South Miami group advocates for residents

With multiple projects in the works, a group of South Miami residents is working to improve the city they call home.

The group, South Miami Neighbors, recently won a grant to paint the columns in the South Miami portion of the Underline and petitioned the city to create an annual citywide garage sale. They also plan to host a candidate forum next year for the upcoming city elections.

It won the $20,000 grant from the Miami Foundation for its submission to the Public Space Challenge, which aims at funding projects that help create, activate or improve how Miamians move around the community. The Paint the Rainbow project will cover columns from Red Road to Ludlam Road.

Board member Holly Zickler said projects like this help bring the community together and bring in new people.

“We’re trying hard to make the city of South Miami a more friendly, welcoming, connected and vibrant place to live and work, not one that is only interested in blindly preserving what is already here,” she said.

Since 1966, South Miami Neighbors has worked with city officials on policies and ideas the organization wants to see implemented. Mari Chael joined in 2011 and continues to sit on its board of directors. She said she helped lead the group away from its historically NIMBY—Not In My Backyard—stance to a more dynamic mindset.

“I think that’s the challenge on the horizon, keeping our quality of life and making South Miami awesome by working on issues like energy efficiency,” she said. “How do we evolve from a NIMBY organization to one that promotes the positive change we need?”

On Nov. 7, South Miami Neighbors sent a letter to the city manager asking to improve trolley services. The organization also advocated for residential apartments to open by Sunset Place.

“What we need in order to revitalize the city is more urban housing so that people can live in a mixed-use environment,” Chael said about the planned upgrades. “The rest of us can take the trolley and bike to downtown also.”

As people moved to South Miami, some became interested in joining clubs that would have a direct impact on the community. Annick Sternberg, the founder of the Southwest Community Farmers’ Market at Tropical Park, was one of those new neighbors over 30 years ago.

A former California resident, Sternberg said she felt there weren’t enough small community gardens around South Miami. In 2011, she learned about Chael and South Miami Neighbors.

“The idea of having local gardens is to reduce the footprint on the earth and to show people the benefits of eating healthy,” she said.

She also believes the local economy benefits because the customers’ spending power increases when they buy directly from the producers, who come from as far south as Homestead and as far north as Georgia.

Although it is no longer associated with South Miami, Sternberg’s idea paved the way for a successful farmers market — one that still brings in hundreds of people every Saturday.

“A lot of people think something can happen by just having an idea, but what some struggle with is how to actually do it,” she said. “It’s hard sometimes to find enough people with enthusiasm to carry things forward.”

Zickler, an adjunct architecture professor at FIU, said she was also interested in local issues. Like Sternberg, Zickler wanted to join a local neighborhood club where her concerns could be taken to the city commission.

“People who have taken leadership roles in this organization end up having a strong sense of civic duty, and some have ended up getting on city boards and commissions,” said Zickler.

She created the organization’s online blog 10 years ago to help neighbors organize and voice their concerns. Throughout the years, the group’s online presence has grown, with over 600 Facebook followers.

“We’re really going to have to start [building out] the social aspect first and build a sense of connectedness,” said Zickler. “We always need to get a larger group of willing participants.”

South Miami Neighbors has events scheduled for the near future, including a city potluck in Dante Fascell Park on Dec. 15, a candidate forum for those running for South Miami positions on Jan. 27 and an Alternative to College Fair event planned for either March or May 2020.

Pablo Alvarez, a Cuban and Puerto Rican American, has interest in writing anything and everything regarding politics, the environment, community stories and much more. He wants to write groundbreaking stories that matter to readers and have an impact on them.