Miami as Text

Faculty: John Bailly


Flagler Street on August 15, 1945, 20 minutes after the announcement of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. (The Florida Memory Project of the Archives of the State of Florida.)


From Encyclopedia Britanica (<>):
Miami, city, transportation and business hub of southeastern Florida, U.S., and seat (1844) of Miami-Dade county. It is a leading resort and Atlantic Ocean port situated on Biscayne Bay at the mouth of the Miami River.

Spaniards in the 16th century found a village (perhaps 2,000 years old) of Tequesta Indians on the site. The name Mayaimi, probably meaning “big water” or “sweet water,” may have referred to Lake Okeechobee or to local Native Americans who took their name from the lake. In 1567 the Spanish established a mission there as part of a futile attempt to subdue the Tequesta. They ceded the area to Great Britain in 1763, but regained it in 1783. After the United States acquired Florida from Spain (1821), Fort Dallas was built (1836) as a base during the Seminole Wars. A few settlers—among them Julia D. Tuttle, known as the “mother of Miami,” and William B. Brickell—gradually moved into the area.

In 1896 Henry M. Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railway to the site after Tuttle and Brickell each gave him half of their landholdings for the project. Flagler had been convinced to extend the railroad after a freeze during the winter of 1894–95 killed most of Florida’s citrus crop; Tuttle reportedly sent him a fresh orange blossom to prove that the freeze had not reached Miami. Flagler dredged the harbour, started constructing the Royal Palm Hotel, and promoted tourism. Miami was incorporated the same year.

The downtown skyline of Miami now features a contemporary look, with a large collection of gleaming, glass-walled skyscrapers accented with neon lighting at night.

The global perception of Miami is surrounded myth. Miami as Text aims for students to deconstruct the myths and reflect upon the true Miami. This project will offer students a uniquely structured exploration of Downtown Miami. Miami as Text is an interdisciplinary investigation of the people, art, architecture, culture and surrounding area of the heart of Miami. While providing certain required guidelines, the project is structured in an open manner that enables student participants to emphasize their respective disciplinary interests. It is the students’ mission to investigate, discover and document Miami.

Students will form 4 groups of  4 students.  Each group will be assigned one downtown location.  During the course of one day, the student group must explore the people, culture and location of their respective location/institution.

The Honors College is interdisciplinary in nature and welcomes new approaches to course projects. The form of the investigations and reflections in Miami can and should be varied: writing (both fiction and non-fiction, prose and poetry), photography, video, and visual art. Students should gather information and impressions in the manner they wish. The nature of these can also be varied, as each student forms a unique perspective. The final product, however, must be submitted digitally. The work of each group must have the ability to merge with the others into one final class presentation.

If making a film, existing images may be appropriated, but they must be altered in some manner. For example, the work must be heavily edited heavily or distorted it in some manner. Actors, editors and/or other film crew may be recruited, under the condition that the student retain the role of director. The film must be the student’s ideas and he/she must oversee every aspect of it, but responsibilities must be delegated.

Films and slideshows must be uploaded onto the internet, on Facebook or Youtube (free). Please make sure to test your upload prior to attending class.

All groups are to meet at 15:00 (3 pm) in the plaza of the Miami-Dade Public Library System Main Library, 101 W FLAGLER ST
Group 1: Start at intersection of NW 1ST AVE & NW 2ND ST walk east to Bayfront Park. Meet at water’s edge.
Group 2: Start at intersection of NW 1ST AVE & NW 1ST ST walk east to Bayfront Park. Meet at water’s edge.
Group 3: Start at intersection of NW 1ST AVE & FLAGLER ST walk east to Bayfront Park. Meet at water’s edge.
Group 4: Start at intersection of NW 1ST AVE & SW 1ST ST walk east to Bayfront Park. Meet at water’s edge.

The following are suggested questions participants may ask.  The inquiry should include, but not be limited, to these.  Research should focus specifically on the participants’ respective location. 

  • What did you know about Downtown Miami before participating in Art as Miami?
  • What do you perceive to be the demographics of Downtown Miami visitors? Who is there and why? For How long?
  • Describe the architecture and the influence it has on people.
  • Describe the public art and the influence it has on people.
  • When is the location open to the public?
  • What is the general ambiance in the location?
  • Why do people visit these locations? Are the visitors local or do they come from other cities?
  • Do you feel safe walking through Downtown Miami? Would you feel safe walking through Downtown Miami at other times?
  • What is your experience?
  • Any other thoughts of impressions you have.

Excerpt from Shatter the Glassy Stare: Implementing Experiential Learning in Higher Education

Strategies: Mapping, Observing, Listening, Reflecting
City as Text™ methodology is based on the concept of active or experiential learning. Participants are split up into small groups with an assigned area of the city/place to explore. They report back for a general discussion at the end of their walkabout and exchange their insights with others who have explored other areas of the same city. The idea is that the sum of everyone’s experience is a better view than just one person or one group doing the same exercise.

There are four basic strategies used in these exercises: mapping, observing, listening, and reflecting.

1. Mapping: You will want to be able to construct, during and after your explorations, the primary kinds of buildings, points of interest, centers of activity, and transportation routes (by foot, vehicle, or other means). You will want to look for patterns of housing, “traffic” flow, and social activity that may not be apparent on any traditional “map.” Where do people go, how do they get there, and what do they do when they get there?

2. Observing: You will want to look carefully for the unexpected as well as the expected, for the familiar as well as the new. You will want to notice details of architecture, landscaping, social gathering, clothing, possessions, decoration, signage, and advertising.

3. Listening: You will want to talk to as many people as you can and to find out from them what matters to them in their daily lives, what they need, what they enjoy, what bothers them, what they appreciate. Strike up conversations everywhere you go. Ask about such matters as: how expensive it is to live there (dropping by a real estate agency could be enlightening), where to find a cheap meal (or a good one or an expensive one), what the local politics are (try to find a local newspaper), what the history of the place is, what the population is like (age, race, class, profession, etc.), what people do to have a good time. In other words, imagine that you are moving to that location and try to find out everything you would need to learn to survive there.

4. Reflecting: Throughout your explorations, keep in mind that the people you meet, the buildings in which they live and work, the forms of their recreation, their modes of transportation—everything that they are and do—are important components of the environment. They are part of an ecological niche. You want to discover their particular roles in this ecology: how they use it, contribute to it, damage or improve it, and change it. You want to discover not only how, but why they do what they do. Don’t settle for easy answers. Don’t assume you know the answers without doing serious research. Like all good researchers, make sure you are conscious of your own biases and that you investigate them as thoroughly as you investigate the culture you are studying.