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Trina Harris grew up in Overtown, an historic community nestled just outside of the bustling core of downtown Miami. The area was once a thriving Black neighborhood – teeming with small businesses, arts and renown nightlife.
Like many Black communities across the country, Overtown was decimated by urban removal in the late 1950s. The construction of I-395 cut right through the neighborhood, separating it from the heart of the city. In the nearly 70 years since, the area has never recovered.
But now, as the city works to elevate I-395, community leaders like Harris are fighting to seize this moment and reconnect Overtown through a mile long greenway stretching the length of the bridge from Overtown to the Biscayne Bay.
Some refer to the Underdeck Project as “Miami’s answer to the New York City Highline“.
For Harris, The Underdeck is far more than that. It is a chance to right the wrongs that sought to destroy Overtown generations ago.
“The blight that took place with urban renewal decimated our community,” Harris said in an interview with The BWSTimes. “This won’t fix everything, but it will be a convener” between Overtown and the rest of Miami.
Underdeck project leaders have presented city with 400 page report after extensive community-engagement process
Harris and other community leaders heading up the Underdeck Project have worked to ensure the voices and ideas of Overtown residents are driving the project.
“Since we’ve had so much loss as a community, we want to be at the table and be involved,” she said. “We want to have a voice.”
Current plans developed with community input involve a mile-long trail winding 25 to 50 feet beneath the bridge. Trees and greenspace dot the pathway, with stages, food stands and fountains creating space for gatherings and events.
The years-long, painstaking process to gather input from the public has culminated in a nearly 400-page report the committee delivered to the city.
According to Harris, they are still waiting for the city commission to respond.
Beyond the taxing work, Harris says the decision to help lead the project was difficult in and of itself.
“It’s been a tough process,” she said. “There’s a lot of distrust.”
“I’m being hopeful and I’m being vulnerable” by being on the committee, she continued. “But we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The proposals put forth by community members are, according to Harris, “just suggestions”.
The final decision on the components and even the name of the park (residents have selected ‘The Overtown Miami Greenway’) are subject to approval by the city.
Despite the deep wounds, Harris remains hopeful city commissioners will honor the community’s ideas.
Overtown residents “owed the opportunity to have their voice heard”
The story of Overtown is familiar to Black communities across the county. According to research from the University of Richmond, urban renewal displaced more than 300,000 families across the nation between 1950-1966. The vast majority of those displaced were families of color.
In Tulsa, decades after the Greenwood district was rebuilt following the 1921 Race Massacre, urban removal and the construction of I-244 again decimated the area.
In Atlanta, more than 800 families of color became displaced in the early 1960s to make way for the University Center.
And in Overtown, urban removal forced nearly 1400 families of color from their homes for the construction of transit hubs.
These projects, many with the support of federal funding, demolished wide swaths of homes and businesses.
“We lost generations of wealth,” Harris told The BWSTimes. For her, and many others, Overtown residents must have the opportunity to benefit from the development of the Underdeck.
“We deserve the opportunity to have access to economic development,” she said.
For Harris, the Underdeck must have the potential to be a space for Black business owners, artists and community members to gather, create and mobilize economic opportunity. She wants to ensure that the city is intentional about hiring Black vendors, booking Black performers and commissioning Black creatives once the park is complete.
“Overtown is being gentrified,” she said, “and families are being pushed out.”
“We have a right to come back and be a part of this community and these opportunities.”
“Hurt and pain has extended from generation to generation because of the destruction that has just killed the heart and soul of our community,” the Overtown native said.
“The Underdeck project is an opportunity to have our voices heard and put to action.”