May 16, 2023 | Main Spotlight: Celebrating and Preserving a Culture of Possibility in Allapattah, Miami | By: Alicia Gallo, Senior Manager of Strategic Communications at Main Street America |
On May 9, the National Trust for Historic Preservation released its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2023. For the first time in its 36-year history, this list—which raises awareness about some of our country’s most significant sites and the threats that they face—included a cultural district located within a designated Main Street America community.
Little Santo Domingo in Miami, Florida, is the commercial and cultural heart of Allapattah, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. It has been shaped by a history of immigration, continual reinvention, and entrepreneurial innovation reminiscent to many American towns. Originally Seminole land, the first significant demographic shift occurred as White residents moved into the area concurrent with Miami’s development into a metropolitan hub during the 1920s.
Throughout the 20th century, distinct waves of new residents of Cuban, African American, and Dominican ancestry followed. In 2003, the City of Miami named a portion of Allapattah “Little Santo Domingo,” in recognition of the Dominican residents who moved to the area beginning in the 1980s. Today, Little Santo Domingo is home to 300 small businesses, a diverse community of Hispanic, Black, and immigrant residents, and a rich cultural heritage essential to the identity of Allapattah.
Today the neighborhood – defined by NW 17th Avenue between 20th and 36th Street – is also home to local leaders and organizations, such as The Allapattah Collaborative (TAC), committed to investing in the community’s future while preserving its past. TAC emerged from a community engagement process focused on creating an equitable development action plan for the neighborhood. In 2021, after a rigorous two-year application process, TAC earned designation as a Main Street program, followed quickly by designation as Florida Main Street community. Like Main Street programs across the country, TAC is leading efforts to honor and preserve the neighborhood’s rich local history, cultural heritage, and entrepreneurial spirit, while increasing economic prosperity.
Left: Locally-owned bakeries and barber shops are among the more than 300 small businesses operating in the Allapattah neighborhood, serving residents and visitors. Right: A new housing development adjacent to older, smaller commercial buildings in Little Santo Domingo. Photo courtesy National Trust for Historic Preservation staff.
From supporting hundreds of family-owned, community-serving small businesses to developing a community-driven neighborhood master plan that includes heritage preservation strategies, TAC, residents, partners, and business owners exemplify the visionary work of Main Street leaders.
Little Santo Domingo’s inclusion on the 2023 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places acknowledges that this historic commercial corridor is facing significant pressure from speculative real estate development that threatens to demolish older structures and displace existing residents and businesses. However, this designation also recognizes Little Santo Domingo as a district that is exemplary of the quintessential American story – one that is an interconnected tapestry of immigration, ingenuity, resilience, and a culture of possibility – and one whose legacy is worthy of preserving.
The community is particularly concerned about losing its cultural identity and mix of neighborhood-serving small businesses, including restaurants, bakeries, barber shops, salons, and auto repair shops. For this reason, TAC plans to leverage this designation to bolster proactive, grassroots initiatives, including:
Fundraising for their Thrive In-Place Fund to acquire and develop commercial properties using a community land trust model to ensure long-term affordability for residents and businesses;
Developing a community-driven neighborhood master plan that includes heritage preservation strategies such as local and national historic designation;
Creating a more open and inclusive public process regarding decision-making about development in the neighborhood.
Communities like Little Santo Domingo are the heartbeat of a city, and the visionary work of The Allapattah Collaborative to proactively respond to threats of displacement through holistic, strategic, and community-centered initiatives provides a valuable model for advancing long-term strategies for sustainable growth.
Allapattah leaders hope that this designation lifts up the district as a national example for how Main Street leaders build community wealth, celebrate diverse cultural legacies, and support local entrepreneurship at the neighborhood scale.
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