If you lived in the New York area during the pandemic, you no doubt witnessed the mass migration upstate, to the ‘burbs and, in many cases, Florida. For city types, places like Miami offered balmy weather, fancy restaurants, and luxe shopping, and a diverse, international flavor.
I have friends that adore Miami and, though I romantically enjoy gloomy days the same way I enjoy a good Smiths song, I love sunshine too. And with Miami two and a half hours away by plane, it’s close enough to New York to make for an easy commute. So the iconic question beckons.
Could I live there? (Hint: I already have.)
I lived in Miami from 2004-2011.
David and I were newlyweds and outgrowing our rent-stabilized fifth-floor walk-up in Soho. I had been reading about an ad agency in Miami whose star was rising, and I had the instinct to stalk them until they hired me.
So we moved to a city as unfamiliar to me as the moon. I’ve often joked that I’m the only Jew who grew up without family in Florida. However, I always associated the state with overly tanned senior citizens with frosted hair and matching lipstick playing mahjong. Miami is not like that at all.
And full disclosure: My take on Miami is a bit dated, but here’s what I know.
It’s hot. So very hot. To think about living in Miami, you must not be prone to the vapors when the humidity is hellish. Deodorant will need a rethink. Skincare, too. And, of course, the hair. Miami is where I discovered a better friend than any human. The keratin treatment. Essential to fight frizz.
Also, the bugs. Have you ever seen a flying roach? In Miami, they are called palmetto bugs. And guess what? They are blind but drawn to motion, so they enjoy flying into your frizz mop while you sweat your life choices. Literally.
Too many bikinis can be a drag when it’s business time
Miami is made up of many neighborhoods. Miami’s lifestyle is unique, from the overgrown lushness of Coconut Grove to the tall towers of Brickell to the art deco glam of Miami Beach. But you really have to like Miami and Florida in general. There are no mountains but plenty of swamp, ocean, and strip malls. The beaches are legendary for a reason, but living somewhere where people seem to be on endless vacations can be off-putting, particularly in the prime of your working years. Too many bikinis can be a drag when it’s business time.
Next, the cheese. And not the kind you eat.
I’m talking about the overly vulgar displays of wealth and butt implants and the insane superficiality. The whole “playground for the rich” thing holds little appeal, and this is not a town where stealth wealth rules. And sure, the same could be said of New York, but there is something more democratic about rubbing shoulders with whomever on the subway than wondering why your 23-year-old intern has a more excellent car than you. Not to mention the mediocre restaurants that are obscenely expensive.
From a style place, I never understood the assignment.
Because the aesthetic there is hyper-feminine, hyper-sexy, and with a lot of skin and COLOR, I felt like a fish out of water. I was grateful to find somebody to cut my hair who understood I didn’t want to look like a Kardashian. My sister visited once and was shocked to see me wearing a turquoise dress. It’s true. I lost myself in a sea of shantung Calypso dresses and jeweled sandals. Oh, and lots of cotton.
Next, I find Miami as a whole low on the charm scale, and I’m a sucker and a half for charm. That’s why I lived in Coral Gables, a neighborhood next to Coconut Grove full of leafy streets and old Spanish-style homes. It is also home to the beautiful Biltmore Hotel, an old-school bastion of Miami’s past with a gorgeous pool. I took my parents there to sip mojitos and enjoy Cuban music poolside. As my dad watched the swaying palm trees, he asked what was wrong with me and prompted me to look around. It was not within his ability to understand how I could prefer dirty New York City to this supposed paradise. And the answer for me was simple: Miami was not enough, yet far too much at the same time.
Miami was not enough, yet far too much at the same time
I find Florida creepy in general. Between the alligator attacks and bath salt-soaked acts of depravity (oh, and Trump and DeSantis), it’s all a bit extra in the wrong way. If you watched the excellent show “Bloodline” with Sissy Spacek, its depiction of the Keys embodied the weird and sordid dark side I always felt in the sunshine state, and it’s just not my tempo. Also, the hurricanes keep getting scarier, so it’s hard not to catastrophize.
A good friend I met at the gym was in her 60s, and she was married to someone who was a fire chief in NYC during 9/11. After that awful day, they decided to make a move. The familiarity of her New York energy and wit was a source of comfort. As we sat in her beautiful garden, she told me I was in Miami at the wrong time of my life (I moved there at 34). She accurately noted that Miami is great when you are young and hot and want to party, but it’s also great if you are retired and want to soak in the sun. I was there at the height of my ad career and, admittedly, enjoying Miami was not much of an option as I worked 24/7.
But it wasn’t all bad.
I learned to drive. I loved the Everglades and sitting swampside for all-you-can-eat stone crabs, and the Keys are lovely, too. And since we are big fans of Jamaica, jetting there in no time and coming back home to warmth and palm trees makes the rentree much easier. Oh, and no income tax.
I was also in the shape of my life. How could you not be when you were half-naked all the time? And I also value the education I received culturally. Miami is a Spanish-speaking melting pot and I learned so much, except Spanish. Languages are not my superpower.
There are also cool spots like Churchill’s for a punk rock dive bar vibe, and the Standard Hotel is just lovely for a pool day. The Cuban coffee is magical, as is Cuban chicken soup with a squeeze of lime — a revelation. There is also a vital art scene thanks to Art Basel, incredible galleries and museums like the Pérez Art Museum and the Bass, and the now iconic temple to street art, The Wynwood Walls.
According to https://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-search/Miami_FL/overview, the median listing home price in Miami, FL, was $595K in March of this year, trending up 14.4% year-over-year. The median listing home price per square foot was $417, and the median home sold price was $505K. So in a sense, it’s not awful, though I know prices have increased since I lived there. In 2008 at the height of the economic crisis, I could have purchased my enormous two-bedroom on the water for under $200K.
We all know Florida has experienced a population boom, but a Miami real-estate agent told Insider in 2021 “that 40% to 50% of his clients who are new to the state move out within a few years.”
“So many people come for a week or two on vacation, and they think their life is going to be like that every day,” he said. A nearly 14,000-member Facebook group for people moving out of Florida has cited severe weather, low wages, crowded beaches, changing politics, and steep housing prices as reasons people left.
I understand Miami’s appeal but are warm weather and swaying palms enough to overrule all of the above?
I once read that as a fully evolved human you can live anywhere, because wherever you go there you are. Unfortunately, my evolution has not yet included being insensitive to place because place still matters to me. And Miami, with its sex appeal and tropical vibe, just isn’t my place, and I would never want to live there again. I know that people who grew up there feel very differently but, to me, the artifice of the place holds little appeal. I know there is much to discover beneath the surface but you really have to dig, and I’ve already mentioned in a previous post I’m not a pioneer. Plus, the heat is hateful. That peace with place may change as I grow older, but in a city where roaches fly and diamonds drip for daytime, I probably won’t reach nirvana. Check, please.
Talk to me in the comments. XO