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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Get rid of the honorary commissioner. We should pay commissioners for what they're supposed to do.
owner of Books & Books
I'd develop greater walking streets, more town centers and city centers within the different regions in Dade County. There's a need for public spaces for people to congregate. A lot of that congregating goes on in malls, but there are so many different, wonderful communities outside of malls! Through some interesting urban planning, people could be encouraged to spend time outside. I wish there was more of that sort of sensibility in Dade County, a sensibility to transform spaces into public spaces. I'd like to see a lot of them: in the Grove, Coral Gables, South Miami, Little Haiti, Miami Shores. There need to be a lot of public spaces. It shouldn't only be the malls. It shouldn't all be retail-based.
I'd double the expenditures on public education; I'd release all teachers and staff and ask them all to compete for new, much higher salaries, and I'd allow the teachers to be relatively free to teach what they thought wisest for the students of Dade County.
artist, director of Tigertail Productions
I'd make every single person get involved as a volunteer in an organization, whether it be an arts organization, Girl Scouts, their neighborhood association. I think that would create incredible change. If you get really involved in something, it becomes a personal investment and you pull upon your personal resources. People become really creative when they really get involved with an organization. The opportunities for creative expression have been diminished in modern society. A number of years ago you made your Halloween costume; now you buy it! You are an observer rather than a participant. When people get involved and creative, amazing things happen; life becomes more meaningful.
In Miami you're barely aware you're on the water. So I'd erect an avenue all along the bay, like Lake Shore Drive in Chicago or Bayshore Drive in Tampa. It could stretch from Broad Causeway at 123rd Street down to the Rickenbacker Causeway. You would have parks and marinas; it would enhance the real estate values; it would provide a further buffer to hurricanes, and another north-south access route.
Norman Van Aken
chef/owner of Norman's
I'd create a multicultural indoor/outdoor marketplace, a la Pike Place Market in Seattle or the Rungis Market in Paris. Stall after stall after stall of fish and produce and meats and breads. It would be a consortium of individuals and entrepreneurial types that convene there. Some rent, others are on a sort of ad hoc basis. There might be coffee stalls so you can fuel as you go. People could become a lot more acquainted with the fascinating aspects of culture via food.
I would suggest that the major corporations and downtown types must start to act out their commitment to diversity by ensuring that members of diverse populations are in positions of power within their organizations. Companies need to adjust their business practices based on the emerging ethnic spending markets. For example: There's a Texaco station on one corner and a Shell station on the other. I'm more likely to buy from Shell because I know that Shell has some blacks on its board of directors. Corporations need to appreciate the value of investing in the market that I occupy. Don't hire minorities because you've got to satisfy some quotas. Hire minorities because you want them to tell other minorities to buy the company's product. The community has to recognize that the United States is looking to Miami as a model for this sort of thing.
I'd pay for a competing daily newspaper. Not that I have any great problem with the Herald; I just think competition is needed. Dade County society would be much improved if many, many, many more citizens actually read newspapers, attended government meetings, and knew what the fuck was going on. Competing newspapers make reporting more aggressive and accurate. A lot of Dade County's ills would be corrected, problems wouldn't be as bad, inept decision makers would be gone, people wouldn't stand for what happens, mediocrity would not reign.
poet and Jeopardy champion
(a.k.a. Selector DAP)
pirate radio reggae DJ
Miami is seriously racially divided. I would create a cultural festival that joins people together, where everyone from every different culture can express themselves. Maybe it would be held annually, or two or three times a year. There would be music, all styles! Salsa, merengue, calypso, reggae, rap, light R&B, jazz. It's easier for people to relate to other people through music, because they're having fun. But it wouldn't be restricted to music. There would be art, food, literature. Every year the Latins have Calle Ocho, the Bahamians have Goombay. But we need to have an event where everyone would go and express themselves as one. It wouldn't have to do with building anything new. It would have to do with learning how to live with people better.
Miami editor of Metropolitan Home magazine, former director of the Metro-Dade Historic Preservation Division
Great cities have a grand scale to their public land plans, but I think people in Dade have lost sight of the role of public parks. Because of the fact that we've had such negligent government and the parks have been allowed to deteriorate, at least downtown in Miami, they're no longer appealing places to sit and eat lunch. If I had my way, I would create a park that serves as a civic center, a public forum even for the mundane, a place where people mill around or get on soapboxes and make speeches. It would provide some cohesiveness to the city. Think of grand parks like Central Park in New York or Hyde Park in London, the Tuileries in Paris. Or think of the zocalos in South American cities, which aren't so much green spaces as plazas, but they're still public areas that are accessible to public interests. They aren't closed and controlled by private interests.
chairman of the Model City Crime Prevention and Task Force
I would make factories and businesses open up in the Model Cities community. In Liberty City here you can't buy a job! We're not going to stop crime, because there are too many people out of a job. Give companies an incentive, a tax break, whatever we have to do to bring the jobs in.
