It’s not everyday one finds himself on the corner of Ali Baba and Sinbad avenues. But for those who live and work in Opa-Locka, Florida, like architect, artist, and city planner Germane Barnes, this strange intersection may just be part of their commute to work. A Miami suburb built by aviation pioneer and Arabian Nights enthusiast Glenn Curtiss in 1926, the city is primarily known for two things: A collection of domes, minarets, and Moorish Revival architecture that would make a theme park owner’s head spin, and a reputation for violence born from at one point having the worst violent crime rate in the country (crime and cocaine became so rampant in the ’80s, the city decided to block off its entrances with metal barriers).
Barnes wants Opa-Locka to be known for something else. The recipient of a grant from the Opa-Locka Community Development Corporation (OLCDC) that brought him to the city in 2013 as a designer-in-residence, the 29-year-old believes the city can bounce back using art and architecture as a means to build and engage the community. He knows it can happen because he lives there, and has seen the work of a group of artists and organizers slowly change the landscape.
“This experience has let me know that architecture can speak to and touch people and change things, regardless of what academia or what the old guard may want you to believe,” he says. […]