Miami has always been the commercial and cultural center for Florida and the nearby Caribbean, but in the past 30 years it has emerged as a world-class international hub and a gateway for all of Latin America. In many ways it serves as the central logistical and cultural hub of the entire Western Hemisphere. The inevitable result is a diverse and invigorating Latin culture superimposed upon what was already a major commercial, resort, and retirement area dating back to the 1920’s. Many think of it as a tourist center, but import/export and international financial trade with Latin countries make up a far larger part of the economy. These activities bring a large banking industry as well as cargo transport and warehousing; the manufacturing and corporate headquarters rosters are also growing. The city is busy- in many ways stressful- and the mix of cultures, heat, and poverty has occasionally boiled over into ethnic and civil strife. But the city is fun and undeniably alive.
Downtown is fairly average with the usual glass skyscrapers. Inland to the west the area sprawls with low to mid-sized commercial buildings and housing, until ending abruptly at the Everglades. Wealthy retirees and others escaping the northeast winters have established themselves on Miami Beach, the high-rise-studded barrier island to the east, or to Coral Gables and Kendall just to the south. The planned Coral Gables is quite upscale, while Kendall is more middle class, and all suburbs to the south are a rich and unusual combination of wealthy and middle class U. S. migrants and retirees mixed in with similar strata from all over Latin America.
Inland areas are much warmer and less comfortable. Covering almost all buildable land, the vast and mostly middle-class residential areas continue to sprawl 25 miles to the south to Homestead. Hurricane Andrew, one of the most devastating hurricanes on record, made a nearly successful attempt to reclaim Homestead and surrounding areas for nature in 1992. Other hurricanes have had major effects on property insurance premiums and availability. To the north, residential and light-commercial developments merge with Fort Lauderdale and its suburbs to the west.
There is no shortage of things to do in Miami- indoors or outdoors. The South Beach section of Miami Beach houses a historic district lined with pastel-colored Art Deco buildings from the 20’s and 30’s, now filled with restaurants and clubs. Water and beach recreation are superb, and Latin-accented nightlife goes on everywhere. Professional and college sports are a passion. There is a good assortment of museums and performing-arts amenities. Air service is excellent everywhere particularly to international destinations. The Cost of Living Index is high and growing as home prices rise, but varies considerably by location within the area. Crime rates are among the highest in the nation for a big city. Average commute times- almost 33 minutes- are the worst in Florida. Only Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach- both just to the north- have a higher hurricane risk. Taken together, the city offers world-class activities and an interesting cultural mix at a cost of crowding and safety.
Miami lies on a level coastal plain. The surrounding countryside is level and sparsely wooded with areas of water and swampland approaching the Everglades to the west. The climate is subtropical marine with long, warm, humid summers and abundant rainfall, followed by mild, dry winters. Sea breezes from the east and southeast may cause year-round temperature differences of 15 degrees or more from inland locations. Freezing conditions occur occasionally in the western suburbs. Strong thunderstorms with dangerous lightning can occur year-round and hurricanes are a risk in late summer and fall.