Welcome to Miami, Where Every Piece Matters

11/30/2011 12:03 am ET | Updated Jan 29, 2012

Telling someone I live in Miami will, without fail, elicit an opinion of the city based on either South Beach or the airport -- neither of which, of course, is actually in Miami, and at least one of 'em's in hell. "It's beautiful!" I'll hear back, just as often as receiving a complaint there's no English to be heard on the winged way out.

Any one-dimensional opinion is correct, in its way -- Miami is gorgeous and horrible and expensive and cheap and stabby and friendly -- but it isn't just gorgeous or just horrible, expensive, cheap, stabby or friendly. (It's also wearing something amazingly, mind-bogglingly short.) The fascinating thing about Miami is that it has so many more faces, so many communities unlike the last one, so much in contrast to any snap judgment on hand, and even many, many more tongues.

The forces that shaped this very Magic City -- revolution, flight, drugs, riot, riches, greed -- left scars that fragment its population, making it possible for those outsiders to experience the Miami that boasts the fourth richest population in the world in purchasing power and rarely the Miami in which fraying safety-net programs are all that stand between a mangled American dream and starving to death in a cramped apartment near the airport expressway. It's easy to enjoy the Miami of white sand and islands and never address that it is also a place where children entrusted to our care are found broken, tortured, and seizing in a bath of toxic chemicals after our institutions dropped the ball. ("How do you go from this tranquility to that violence?" longtime detective Sonny Crockett once was asked. "I usually take the Ferrari," he responded, summing up both the kind of fuel and reckless speed by which we arrived at our current being, and foretelling years of VIP douchery. He was really good at his job.) It is likewise easy to fixate on statistics of crime or corruption, ignoring that this is also a place where public school students can learn in Chinese, poetry is dropped from helicopters, and even as I type fellow Miamians protest for better things.

It's these contrasts and complexities that make Miami a place others can visit and never begin to grasp fully. For those of us who live here, it's lifelong learning in a city layered by the most fascinating forces ever to punch a seething metropolitan area out of a sleepy beach town in a matter of just a few decades. The most American thing about Miami is that it is not American at all, making it a city where anyone -- and anything -- can find a home. We have become a vibrant, multicultural metropolis, but simultaneously a place in which corruption is rampant, crime runs exotic, politics are bloodsport, and swaths of people rarely leave their neighborhoods, neglecting the larger community. Our raw materials are more bare, our morality plays more extreme, our excess staggering, and everyone's got a machete. For anyone who undertakes covering this city, it's imperative to understand and consider all the parts, and to regularly present the whole organism of Miami whether momentarily weighty or absurd, or sunny or dark, lest the narrative become contrived. In a place as compartmentalized as Miami, it's easy to ignore the pieces that don't belong to you -- but every piece matters.

We're determined to keep that in mind as we cover a city that's not only nurturing its cultural gifts in the shine of an international spotlight, but grappling with generational sins of corruption and violence. We're here to cover the news, to add context, to ask questions, to document where drugs are stashed, to always remember the Orange Bowl, and to make as much sense as we can of our disparate ills and failings, highs and titles. We'll laugh, we'll cry, we'll opine, and we invite you to add your voice -- that is, when it's not at the airport.