naomi ross

Alumna Brings Local Community Closer to Home

By UM Alumni Association

Alumna Brings Local Community Closer to Home

By UM Alumni Association
School of Architecture alumna, Naomi Ross, B.Arch. ’09, sheds new light on old neighborhoods.

Naomi Ross has always enjoyed bringing people, culture, and architecture together, and now through volunteer work, she has spearheaded a movement to integrate people and environment. Since graduating from the University of Miami School of Architecture, Naomi has travelled the world, spending most of her time sight-seeing by foot, of which she shares is the best way to become immersed in local culture. It’s this concept that Naomi has brought to the Magic City, allowing long-time residents to catch glimpses of a city that they’ve lived in for their whole lives, but have only known a slice.

Tell us about Miami Walks.

#MiamiWalks joined the global walking movement called Jane's Walk in Spring 2017, and I’ve been proud to be our local City Organizer for 2 years. These kind of walks, inspired by a writer and activist from the 1960s named Jane Jacobs, have engaged tens of thousands of people all over the world in 200+ cities since 2007. Locally in neighborhoods across Miami-Dade County, we’ve been coordinating a variety of unique, free, citizen-led walking tours where attendees can actively connect with friends and neighbors outdoors, while engaging in conversations with one another and learning more about the city they live in. Since I began leading this initiative, hundreds of Miamians have joined more than 25 neighborhood tours throughout our community!

You’re quite a world traveler; can you share how that factored into Miami Walks?

In more recent years when I’ve had an opportunity to travel to another city in a different state or outside the US, I dedicate time getting to know that place by walking around as much as possible to explore what it has to offer, which many people do while on vacation. However, we often get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life when settling down into a new hometown, which means we can miss seeing things around us with a fresh perspective. One of my favorite aspects of #MiamiWalks is being able to get to know our local neighborhoods as if we were visiting for the first time, and sometimes that is the case if you’ve never ventured far from where you live here. It provides an opportunity to meet folks from all around town, and learn about the unique ins & outs of wherever the walks are taking place from a fellow Miamian.

How did your time at UM help develop your career path?

In my last year of undergrad in the School of Architecture I became very active with a student group on campus, which coordinated a 1-day symposium that was really the start of building my skillsets in creating connections and establishing community partnerships, which I use almost on a daily basis now. We ended up volunteering with Habitat for Humanity’s local chapter to build houses, and that helped me realize how much I had a passion for hands-on impact that engages diverse stakeholders in the process. During that time, I also worked with fellow students in starting up an edible garden on campus, and continued those efforts post-graduation, which was an incredibly beneficial experience when I became a Food Equity Coordinator while serving in AmeriCorps a few years later. Last but certainly not least, one of my courses focused on sustainable design led me to attend conferences with a national network called the US Green Building Council, which inspired me to think about how I could make a difference in the world, and I continued my involvement with their professional group after graduating, including holding leadership roles. To this day, relationships I developed with the local USGBC have lasted, and I get to work on a project in collaboration with them.

Sharing history and telling stories strengthens community; can you tell us how this has benefitted community members in Miami?

#MiamiWalks presents our community residents from across Greater Miami with a chance to familiarize themselves with people and a place they might not have known before. There is something remarkably powerful about creating stronger connections between individuals and where they live, because it makes a lasting difference for everyone involved. Friendships and empathy are cultivated amongst diverse groups who are used to living in neighborhoods that are very spread out and don’t cross-pollinate, so our perspectives are limited other than what may be heard about them in mainstream media. To truly bond with someone or something, it’s important to take time and interact first-hand, whether that’s through conversation or walking along the street to take in sights and sounds of your surroundings. Even when you’ve resided here for a lifetime, I guarantee there’s always room to learn more.    

What one piece of advice you would offer to current UM students?

Get outside your comfort zone and the campus bubble. It can be easy to just end up seeing the same parts of Miami during your college experience, but Greater Miami has so much cultural diversity waiting to be explored. Also, if you’ve never taken our mass transit system, give it a try! Riding around town by train, bus, trolley, and/or metro mover is an awesome way to navigate our neighborhoods along with other locals. Last but certainly not least, we’re very fortunate to have such great weather practically year-round, when many other students are bundled up for Fall and Winter, so have a good pair of walking shoes with you on weekends and check out some different parts of town.

As a City Organizer, my role spearheading #MiamiWalks has always been as a volunteer, but we also received some funding for public relations and marketing outreach from the Knight Foundation via the main Jane’s Walk organization, which has unfortunately closed its operations after 10 years. I’ve always heard positive feedback from walking tour attendees, and know they would like to see more from us in the future, but we’re going to need support from the larger community to sustain these efforts on at least an annual basis. If anyone would like to join me in planning how to keep up our free neighborhood tours, please feel free to reach out by sending an email to: celebratediversitymiami@gmail.com