A few people have been discussing the idea of turning Coconut Grove, my favorite neighborhood in Miami, into a tech hub. This is actually an interesting idea, as it would favor both techies and the grove in its effort to revitalize itself. There are two ways this issue can be approached, one is to drive the movement of techies to LIVE in the grove (which I support), the other is to drive the movement of techies to WORK in the grove, which I also support. Coconut Grove, or “The Grove,” offers a unique mix of characteristics that lend it to being a great tech hub.
I was told once by a friend of mine in california (who I won’t name, as I may have butchered his idea) that the keys to a successful tech community are: 1. access to cheap housing, 2. acceptance of the gay community, 3. access to universities.* (Turns out this idea came from Richard Florida’s the rise of the creative class, also think about how this reflects on SFBay area)
Now the grove isn’t all cheap, there are some pretty pricey digs around here, and there are some affordable ones as well (west grove being the least expensive, and most mixed area), but by Miami standards, it isn’t super expensive.
The second factor, well I think this is really more about having a community that is open to alternative thinking/ways of life, which regardless of sexual orientation is a critical factor for innovation (if you stifle creativity, or are not open to different ideas, you will stifle innovation). The grove has traditionally been a much more free-spirited neighborhood than the rest of Miami (with the exception of South Beach), which lends it well to fostering creativity in its midst. For many years the Grove was a hippie enclave, now it might not be as much, but it is an area where the residents still appreciate creativity (e.g. mango strut parade).
The last factor in his criteria, actually applies quite well as the grove is actually much like a feeder area to the University of Miami (compared to Coral Gables, which lacks the other criteria to foster tech). Within 10 miles of the grove are at least 2, if not 3 universities, 20 miles, and you’ve got another handful of schools in the mix.
So we’ve got for the most part the trifecta we need for fostering tech in the grove, what are we missing? We need to take a two-pronged approach to this, one being to attract techies as our neighbors, the other to attract them as employers. So we start with giving them somewhere to work. There is nothing akin to a coworking space in the immediate area (Brikolodge, being Miami’s only coworking space is in midtown), despite having a large number of empty commercial spaces (heck several buildings are COMPLETELY empty). The first thing we need to do is convince the landlords that they are better served offering shorter leases and lower rates to fill up their empty spaces. I know of several spaces which have been empty for almost a decade(News Cafe on Florida Ave). A DECADE ! Lets open up these spaces, foster small businesses moving into the grove and give them cheaper rents than they can get elsewhere. Bringing in more small companies that employ largely well educated, well-paid individuals who have no problem spending their disposable income seems like a smart move for all the local businesses.
Secondly to start attracting the local renters and buyers, our local realtors need to go around and facilitate the For Rent and For Sale by Owner folks to post listings for FREE, or we build our own system that lets these homeowners/landlords expose their properties on the web. Right now there are a thousand listings on craigslist under coconut grove (see for yourself!). Yet I would bet that many aren’t in the grove, or are just trying to use our little neighborhood for self promotion by advertising their proximity to our quaint little village. Furthermore, lets promote the fact that we are nuts about our pups here in the grove. No other neighborhood has 2 dog parks, and is as dog friendly as we are. The grove charm is something that is being neglected. Where else can you sit out on the bay and eat conch fritters, or go to the farmers market on a saturday, or ride your bike without having to worry about congestion or pollution?
Really these points aren’t even necessarily exclusive to techies or tech companies, but they are great selling points for the area. So lets rally the troops.