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Friday, April 28, 2017


     We learn much from other people and places. I just spent a week in a small New England town. The experience left me wondering if bigger cities are better. Coconut Grove was probably a lot like Belfast, Maine long ago, a friendly, seaside town with a stable economy.
      When the Grove “grew up” it lost much of its charm, culture, and sense of community. Can we ever get that back?

  Fishing off Coconut Grove's shoreline
     How often do you walk downtown and see someone you know? Few Grove residents go there. It's designed for tourists and the parking is impossible. In Belfast, parking is a snap and you're
greeted by a stream of smiles and "hello's".
   The lush trees and beloved houses that define what we love about the Grove are bulldozed every day. There’s no one in City Hall willing to stop it.
     Some call it “progress”. They are the developers -and those beholden to them- getting rich by pouring concrete where trees once stood.

     I  returned to Coconut Grove two days ago. A three-hour  bus ride took me through towns like Rockport, Camden, and Damariscotta .
Each was a dreamy wonderland of seaside vistas, New England architecture, and trees "springing" back to life. I kept wondering why we keep destroying these things in Miami.

     The Grove's soul has been sold to produce wealth for well-connected individuals.  There are no effective laws or leaders that will keep the bulldozers at bay. The old will fall, new buildings will rise, and those who can, will leave.
    I left for a few days and lived in a town of 6000 that had five independent bookstores. Three theater groups were presenting plays and the library was crawling with people and activity.        

Belfast’s Town Commons is a three-acre park overlooking Penobscot Bay. 
    Last fall they installed an intricate labyrinth to inspire quiet thought. It  honors Phineas Quimby, a local writer who made it big 170 years ago.
    Parking is free and easy.

      What is the Grove's equivalent, Peacock Park?  It's on the bay but you’d never know it; thick mangroves block the view. The ocean’s horizon was enjoyed for a hundred years then, 35 years ago, a silly city official proposed blocking it with trees and our leaders acquiesced.  
    It hasn't been the same since, a movie theater without a screen.
    Peacock is not even a public park anymore.  Private interests use it more that the public. It is a playground for rich kids attending the private school next door. After school it fills with tykes (and their parents) taking expensive soccer lessons. The city gave half of the park's building to a restaurant last year.
     This would never happen in Belfast, Maine. Their parks are for everyone.

      We have a long history of well-known writers and artists calling the Grove their home. Their legacies are ignored or forgotten.  There are no "Phineas Quimby" plaques.  

    The "mother of the Everglades", writer Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, died twenty years ago.Marjory Stoneman Douglas is a photograph by Jimm Roberts which was ... She bequeathed her charming South Grove cottage to the State of Florida with the understanding that would become a small, simple museum. The State has done nothing to carry out her wishes.  For two decades it has used it to house government employees.  
    Efforts to put a historic marker out front have been nixed as being “too expensive” or “causing too much attention”.  Miami shunning its past is sickening and sad.
     I won’t even get into the Grove Playhouse disaster. When the Grove’s most significant  cultural icon shuts down and rots for ten years it is because Miami doesn't care. The city's mantra: "Tear down and build!".

 Detail, the Belfast Opera House

     For a week I got to live in town that does care. Last Monday night I dined at “Darby’s” on High Street.  It’s been around since 1865. The movie house ( the "Colonial") next door, is in its 109th year.
     The Grove also has a few businesses that have been here a while. There is reason for hope as much of our local history still begs to be saved. We'll keep making the same choices, "to preserve or pave?".  
     What say you?  I know what Belfast's response would be.


  1. I grew up in South Miami and lived there until 1994. Remember when the Grove was a sleepy, artsy fun place to hang out. As the drug money rolled in during the 80's, it grew into a more upscale place but was still a blast; especially on the weekends. The last time I visited was around 2005 was it was in a state of decline...sad...reminded me of what South Beach went thru. Now I hear that it's thriving again, but it doesn't sound anything like the place in my memories. Hard to think of it so changed without being there to see it happen.

    1. The Grove is still a wonderful place but yes, a little less so as which old house gets bulldozed. The huge white boxes that replace them are atrocious.