I would get the money out of elections. I would put a law together that would give everybody the same amount of money to run for office or perhaps establish a ceiling that's not too high. And pay the commissioners a living wage so you don't have to be on the take as an elected official. I'm not saying everyone in office is on the take, but we do seem to indict elected officials like clockwork. There's no pay, so it leaves the job open to people who are independently wealthy or on somebody else's payroll and who are obliged to dance to those people's tunes. I say give everybody a shake for election funds.
executive director of Habitat for Humanity
I would find a way to make vacant properties available to nonprofit groups for development or housing. A lot of these properties have back taxes and liens, a quagmire of legal problems. We have the capacity for doing what most development groups don't want to do, which is to build one or two houses at a time. We can't buy those vacant properties because the property might be worth $10,000 and the man trying to sell has $30,000 of back taxes. If a property comes to a nonprofit, release the taxes! It would completely change the inner city.
I wish there were more live venues and more appreciation of live music in Miami. So I'd open a live music venue in Miami and try to bring a lot of live culture from around the world. There are so many cool, up-and-coming things, and people should be exposed to them.
Coral Gables community activist
Like many people, I'm concerned about crime. Mayor Alex Penelas's crime plan for Dade County is promising and progressive, but we need an effective crime package that would encompass all the municipalities. Stop and think about it -- it's quite foolish to have only one area covered by this specific package. Think about it in terms of plague: If we had yellow fever here, the whole county would be quarantined. We need to have Penelas go back and call in the mayors and the city managers and the chiefs of police and put together a countywide crime package.
I would require that when there's a new apartment building, the state should move in and purchase some of the units for low-income residents, even if it's a luxury building. It would stop segregation. I think in Paris they have done that: You have apartment buildings in Paris that are quite luxurious but you have a percentage that are owned by the city and allocated to low-income people.
I think we need to create an international world-class trade zone or exhibition center that would make Miami a marketplace for the world. We would need a large parcel of land where an exhibition hall could be set up. The Miami Arena is probably too small, but it's a good beginning. It would have interpreters, so that if someone from China wants to trade with Brazil, there would be someone who speaks both Mandarin and Portuguese. It has to have a public subsidy, but it could be operated by a private firm, like the Miami Beach Convention Center. Some companies could have permanent exhibition space there. For example, tractor manufacturers: South Americans wanting to buy tractors can come and know there are going to be six different exhibitors selling tractors. Builders in Iowa can come here and do business with five or six Honduran tile manufacturers. Probably the biggest model for this sort of thing is Florence and Venice during the Renaissance. More recently Hong Kong and Singapore have done the same thing. History's great cities have been built around trade centers, and Miami is perfectly suited for trade between the north and the south.
I would create a place where old people can come and tell their stories. Maybe at Ocean Drive in Lummus Park on Miami Beach. At sundown.
president of Dacra Development Inc.
The first thing I would do is to ask town planners Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Andres Duany to do a master plan for Dade County and subplans for individual communities so we would completely rearrange our approach to development in a way that would emphasize a wholesome sense of community. Everyone would say it's impossible and uneconomical, but I don't believe any of that. It's purely a matter of retraining ourselves. I don't think it's ever too late. I think the nature of the challenge in the formed areas is different from the nature of the challenge in the unformed areas. As an example, take a place that's horrible and anti-community, like Aventura. If you organize the zoning to create shops between all the buildings, it would look so much more beautiful and create foot traffic. It's a matter of taking something wrong and making it right. I'm not proposing a master solution to our destiny. Rather, it's deciding how to lean.
manager of Afro Caribbean Import, Export Inc., Liberty City
I would institute a system that I call "participatory democracy." It would be designed to allow the citizens to influence the direction of community services by having an open poll. Maybe quarterly or biannually, citizens would respond to a question or series of questions. It could be done by phone and organized by commission districts. It would allow the administrators to shift their resources to respond to citizens' concerns. As it is, government operates on the whims of bureaucrats. How many people can afford to go to a commission meeting and wait there all day for a specific issue to come up? And in many instances the issue of services is never on the agenda.
director of the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department
I'd like to see a revolution in education. I'd implement the concept of vouchers that would make public schools competitive with the private school system. Having a choice, I think, would significantly improve the education system in Dade County.
I would stop all this overbuilding madness that we see evidence of everywhere. I'd eliminate all zoning exemptions across the board. I'd roll back all the zoning by 25 to 50 percent. The height and bulk limits would be half of what they are now. Zoning pertaining to historic buildings or open space should be tripled in its strictness. I'd cancel all grandfathered projects that don't meet the new zoning changes. Then I'd selectively demolish new buildings that are a horrible blight on the landscape and a detriment to our appreciation of the built and the unbuilt environments. To wit: the Hotel Inter-Continental and the Miami Center building next door, Portofino Tower, the Omni, the Terremark Building and its neighbors on South Bayshore Drive, the Miami Herald building -- it's a terrible blight! -- the whole Plaza Venetia complex and the Sunset Harbour complex on the Venetian Causeway, the federal jail in downtown Miami.
Brother Paul Johnson
executive director of Camillus House
People make $4.25 an hour and work 40 hours a week, which gives them about $9000 a year. That's way under the poverty level and that causes more than 100,000 homeless children each night around the nation. If we raise minimum wage to seven dollars an hour and no one gets a wage increase except the very poor, we might be able to eliminate welfare and the people who work for welfare. Let's do it in Dade County and see if it works. Why not be innovative and see if it bankrupts us?
