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UPDATED: Miami's Redrawn District 5 Shows Class, Not Race, Is The New Social Divide

Creative Commons via Flickr user Candie_N

UPDATE: 10:30 a.m., Nov. 20: Keon Hardemon will be the next District 5 Commissioner for Miami. In the runoff election against Rev. Richard Dunn Tuesday, Hardemon received more than 72 percent of the vote. He will take office on Nov. 27.

In advance of Tuesday’s elections, City of Miami voters are reading up on the candidates, their platforms and track records, figuring out whom to give their vote to. But in the process, some constituents may discover they’ve been brushing up on candidates from the wrong district.

After the 2010 census, there were too many people living in District 2, so a generous section of the ritzier Upper Eastside was handed over to historically low-income District 5, transcending the railroad-track divide, at least in principle.

Historically, all over the country, railroad tracks have been physical boundaries between black and white people. In Miami, railroad tracks were used for drawing voting districts.

Miami City Commission District 5 -- which contains Overtown, Liberty City and Little Haiti -- used to only go as far east as the tracks. Although the virtual lines have been moved, there is still a communal divide.

The move to District 5 was resisted by Upper Eastside residents such as Bob Powers, a disabled veteran. He has been involved in community organizing in his neighborhood for more than a decade.

“Community is the single most important thing,” he said, adding that the move divided his community in half.

Powers says the difference in needs in the old and new sections of District 5 concerns him. The disparities stem partly from the fact that historic District 5 is made up of predominantly black and lower-income residents, whereas the Upper Eastside is mostly home to middle-to-higher-income whites and Latinos.

Credit City of Miami Planning and Zoning Department
District 5, in pink, with its new and old boundaries. The redistricting has caused some controversy.

"[The District 5 commissioner’s] main objective is to bring jobs into the city and things of that nature. It’s not maintaining neighborhoods and taking care of [them]," Powers said. "If you don’t have people who are constantly advocating for your district, you don’t get your streets redone, you don’t get your sidewalks redone, you don’t get those kinds of things to happen."

But historian Marvin Dunn thinks the new District 5’s goals will not be any different. He says, indeed, jobs are a primary concern for the incoming commissioner.

"[But] beyond that, the concerns new constituents may have would be very much aligned with the current residents of the district: get the thugs off the street, protect us from crime, have a professional police department that enforces the law with fairness, keep the community clean, pick up the trash,” Dunn said.

He concludes those priorities wouldn’t change regardless of whom is in the district.

Powers, who is white, claims many people have suggested the reason Upper Eastsiders fought redistricting were partly racial and socioeconomic differences.

“Blacks oppose moving poor people into their neighborhoods, so don’t be surprised if the white folks don’t want it either,” Dunn, a black American, said. “It’s classism. That’s the new divide in our society. It’s money. It’s who can and who can't live where they wish to live, or go to the schools they want to because they don't have money.”

But Dunn thinks the addition of more affluent people could help the community greatly. Benji Power, an Upper Eastside resident trained in urban planning, agrees.

“This is actually an awesome change for this district and for the City of Miami,” Power said. “I truly believe that a diverse neighborhood can figure out the complexities of a city better than a segregated neighborhood.”

Although numbers were the impetus for redrawing the lines, Miami seems to be moving away from the idea of having seats for one ethnic group.

“If these changes had been proposed in 1980, there would have been blood flowing from city hall,” Dunn said.

But the communities that made up District 5 have changed so much that there is no longer a single political agenda, and the constituencies have become multi-racial and multi-ethnic.

“There’s just so much opportunity with this diversity. The national media has covered Miami as a new global city,” Power said. “District 5 is one of the best districts to capture what that new global city really is.”

Here are the most-recent demographic maps of the white, black, and Hispanic population.

Here is a detailed, downloadable map of the new and old districts.

In the widget below, select a category to see a map of District 5 divided by income, rent, wealth and poverty.