miami-Dade to the affluent gated communities along Biscayne Bay. Transience offers opportunities, connecting business flows and creating an ethnically hybrid workforce, and also poses challenges: high mobility and population turnover impede identification of Miami as home.

According to Nijman, Miami is "mistress of the Americas" because of its cultural influence and economic dominance at the nexus of north and south. Nijman likens the city itself to a hotel; people check in, go about their business or pleasure, then check out. Locals, born and raised in the area, make up only one-fifth of the population. Exiles, those who have come to Miami as a temporary haven due to political or economic necessity, are typically yearning to return to their homeland. Mobiles, the affluent and well educated, who reside in Miami's most prized neighborhoods, are constantly on the move.

As a social laboratory in urban change and human relationships in a high-speed, high-mobility era, Miami raises important questions about identity, citizenship, place-attachment, transnationalism, and cosmopolitanism. As such, it offers an intriguing window onto our global urban future.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Metropolitan Portraits

Title Page

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pp. iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv

Table of Contents

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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

Once viewed from the North as a peripheral place or a city on the edge, Miami has in past decades moved to the center of a bigger, hemispheric stage. Its story is of a remarkable urban transformation, timed to perfection to coincide with the surging forces of globalization. Miami is the "mistress of the Americas" in terms of her cultural influence and economic dominance at the nexus of...

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Chapter 1: Early Liaisons

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pp. 1-21

The Miami Circle sits on Biscayne Bay at the mouth of the river, on the south bank. It is a perfect circle with a diameter of thirty-eight feet. Along the perimeter are twenty-four equidistant and identical holes cut in the limestone bedrock. The holes were probably cut for the base of the wooden pillars of a round building. Other finds at this archaeological site included bones, human...

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Chapter 2: Shades of a City

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pp. 23-43

The 1920s in Greater Miami "roared" like nowhere else. The first half of the decade witnessed one of the greatest urban real estate booms in history, far beyond the already hot market of the preceding years.1 It was accompanied by what seemed an unprecedented urban culture that combined advertising, spectacle, and the promotion of leisure and pleasure-especially for the rich. The...

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Chapter 3: Extreme Makeover

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pp. 45-67

A Time magazine article in 1958 reported that "gaudy, gritty Greater Miami" had become "the revolutionary headquarters of the Americas."1 The area was referred to as a "plotters' playground" for Dominicans, Haitians, and especially Cubans who were aiming at the demise of the governments in their home countries. South Florida was the ideal location because it was...

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Chapter 4: The Miami Growth Machine

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pp. 69-93

Another profound transformation took place in Miami between the early 1970s and the mid-1980s. This was not high drama that played out on the front pages of the newspapers or consumed public debate. Befitting Miami's political reputation as the "intrigue capital of the hemisphere,"1 it was a rather stealth-like change that, in the early stages at least, occurred mostly under...

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Chapter 5: The Birth of a World City

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pp. 95-115

Miami's economic transformation resulted from more than the internal machinations of the city's business elite. It was also part of a much bigger story. Around the world, processes of globalization had accelerated since the late 1970s and were drawing certain cities into a global orbit, linking them to worldwide financial and economic networks.1 These included such cities as Milan,...

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Chapter 6: Transience and Civil Society

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pp. 117-136

The 2008 obituary for Roger Sonnabend (age eighty-three) named him "a pioneer in South Florida."1 The chairman of the board of Sonesta, he brought one of his namesake hotels to Key Biscayne in 1969. With its iconic pyramid shape, the Sonesta was one of the first modern full-service resort hotels in the area. Sonnabend was a part-time resident who maintained a winter home on the...

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Chapter 7: Locals, Exiles, and Mobiles

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pp. 137-171

In the past, people's identities were closely tied to place. The world was viewed as a "mosaic" of cultures and peoples, a spatial ordering where all were primarily known based on where they belonged. Migration happened, of course, but always in relatively small numbers and it was generally one-way and involved fundamental uprooting and full-fledged resettlement. The "natural"...

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Chapter 8: Elusive Subtropical Urbanism

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pp. 173-199

Imagine an American city in the subtropics, a place with abundant nature, exotic lush vegetation, and a long shoreline on the glittering blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. It is a city on the nation's edge, away from the gritty urban north, south of the South, and with a brew of American and foreign influences. And imagine you get to design it. It is not hard to see...

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Chapter 9: The First Hemispheric City

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pp. 201-213

To outside observers, visitors, and even residents, Miami's unique qualities are readily apparent: the balmy weather, the scenery somewhere between ostentatious and seductive, edgy behaviors, and the occasional surreal spectacle are all hard to ignore. Miami, to be sure, can be uniquely entertaining. The city's penchant for shameless narcissism was expressed perfectly,...

Appendix 1: The Transience Index

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pp. 215-216

Appendix 2: Mapping Locals, Exiles, and Mobiles

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pp. 217-219


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pp. 221-256


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pp. 257-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780812207026
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812242980

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Metropolitan Portraits