Portland should emulate the art-soaked streets of Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood

Posted by on September 7th, 2021 at 3:44 pm

(Just a few of the murals in Wynwood. Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

As you might recall, a few months ago I visited Miami with my family. The best thing about the trip was staying in Wynwood, a very interesting neighborhood just north of downtown Miami and about one mile inland from the high-rise condos on Biscayne Bay.

What separates Wynwood from any other place I’ve traveled to is paint. Lots of it. Murals and graffiti cover its buildings, walls, streets, and sidewalks. When I heard on the recent Green Loop ride that boosters of that project want to create a “mural corridor” on the central eastside, I knew it was time to share more about Wynwood. Portland already has a great culture around murals and street painting, but Wynwood is on a whole different level.

And it all happened with planning and intention.

In the 1950s, the Wynwood neighborhood was home to a lot of heavy industry and Puerto Rican immigrants. As jobs and manufacturing dried up in the 1980s, many people left and Wynwood became a relatively forgotten place known for street gangs, boarded-up storefronts, and a few artists who were attracted by the cheap rents. The other thing Wynwood was known for was murals and graffiti. Developers began eyeing the place around 2005. Then a few years later a developer named Tony Goldman had a vision to preserve the murals and graffiti and created Wynwood Walls — now a major tourist attraction.

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But Goldman’s vision sparked something much larger: Today the entire neighborhood is painted and this outpouring of accessible street art has become its defining feature. It has also spurred billions in new development in the form of high-rise condos, restaurants, clubs, and shops. Every night the streets come alive with energy that seems to feed off the vibrant colors and designs on walls everywhere you look. A mural here and a mural there is one thing. But there are no borders to Wynwood’s street art, and it seemed like there was complete, 100% buy-in from every business and building owner. That’s what was so powerful to me.

As I share in the video below, unlike more traditional “arts districts” where expensive galleries dominate, such broad acceptance and sanction of street art leads to a community-level energy and empowerment that is exciting and accessible for everyone. The streets, buildings and artists not only create the mood in Wynwood, they are celebrated and respected. That’s a very powerful combination that has created a very special place.

Portland is in the midst of a massive mural and street painting initiative of its own. We should think even bigger and use Wynwood as an example to follow.

See more from the streets of Wynwood in the video below:

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Concordia Cyclist
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Concordia Cyclist

An interesting aspect to me is the apparent lack of tagging on the murals. That is a big problem locally: taggers are largely self-promotionists and do not care about creating art and apparently often do not care about established paint art.

Do Miami taggers just respect the art more?

Bicycling Al
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Bicycling Al

I noticed this too in the Deep Ellum district of Dallas, TX. Mural art doesn’t get tagged.

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

Greensboro and Asheville NC also have a lot of excellent murals. Apparently once a mural is “finished”, a clear protective anti-tagging layer is put on top; any subsequent tags are then more easily washed off.

jonno
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jonno

I’ve noticed this same phenomenon on the Springwater south of the Ross Island bridge. A gentleman is working on very interesting Salish-inspired art and in the process covering up tags. I’ve seen no tags on his completed pieces. It’s really cool, check it out!

Clem Fandango
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Clem Fandango

Perhaps someone is dishing out an a**kicking?

Let’s Active
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Let’s Active

Portland has a thriving community of street artists: portlandstreetartalliance on Instagram. Check them out!

Tad
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Tad

Yes they are a great organization and support local artists doing murals.
Worthy of support

http://www.pdxstreetart.org/what-we-do

Mike Owens
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Mike Owens
JF
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JF

The Mission District in SF can’t be beat for murals. In a city with a lot to do, it is probably the number one place I tell everyone to check out (and I lived there for a long time). Seems like a no-brainer for Portland to emulate this, which means it will never happen. Hope I am wrong.

Granpa
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Granpa

A Pollyanna outlook at Portland’s graffiti vandalism seems unwarranted. Murals we have that celebrate art and culture are already tagged. I envy Miami’s murals but doubt Portland taggers could resist defacing actual art. It is another sad aspect of our saddening town.

Mike Owens
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Mike Owens

Many of our murals in PDX come courtesy of this effort: http://www.forestforthetreesnw.com/