Miami officials consider Little Haiti boundaries
Miami city commissioners set to consider making Little Haiti's loose boundaries official
Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood got its unofficial name from the Haitian immigrants who moved here in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The city commission now is considering making that official to differentiate Little Haiti from the historic neighborhoods it largely absorbed over the years.
Commissioners are set Thursday to contemplate setting official boundaries for a cultural or neighborhood conservation district. Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, whose district includes Little Haiti, has called for a study to determine whether the area should be officially recognized.
Some Haitian activists want the official recognition.
"Every day you hear of a new group encroaching into what we know as Little Haiti," said Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami. "These groups moved into Little Haiti, so I don't understand why they don't want it to be named Little Haiti anymore."
Critics such as businessman Peter Ehrlich tell The Miami Herald that the designation would endanger the character of the neighborhoods now encompassed in the area generally known as Little Haiti, such as Lemon City, Little River or Buena Vista, and could make the area less attractive to investors.
"We feel people should use whatever name makes them comfortable," Ehrlich said.
Georgia Ayers, a descendant of the Bahamians who pioneered Lemon City, has spent years campaigning to restore that name.
"This area was here before Haitians got here," she said. "Why should the name be changed to suit them? I don't care what the city wants to do — Lemon City is not in Little Haiti."
Gepsie Metellus, executive director of the Haitian community center Sant La says establishing Little Haiti's boundaries would not erase existing neighborhoods.
"We can coexist side-by-side if we need to. I don't have a problem with recognizing the Lemon City neighborhood which today is known as Little Haiti," said Metellus. "But don't tell me that we should not call this area Little Haiti."
Miami's Little Havana neighborhood doesn't have official boundaries, either. Like other neighborhoods in Miami and nationwide, its name has changed over the years, too — it once was a Jewish neighborhood called Shenandoah.
Miami Dade College professor and historian Paul George gives historical tours around Miami and considers the Lemon City area as Little Haiti. He said the city has to find a way to honor Lemon City's past while also acknowledging the contributions of Miami's Haitian community.
"In America over the past decades we've seen a rapid change of neighborhoods," he said. "It's a conundrum. But somehow you have to have people remember what was there, but today it truly is Little Haiti."
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