New Year's Revolution

If you had your way, what single adjustment would you make to enhance the experience of living in South Florida?

It being the time of year when hope gets a steroidal shot in the arm, we thought it might be illuminating to (temporarily) put aside our predilection for nit-picking and pose one constructive question to a wide variety of South Floridians.

Money is no object, we said -- spend as much as you like and don't worry about red tape. Nor should any conceivable enhancement be considered too local or too regional, too sweeping or too small in scope. In fact, the sole criterion we imposed was that all answers be specific. Merely saying improve public transportation would be too vague, we explained; but suggesting that Dade County implement a system of free public bicycles would be a good one. Likewise, expand the wetlands is unacceptably broad, whereas blow up part of the north-south levee and let the Everglades reclaim Kendall hits the bull's-eye. (One other thing: We excluded politicians from our poll, in the belief that their vision is unduly clouded by, well, by politics.)

Most participants took the question quite seriously. Some took the opportunity to shoulder up against large societal building blocks and shift them around a bit. Others envisioned ground-level alterations that were profound in their own way.

We're not idealistic or naive enough to believe that any of this stuff might actually come to pass, especially in Miami. But whatever else might be gleaned from this collection of proposed enhancements -- elicited from lawyers, tycoons, artists, bureaucrats, business owners, clergymen, even a Jeopardy champ -- it stands as vivid proof that Dade County is also home to all manner of imaginative citizens who care deeply about where they live. And all cynicism aside, as 1996 gives way to 1997, that's some cause for hope.

Roberto Martinez
former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida
I'd move the high-rises on Miami Beach away from the ocean. Putting the high-rises on the east side of Collins Avenue really took away from the view. If you go to places like the French Riviera or Rio de Janeiro, the buildings are on the other side of the road, like on Ocean Drive.

Louis Canales
nightlife impresario
The biggest problem we have is the ethnic and racial segmentation of the city. I'd establish forums under the leadership of all the communities, where people could listen to each other and learn from each other. A lot of venting has to be done. Maybe it could happen at FIU or Miami-Dade Community College, neutral ground where everyone feels comfortable. Perhaps start it on a monthly basis, and people could come together, set an agenda, and find solutions to the problems that affect all the communities: unemployment, education, housing. You know the saying, "Before you can run you need to know how to walk; before you can walk you have to know how to crawl"? Well, we have to learn to stand up.

Jesse McCrary
I would provide decent housing for every citizen. I have a firm belief that decent housing shapes personality, shapes people's lives. It would certainly help us shape the minds of children, because when a child has a home and a warm, comfortable bed, it's a different mindset from the child who has nothing. One of the things I'd do is to encourage government to help people obtain home ownership, perhaps through sweat equity. You've got to do some of the building or renovation yourself, like Habitat for Humanity. If the private sector has been able to start it, there's no reason government can't do it further. If people will work for food, they'll work for their own home. It doesn't have to be the Taj Mahal.

Barbara Lange
environmental activist
I would provide more public access to Biscayne Bay. The county and the City of Miami have not made it easy to get to it. Instead of saying let's put an arena and cruise ships in Bicentennial Park, we should be thinking about how to get more people on the water and away from the traffic and the pollution of the streets. Look at Coconut Grove: They want to turn it into the Rambo movie studio, thereby limiting rather than expanding the access of the public. If I had my way, I would mandate three places for public access: Dinner Key, Bicentennial Park, and the adjoining FEC tract. Once you have access to the water, the people can do the rest themselves: fishing, boating. The estuary is where life begins.

Tamara Hendershot
visionary-art dealer and collector
Fallow land in urban areas is depressing; I'd rather see a building falling down. Property owners should be required to do something with lots that lie fallow for a year. They fence them in with these chainlink fences and it's ugly. The owners should be required by law to plant their empty lots in some minimal way or have the option of giving the lot to the community for a communal garden. That could be done with the understanding that when the time comes to sell the property, everything would be destroyed. In New York I was a member of a Lower East Side group that had a lot of communal gardens. People in apartments could have a little plot where they could grow something!

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