MIAMI — It was only a matter of time before Zika came to Miami. It could have come to any neighborhood—tree-laden Coconut Grove, tourist-heavy South Beach, historic Little Havana—but it came here to Wynwood, a warehouse district turned street art mecca that has become a mandatory stop on any good Miami itinerary.
“There are a lot of coffee shops, and other shops and restaurants outside, and those could provide areas where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are not only breeding but are feeding upon people,” he told The Daily Beast. “Aedes aegypti mosquitoes like to feed on your lower extremities. They’ll feed on your legs.”
That’s bad news for the legions of sundress-wearing Instagrammers who flock to Wynwood to snap a selfie in front of the Maya Hayuk mural, and for businesses like The Wynwood Yard, an outdoor food truck gathering spot which decided to close indefinitely on Tuesday. As the South Florida Business Journal noted, nearly 30 percent of tourists who stay overnight in Miami-Dade County peel themselves off the beach long enough to take a trip through Wynwood.
But it’s not just the outdoor attractions that make this gentrifying neighborhood an ideal location for virus-laden mosquitoes. The many construction sites in and around the area provide plenty of standing water for the Zika-carrying insects to breed.
In addition to rampant development in Wynwood itself, cranes building new luxury condominium towers on Biscayne Boulevard line the eastern edge of the small area identified by the CDC as a new danger zone for pregnant women and their partners.
“Generally around construction sites, you have catchments of water in any number of things: pails, buckets, trash,” said Conlon. “Anything around a construction site that can hold water is fair game.”
According to the CDC, almost all of the 14 cases of locally-transmitted Zika that were recently announced in Florida can be attributed to the Wynwood area and its immediate surroundings like the emerging Midtown shopping area and the luxury Design District. A CDC emergency response team is on the ground—where local sprayers have already been working overtime—and aerial spraying of the area is expected to begin shortly.
Wynwood was not always a hot spot for $12 juices, swanky Art Basel parties and, now, Zika. The neighborhood was—and in many places, still is—home to low-income residents hailing from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba.
But in the 2000s, developers started eyeing the neighborhood. David Lombardi of Lombardi Properties first took stock of Wynwood in 2001. The official Lombardi Properties website claims that he “discovered the Wynwood neighborhood” and realized that “Miami’s creatives could live, work and play” there.
Then, in the mid 2000s, Goldman Properties began buying up substantial amounts of Wynwood property, with an eye toward transforming the area into the next SoHo. The businesses and art galleries quickly followed, drawing tourists and Miami elite alike to an area of the city that was once completely off their radar.
Dr. Marcos Feldman, an assistant professor of sociology at Northeastern Illinois University, wrote a 2011 dissertation exploring the effects of Wynwood gentrification on longtime residents like Marta, a Cuban woman, who told Feldman: “Everything here is now galleries. They’ll [eventually] take this house for a gallery. There in front [of my house] a factory was emptied—gallery, everything is gallery, gallery, gallery!”
Marta also complained about the trash left by visitors in the wake of events like Art Basel: “The people [gallery patrons] are so dirty, they leave bottles, everything thrown there in front of people’s houses.”
Now, the roofs of these galleries and the insides of those bottles could have literally given birth to the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that contracted Zika from an infected individual and transmitted it locally.
“A lot of the buildings have flat roofs that are holding a lot of water,” Yoel Gutierrez, the owner of a local Mosquito Joe franchise, told The Daily Beast. “So, for my customers in Wynwood that have businesses, we actually get up there and we throw some larvicide in there because they do have a lot of standing water and that water has nowhere to go.”
There are other likely breeding grounds, Gutierrez noted, including nearby residences. But wherever the mosquitoes are breeding in the neighborhood, it is clear that the influx of tourists and international travelers made it a likely ground zero for the local transmission of the virus.
“I wasn’t too surprised that it started there,” he said.
The mosquitoes are especially prevalent at dusk, too, which is peak time for a walk through the Wynwood Walls or a craft cocktail at an outdoor patio bar.
“There’s a lot of drinking going on there, so there are a lot of bottles and cups that get left behind, and so I assume those get filled with water as well,” Gutierrez added.
Fortunately, Miami was expecting Zika. Back in April, District 8 Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava sponsored an ordinance that puts more pressure on property owners to eliminate potential breeding grounds and allow sprayers on the premises. She has been campaigning for Zika prevention measures in Miami ever since the virus first appeared in Brazil.
“In fact, I’m surprised how long it took for there to be local transmission,” she said.
Cava confirmed to The Daily Beast that city officials have not yet had to enforce the ordinance on uncooperative property owners but noted that “they are, however, ready to use it at the drop of a hat.”
Conlon, too, is confident in Florida’s ability to address local transmission.
“The Florida Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are all over this,” he said. “They’re very well-prepared for this.”
Meanwhile, in Wynwood, some businesses are struggling to keep customers coming as news of the small outbreak spreads throughout the city. The Miami Herald is reporting that tours and reservations are already being canceled.
One bar, Gutierrez told The Daily Beast, is offering free bug spray.