Class-Divided Cities: Miami Edition

The sixth installment in our series mapping the class divides in America's cities and metros.

Author’s Note: This is the sixth of a series of posts that explore the class divides across America's largest cities and metros. Using data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey, each explores the geography of class within a large city and metro area. For a detailed description of methodology, see the first post in the series.

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The map above shows the class divides for the city of Miami proper. The creative class lives in the areas that are shaded in purple, the red areas are primarily service class, and the blue are working class. Each colored space on the map is a Census tract, a small area within a city or county that can be even smaller than a neighborhood. (See this map of Miami Census tracts [PDF].)

Unlike most cities, which tend to grow outward from the center, Miami spreads out along the water. Its most desirable (and hence expensive) areas are located closest to its coasts and its least expensive further inland; a pattern which continues in the greater metro as well.

The geographic divide in the city of Miami is pronounced. The more affluent, high-income creative class is tightly concentrated along Biscayne Bay, from Coconut Grove in the south up through Brickell with its gleaming new condo towers, downtown and across its wealthy waterfront and island enclaves with their magnificent historic structures, modernist homes and upscale condos buildings.

$260 billion in economic output [PDF], making it a slightly larger economy than either Singapore or Hong Kong.

The second map (see right, click for larger image) shows the geography of class segmentation for the entire Miami metropolitan region, which extends north through Fort Lauderdale and Broward County to Palm Beach County. Home to roughly 5.6 million people, the Miami metro generates about 

The class divide for the metro is also quite pronounced, stretching out along the waterfronts of Fort Lauderdale and the wealthy enclaves of Boca Raton and Palm Beach. To the west is the Everglades. The green blotch in the upper left hand corner of the map is primarily agricultural.

Even more so than in the city, the metro's linear development pattern along the waterfront shapes and structures it's class geography. This is the way Sean McCaughan, editor of Curbed Miami described it in an email:

The most expensive areas are mostly closer to the ocean and Biscayne Bay and the Intracoastal waterway, while the least expensive are often in the middle or to the west, such as Overtown, Brownsville, Allapattah, Hialeah and the westernmost are middle class suburban sprawl type developments on reclaimed Everglades. There are isolated islands of wealth in the far western suburbs in areas like Doral, home to the Doral Golf Resort, Weston and Wellington.

This class divide is overlaid by a long-standing racial divide and also by the cleavage between über-affluent part-time residents, wealthy tourists and far less advantaged locals who overwhelmingly work in the service industry. As a global city, Miami also bears the stamp of two distinct immigrations — the influx of wealthy Latin Americans, Europeans, Russians, and others who are part of the global one percent, and the much larger group of low-wage, low-skill immigrants from across Latin America who toil in low-wage service and blue-collar jobs far field from its more privileged enclaves.

The next map of the metro is interactive: Click on a tract to see its percentages of each of the three major classes. 

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The creative class includes people who work in high-skill, high-pay jobs in science and technology, business and management, arts, culture media and entertainment, law and healthcare professions. All told its ranks make up 30.4 percent of the metro's workers, beneath the national average of roughly a third (32.6 percent) of the U.S. workforce. The metro's creative class workers average $68,797 in wages and salaries, over $25,000 more than the region's average salary ($42,176), but less than the national average ($70,890) for the creative class.

Top 10 Creative Class Locations in the Miami Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Creative Class Share
Pinecrest (78.06) 76.6%
Downtown Miami (waterfront) (67.13) 71.7%
South Coconut Grove (waterfront), Miami (73) 71.5%
Boca Raton (near Florida Atlantic University) (70.08) 70.4%
Brickell Key/Downtown (waterfront), Miami (67.07) 69.8%
North Coconut Grove (waterfront), Miami (68.01) 69.4%
Coral Way/Islands (waterfront), Miami (67.06) 69.3%
University of Miami, Coral Gables (79.01) 68.7%
Aventura (waterfront) (1.29) 68.7%
Pinecrest (78.07) 68.5%
Metro Average 30.4%

*Includes Census Tracts with more than 500 people

The table above shows the top 10 creative class locations (defined as Census tracts with more than 500 people) in the metro. The creative class makes up more than two-thirds of residents in each of them — more than twice the metro average of 31.6 percent. Six of the 10 abut the waterfront.

The top 10 creative class tracts are divided evenly between the city and suburbs. Two are in the affluent suburb of Pinecrest (with a median family income in excess of $120,000); and there is one each in Coral Gables, Aventura, and Boca Raton. Two of these tracts include or are close to universities — the University of Miami in Coral Gables, and Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton — a pattern which is common across the other cities and metros in this series.

The other five are all located in Miami proper, mainly close to downtown, all located on and around the waterfront, either in the core or in close-by Coconut Grove, where Hemingway lived decades ago and Madonna not so long ago. "Coconut Grove was possibly the first of Miami's old urban neighborhoods to gentrify," adds Curbed Miami's McCaughan. "First being repopulated by artists and bohemians, than wealthier people, but preserving its artistic disposition."

