Poor Miami: More Good Ideas

According to these folks, there's hope for America's most impoverished city

Overburdened public services are relieved of the need to police and maintain vacant lots and abandoned structures.

Private homes generate taxes and increase the tax base countywide.

Habitat for Humanity is a Christian organization that welcomes the participation of all individuals, groups, and organizations who share our concern and compassion for the poor.

Three cheers for FIU's poverty fighters (from left): Ginelle Nelson, Alicia Pichirilo, Marika Krausova, Maureen Muhlena, Bianca Escorcia
Steve Satterwhite
Three cheers for FIU's poverty fighters (from left): Ginelle Nelson, Alicia Pichirilo, Marika Krausova, Maureen Muhlena, Bianca Escorcia

In addition to the fifty houses already completed, we have fourteen currently under construction in Overtown and Little Haiti, and we plan to start another eleven Overtown homes in February.

George Childs, Miami: Miami's administrators are busy building single-family homes on empty lots owned by the city. The theory is that a sense of ownership among the residents will lead to pride and therefore to better neighborhoods. We can point to similar neighborhoods already established: Carol City, Richmond Heights, Opa-locka. If that is what the city wants -- well, those are not terribly bad. One thing is certain, though: Middle- and lower-income single-family areas drain rather than contribute to municipal coffers.

If the city nevertheless wants to subsidize such a scheme, again be warned: Most people living there will not earn much, will work only intermittently, or will have zero job security. Surprisingly expensive maintenance in such settings also has a tremendous negative impact. In addition, single-family areas undermine social cohesiveness; witness the puzzle of suburban neighbors not knowing one another.

Contrast the above with what should really be pursued: garden-style condominiums. Same sense of ownership, a lower municipal bill per unit, and minimum impact to the community should a family's finances go south. If designed correctly, at least the lower units will have a piece of ground, the absence of side yards will cut down on leftover spaces, and social interaction will take place in building lobbies.

Some condominium developments could feature walk-to shops that would stabilize the finances of the building and add to foot traffic on sidewalks. Informal outdoor gathering areas should be encouraged rather than discouraged, and designers should wait to see where these form before putting in benches. Setbacks, if any, should be minimal. The units should be slightly elevated, and residents should upon entering walk down a hall the length of the adjoining kitchen so that the sink faces the sidewalk, which would mean domineering eyes on the street from above.

I could go on about designing stable and crime-adverse developments for the prosperity of the city, but it boils down to two conclusions. The first is the pressing need for the City of Miami to adopt design guidelines in order that admirable goals can be achieved routinely. (Amazingly Miami is among the largest cities in the nation without them.)

Also, despite best efforts, the municipal-administration model does not lend itself to the development of such complex multiuse structures. The larger of the city's vacant parcels should be planned as outlined above, but then private enterprise should be brought in to crunch the numbers.

Frances Torres, Miami: Forty percent of the surface area within Miami city limits pays no taxes -- probably the highest percentage in the nation. The rest of Miami-Dade County is not accepting its share of governmental institutions [that do not pay taxes]. Also has the city checked to be certain that all those tax-exempt marginal churches, social organizations, and so forth are still functioning?

David Casanova, Coconut Grove: There is perhaps one billion dollars' worth of recoverable land on or near our shorelines along Biscayne Bay. Once that land is developed (with environmental safeguards), it could be a common resource that generates $50,000,000 annually in property taxes.

Greg Bush, Miami: The key is to focus our attention in a sustained manner and show that thousands of people really care about poverty in Miami. I suggest initiating a project that examines wealth and poverty in modern Miami. It would be a broad effort over six months or a year, perhaps timed with the school year so courses could be taught on the subject as well. I would start with a televised conference on poverty and wealth that includes public officials, major and minor CEOs, heads of nonprofit organizations, students, school and university officials, neighborhood groups, church leaders, and others.

I'd like to see the conference lead to a Florida Studies Center created in downtown Miami that would be truly interdisciplinary and work among schools at all levels. Addressing the question of poverty would be its first charge. Public meetings would be regularly featured on public television as well as commercial stations.

We need to hear the stories of people who are out of work through oral-history interviews. We should facilitate kids taking photographs that relate their own perceptions of the problems of poverty. We should bring media moguls together to concentrate newspaper and television attention on the issue over a prolonged period. This would be a start.

I. Hagen, Miami: Here are my solutions:

Improve public transportation with more bus routes and by expanding Metrorail all the way south and all the way north into Broward so people can get to work. They have that in Europe, South America, and Central America. Why not here?

We have all these stinking-rich millionaires living here who pay their employees six dollars an hour. So anyone living in a house worth more than $500,000 should pay a special tax, money from which would be used to provide cheap or free child care to working mothers.

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