Documentary
4:48 pm
Thu April 25, 2013

How Wynwood Went From Abandoned Warehouses To Hipster Hangout

Hear our interview with Camila Álvarez and Natalie Edgar.

The Wynwood neighborhood in Miami has changed so much over the last 10 years, and it's not by accident. A group of investors set out to re-invent the area and make it into an arts district.

A documentary called Right to Wynwood premiered last Friday at the Wolfsonian-FIU museum during the Student Film Festival. It explores the way gentrification has shaped the neighborhood.

The project is the brainchild of filmmakers Camila Álvarez, a student at Florida International University, and Natalie Edgar, a graduate of the University of Miami.

Álvarez says a research project she conducted on gentrification inspired her to study the changes that have taken place in Wynwood. She stresses that gentrification there is not what one typically sees in other neighborhoods.

"In Wynwood, it was kind of artificial because a business model was brought and gentrification was planned," said Álvarez. "It was developer-led, instead of being artist-led."

Edgar adds, "It somehow seems as though the art was used as a marketing tool to bring in people."

Before Gentrification

"It was a Puerto Rican neighborhood," said Edgar. "There was a lot of warehouses also, so it was a warehouse district. There wasn't much in Wynwood."

Álvarez says the area was decimated by changes in the economy.

"The west part of the neighborhood was a Jewish garment district," said Álvarez, explaining that when manufacturing started going overseas to countries like China, the warehouses were left to deteriorate. "The whole west side of Wynwood was abandoned, and then the east side was just a very poor, forgotten neighborhood."

Reaction to the Changes

Álvarez says some of the old-time residents of the neighborhood like the area's new look.

"Some say, 'oh yeah the neighborhood is beautiful, there's more people coming in,' and they don't really think about the consequences of that," said Álvarez.

But she says others are very aware of what these changes could mean for them.

"We interviewed three people who were really worried about their situation because they knew they were going to have to leave, and they also knew they didn't have the power to change what was going on in Wynwood," said Álvarez.

The Takeaway

Álvarez says she hopes those who see her film will look at gentrification in a new way.

"For us, we're artists so we like gentrification in a way," said Álvarez. "We like the colors. We like the galleries. We like the cafes. We like Panther Coffee, Lester's. We enjoy Wynwood. But at the same time, we do think about the other effects of gentrification, what gentrification is doing to the people that live there, because if you think about it, gentrification is a modern type of colonization."

She says she characterizes it this way because new people are going into Wynwood and making decisions for the people who've been living there since the 1960s.

"What I would like people to think about is how we can do this in a different way, how we can give [these] people something good as we take something good from the neighborhood," said Álvarez.

Edgar agrees. She says it's all about perspective for Wynwood visitors who tend to focus on all the beautiful things they see there rather than what's going on underneath.

"You have to question how did this happen, where did this come from, who is it really affecting. And unfortunately, we're not usually doing that type of thing," said Edgar.

Right to Wynwood from Right to Wynwood on Vimeo.