It's interesting to note the places that do not make the top 10 — notably South Beach and ultra-wealthy Palm Beach. Perhaps this is due to their high percentage of second homeowners, not captured as residents in the Census.

Overall, Miami lags on the creative class compared to other large metros covered in this series. Only 12 percent of the tracts in greater Miami have more than half of their residents employed in the creative class, less than any of the 10 largest metros. Compare this to New York, Chicago, and Boston where roughly one in five tracts have 50 percent or more creative class residents, or greater Washington, D.C., where nearly half of all tracts do.

Matt Haggman, a former Miami Herald reporter and now director of the Knight Foundation's Miami program, suggests this is not at all surprising, given the city and region's historical model of development:

This is a Sun Belt city hardly more than a century old that was rocked by post-war sprawl before it had barely developed a core. A resort and retiree destination, it lacked deep attachment from the core young creatives we talk so much about. From nearly the beginning it was more of a place to stay a little while, but not too long.

McCaughan adds that:

The regeneration and gentrification of Miami's urban core neighborhoods — places like Downtown Miami, South Beach, Midtown, Wynwood, Morningside, Edgewater, etc. — is only a relatively recent phenomenon, although the shift has happened very quickly. Consider Downtown Miami, which is a very, very different place from the one it was just 10 years ago. The 'comeback' of South Beach, although it was one of the first urban areas to do so, only happened a few decades ago.

The service class entails workers in low wage, low-skill occupations in food service and preparation, retail sales, clerical and administrative positions and the like. This is the largest class, making up 53 percent of the region's workers (several percentage points higher than the national average of 46.6 percent). Service workers in the metro average $29,087 in wages and salaries, roughly 40 percent of what the metro's creative class workers earn and slightly less than the national average for these workers ($30,597).

With its long history and infrastructure as a tourist and resort home destination, Miami's economy remains largely service driven. Of the 10 largest metros in the U.S., Miami has the highest share of tracts — half of them — where more than 50 percent of residents are employed in the service class. This compares to New York with 37.6 percent, Los Angeles with 30.3 percent, Chicago with 23 percent, Boston with 20 percent, and Washington, D.C. with just 14 percent.

Top 10 Service Class Locations in the Miami Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Service Class Share
Overtown, Miami (36.01) 82.6%
Coral Gables (9803) 78.6%
Miami Beach (44.05) 75.9%
Sunrise (602.07) 74.6%
North Miami Beach (2.06) 74.5%
Liberty City, Miami (15.01) 73.6%
West Perrine (83.09) 72.8%
Fort Lauderdale (409.01) 72.1%
Golden Glades (2.15) 71.6%
Deerfield Beach (104.03) 71.3%
Metro Average 53.0%

*Includes Census Tracts with more than 500 people

As the table above shows, the leading service class locations, where more than 70 percent of residents hold service class jobs, are mostly inland neighborhoods, though they are contiguous to some of the more affluent resort locations. One of the top three tracts is in glitzy, affluent Miami Beach. As McCaughan points out:

In South Beach, the artists and creatives that populated South Beach in the 80s and 90s due to low rents and developers eager to bring life back to the beach were replaced by tourists, second home owners, and a large population of service industry workers. The service industry people live in small, densely built, apartment buildings in South Beach's center section, around Flamingo Park, etc. These are the service people that work at Miami Beach's hotels, restaurants, and bars, for which they do not need cars to commute to.

Miami's tourist economy requires a lot of service-intensive work, as do the region's elderly retiree population. Miami's service class may well be under-counted, due to its large numbers of undocumented workers.

Top 10 Working Class Locations in the Miami Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Working Class Share
Hialeah (16.05) 56.2%
Little Havana, Miami (52.02) 54.6%
Loch Lomond/Pompano Beach (303.01) 53.6%
Hialeah (7.12) 53.4%
Hialeah (7.10) 52.3%
Hialeah (135) 51.6%
Flagami, Miami (51.03) 51.2%
Hialeah (131) 49.1%
Hialeah (8.07) 48.4%
Allapattah, Miami (24.02) 48.2%
Metro Average 16.2%

*Includes Census Tracts with more than 500 people

The working class — which includes workers in manufacturing, transportation, and construction — comprises 16.2 percent of the region's workforce, well below the national average of 21 percent. As a post-industrial service region, a small share of manufacturing and industrial workers is expected. But given the real estate orientation of the economy, one would expect a greater share of construction workers — perhaps some fraction of it is made up of undocumented workers. Members of the region's working class average $35,440 in wages, just above the national average for blue-collar workers ($34,015), but only half of what the metro's creative class workers earn.

