Choosing Miami

10/09/2013 12:00 AM

10/08/2013 2:13 PM

Among her many hats, Hillit Meidar-Alfi wears those of wife and mother of four children aged 6 to 15, trained architect, tech entrepreneur and Philadelphia-raised daughter of Israeli immigrants. But get her talking about her life’s work, and it becomes apparent she’s really an academic at heart. Her eyes light up in at the mere mention of words like infrastructure, algorithms and theory, leaving most non-math mortals in the dust. The good news is her beloved topics will at least begin to sense, even to the most stubborn of Luddites, later this month when Meidar-Alfi is expected to launch a Web app she’s been working on for months, from her Coral Gables office. Called aboutPLACE, it’s an app that brings together a plethora of data packages it in a way that can help people decide which communities are best suited for them. The in-depth, personalized analysis is as if Google Maps were combined with dating and real estate Websites. “Let’s say you’re moving to Miami, Boston or Austin, the app’s initial cities. You plug in your lifestyle needs, and it advises the best neighborhood for you to live in or base your business in,” says Meidar-Alfi of the app, which has definite global potential. “Think of it as a smartmap that goes beyond roads to reveal the topography of information.”

Having relocated to Miami three years ago, she’s very familiar with the overwhelming process of navigating the pros and cons of neighborhoods in an unknown city. Luckily, she and her husband, Eyal, had a trustworthy realtor, but what if they hadn’t? The amount of information and misinformation kicked her lifelong obsession for connections into a higher gear to help singles, retirees, young families and other demographics find their perfect community. “The hyperlocal analysis shows hot spots for interests like parks, schools and cinemas, and ranks the category’s pulse rating,” says Meidar-Alfi, who can narrow down selection as fine-tuned as which house best suits users among three houses next to each other. “It allows for exploration and education about oneself, too.”

That notion isn’t new to her either. When the whole brood pulled up roots in Princeton, N.J., to follow the sun and good life, she originally thought they’d end up in a turnkey condominium preferably away from water for fear of Florida’s exotic wildlife. As fate would have it, they bought a Mediterranean home that had to be gutted on a canal in Coral Gables. “Coming from up north, it’s surreal to see an enormous iguana staring back through the window or catch a peacock prancing across the yard,” says Meidar-Alfi. INDULGE visited with Meidar-Alfi and asked her about settling into new lush surroundings, family life, career and its exciting next chapter. Other than the sunshine, how did you end up in Miami?

My husband visited often for his real estate investment business and only had nice things to say about it. When I finished my Ph.D. in city and regional planning, we looked at the world map to decide where to head next, and Miami seemed like the best choice.

Does it differ from what you expected?

I associated Miami with old folks, crime and mosquitoes, and found that it’s actually very family-oriented and full of happy, relaxed people compared to the Northeast, which can be quite rigid when it comes to conducting business, making social plans and raising kids. There’s more freedom in general here.

Describe your house search.

Our realtor really found us a lifestyle. Being a family of six, our house has to function like a machine with every space serving a purpose and designed for maximum flow. It’s 5,000 square feet, with a small yard and dock. As for location, it’s one point of a triangle with the others being my office and the kids’ schools.

What were key factors in the renovation?

Formal entertaining isn’t part of our life at the moment, so we opted for a great room instead and reconfigured the layout to accentuate the backyard. We converted a loft lounge into our eldest and only son’s bedroom so he can gain independence. Four of the five bedrooms function as private suites with full baths. A nook with a high ceiling was created just for the baby grand piano.

What’s your favorite spot in the house?

The dining area with a table that’s nothing special brand-wise but just a white, minimal style that seats 14. Facing a wall of French doors that open to the backyard, it’s truly the center of the property’s interior and exterior, where we eat and do homework. I can see every corner from my perch there, like a warden.

Your house feels like an art gallery. Tell us about your minimal décor and art collection.

I’m not one for tchotchkes, and being a mom, I like to see if something’s dirty. My grandfather collected art, and we’re lucky to have his hand-me-downs, as well as works from other relatives as memories of them. White walls and gray tile floors are a great backdrop for our colorful abstract paintings mainly by Israeli artists like Menashe Kadishman and Ruth Schloss.

Since you spent part of your childhood in Israel, do you still have a strong connection with it?

My husband and I met and married there. We went for my son’s bar mitzvah, and my daughters wish to do the same.

You’ve clearly fallen for Florida, but how does it rate for tech start-ups?

Talent exists everywhere, even in Miami. It may not be as easy as San Francisco, where you can basically spit and hit a programmer, but we had a nice pool to choose from including a public relations firm for our rollout.

Why did you pick these cities to launch your Web app, and what’s next?

We wanted to put Miami on the map in tech start-ups because it needs the attention, unlike the other two, which are tech hubs. We’ll expand in Florida and Texas, since both have many large cities, before going fully national soon.

Is there any other news?

A really big moment was being selected to give a TEDxMiami talk in February 2014. The theme is connections of all kinds and how to measure their value since nothing’s really been developed in the same way a Klout score rates influence.

You’re all so busy. How does your family spend downtime?

Though I try to induce vegetation, even weekends have started to fill up with nonstop activities, like now we’re in regatta season for my son’s crew team. Last month, we bought a boat so the guys fish, and I’m just happy to lay out. This summer we discovered the ocean and the Keys. When home’s paradise, there’s really little reason to travel except for family matters and Paris.

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