The largest working class concentrations are in and around Hialeah, a mainly blue-collar community of roughly 230,000 people with a median family income of roughly $31,000 dollars, where one in five residents live under the poverty line. Most of these districts are near the airport and the warehouse districts on its western edge. McCaughan notes that: "These light industrial areas are also relatively close to freight rail lines and the airport's freight areas on its western side. The city has lately been seeing a small boom in industrial warehouse construction, probably due to Miami's advantage as a point of international trade."

Indicative of Miami's post-industrial, service economy makeup, the blue-collar working class accounts for less than 10 percent of residents in one in five of the metro's Census tracts. Conversely, the working class makes up more than half of all residents in less than one percent (0.6 percent) of the region's tracts.

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My observations and conversations with local developers, business leaders, political officials, economic developers, civic leaders and urbanists reveal a region at a crossroads.

The region has plenty of assets to build a knowledge economy around: its medical and healthcare complex around the University of Miami hospitals; its role as a Latin and South American financial and business center; its comparable role as a center for Latin American media; its higher end hospitality and tourism cluster; and perhaps its experience in densification and city-building.  

Its diversity, its buzz, its waterfronts and beaches, arts and cultural institutions and quality of place make it a destination of choice for many affluent and creative class types from the U.S., Latin America, and around the world. Its airport and seaport make it a hub not just for the Americas but in the global city system. Like many global cities, it is no longer a city of permanence but of flux, with a substantial circulation of people in as well as out. 

While this represents considerable potential, the city still "has a long way to go," according to Jordan Melnick, a Miami native, reporter, and the founder of the terrific website Beached Miami. "While some city boosters like to proclaim a fait accompli – that Miami is already a global city, we remain in a very early phase and our success is not even close to guaranteed." Adds Melnick: "My immediate takeaway is that the region needs to invest in high-skill, high-pay industries at the expense of tourism."

More the point, he continues, "as long as so many Miami residents are poor, projects like mega casinos and environmentally hazardous dredging will get strong support as 'job engines' even as they perpetuate and exasperate income inequality and inhibit the growth of Miami's creative class." The city is extremely congested and still overly dependent on the car, he adds, and sorely needs to invest in a 21st century transit system. He notes the ongoing rift between the city and region's two models of future development: Those who want a tourist Miami around a downtown casino, and others who desire creative reinvention around arts, culture, tech, and innovation.

The Knight Foundation's Haggman notes that while region's class divide remains "deep and real," it is poised to turn the corner:

There are vast stretches hardly touched by any of the recent economic and building booms. The historically black neighborhoods that comprise the vast central part of Greater Miami, running from Overtown, up through Liberty City and Miami Gardens at the Broward line, remain mired in deep and grinding poverty. Perhaps geographically close, but a world away from South Beach or newly revitalizing areas like Midtown, Upper Eastside or Brickell.

But he believes a new model of development is starting to take hold. "Miami is moving now," he wrote to me, "it’s in the middle of a big, really important transition" of which there are three key elements:

Urbanization of the city: The remaking of greater downtown that's seen a doubling in population – and is set to grow once again; indeed, the worries about empty condos for years on end didn't happen. Now the cranes are back, just a few short years after the bust. In addition, the average age in downtown is 36.

Emergence of a university infrastructure: 40 years ago Miami didn't have a public research university. Today, a recent report found that Miami ranks seventh per capita in terms of college students in a metropolitan area.

Cultural awakening: It's happened on an institutional level: Arsht Center, New World, Pérez Art Museum Miami, Frost Museum of Science all going up in the last seven or eight years. And at the grass roots too: you feel it in Wynwood, Little Haiti, and even places like Opa-Locka and Hialeah, are now using art to bind and inspire.

Melnick sees the transformation coming from the ground up: "A significant number of Miami natives and residents have woken up in the last decade and realized that no one is going to improve their city for them," he notes. "Better yet, they have shown an inspiring ambition and aptitude to transform the city themselves." He highlights the city's thriving street-level arts, music, and food scenes and especially its active cycling scene and movement as exemplifying such direct civic engagement around city-building.

Miami's transformation from a tourist to a creative economy is occurring at a rapid pace, but its class divide remains deep. To be successful, it must simultaneously bolster its creative economy, invest in becoming an idea center as well as an arts and cultural destination, and develop its transit infrastructure. Given the heavy service-orientation of its economy, the region needs a long-run strategy to upgrade its service jobs in ways that enable a much broader segment of its population o to participate in and benefit from its ongoing transformation. With its large and growing constellation of  tourism, healthcare, and service firms and institutions, the region can position itself at the forefront of this issue by becoming a veritable laboratory for improving service work — turning what are now low-wage, insecure jobs that shape its class divide into higher-wage, family supporting jobs that will help bridge it.

Next week, I turn to Dallas.

Prior posts in this series:

All maps by MPI's Zara Matheson.

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here