Dade County archaeologist
I would create historic areas, such as the Miami River corridor or Little Haiti or East Little Havana, change the zoning, and offer tax-rebate incentives to encourage property owners to enhance their properties. Then the pressure would be off to build an apartment building instead of maintaining their house. That could help neighborhoods survive and encourage a rediscovery of Miami's history and heritage.
WPLG-TV (Channel 10) political reporter
I would move the performing arts center from the awful location it's planned for and put it in Bicentennial Park. I think the current location, to put it mildly, is inhospitable. If you think about great centers for the arts in other U.S. cities -- you've been to Lincoln Center, you've been to the Kennedy Center -- none is in a parking lot by the Miami Herald! I would also put the new arena on the west side of Biscayne Boulevard. A building that's going to be ten stories high on the east side of the boulevard, even back in the southwest corner of the property, would not be an aesthetically pleasing thing. I would put the performing arts center up near I-395 but looking out on the bay, just as you can go out on the walkways of the Kennedy Center and look down on the Potomac.
Florida Collection manager of the Miami-Dade Public Library
I'd budget money to take care of trees. Government goes out and buys trees, but there's never any followup. There's one tree at the Douglas Road Metrorail station that's been at a 45-degree angle for more than a year. They cut the grass, but they never prop up the tree! Lush vegetation covers up a multitude of evils and ugliness.
interim director of the Wolfsonian
There is no public forum here other than the media that bring people together to discuss issues. Everybody knows what the issues are, but we need somebody to say, How are we going to resolve this? There needs to be a nonbiased organization that organizes the forum, maybe something a university could establish. It could have a full-time staff and be fully funded -- a think tank that would bring the county's private and nonprofit organizations together. We did it with We Will Rebuild, but why wait for a specific crisis?
Father Thomas Wenski
pastor of Notre Dame d'Haiti, Little Haiti
In my Haitian community a lot of the working poor are not U.S. citizens and many are not permanent residents yet. A lot have applied for political asylum and many of their cases have not been heard yet. But rather than hearing them and denying them and sending them back to Haiti, the best thing would be to allow them to become U.S. citizens. That would immediately open up better employment opportunities and educational opportunities. Otherwise there's no possibility to adjust their status. If there's the political will to do it, all Congress would have to do is pass a Haitian Adjustment Act similar to what they have for the Cubans. And we've seen how the Cuban Adjustment Act has helped them assimilate into the middle class. If a person has a stake, if he's part of the system already, he's going to work in the system. If he's excluded, then you're forcing him to live in an underground society and underground economy. That doesn't help anyone except people who want to exploit him for cheap labor.
I really wish we had a mass transportation system, something akin to the subway system in New York, which would do wonders for connecting our different communities into each other. Why not an aboveground train system? It would allow people not only to get around on the periphery -- like Metrorail -- but go into neighborhoods. It would lead to the desegregation of Miami. A lot of people dread going through Librty City or the black neighborhood of Coconut Grove. Other people refuse to go through Little Havana. With a train system, you would have to pass through different neighborhoods. If residents of different neighborhoods know each other, you can bridge this sense of otherness. When you have a sense of otherness, it creates all kinds of problems: It creates racism, it creates classism. A train system would help bridge that gap.
former chairwoman of the Dade County School Board
People in leadership roles in Dade County should enroll their children in public schools. That's how the schools will become better. They know how to leverage the decision-makers and get the money and the quality leaders. I'd never make it a legal requirement, even if I could, but I think that those people, especially those who are public decision-makers, need to subject their own children to the kind of decisions they make for everyone else's children.
investor, newspaper owner, community activist
I would merge the City of Miami with Dade County and stop the bleeding.
editor of the weekly Wire
I would cut off Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue to vehicular traffic and put in a very professional shuttle system along Alton Road, Washington Avenue, and Collins Avenue. You wouldn't need a car. This is vision, vision, vision!
The Reverend Rabbi Clennon King
civil rights pioneer, minister of the Church of Divine Mission
My only suggestion is politically incorrect: It's to pronounce everyone here white, everyone here black, or everyone here Cuban. Force them to be one people. Remove ethnicity. I've been advocating that since I got out of the penitentiary in 1970. They made me into a joke and had me on several TV programs and whatnot. It wasn't a joke.
I would make the failure to use turn signals punishable by law. Use turn signals, literally and figuratively! Let people know what you're doing. Use turn signals on the road and in life. Every day be a little more considerate of each other. Try driving after dusk with your headlights on, so we can see each other. And if we can see each other we're more apt to be considerate of each other. There are too many confrontations these days between people. Observe, don't just see!
lobbyist, former Miami city commissioner
I would get rid of every crack house and build affordable housing on those sites. When I was a city commissioner, I started a program called Rosario's Crack Attack. I got together with the city attorney, and we came up with an ordinance where we contacted the owners of abandoned buildings and gave them 30 days to comply. Developers donated bulldozers and we demolished over 400 abandoned buildings in two years.
guitarist for experimental noise band Kreamy 'Lectric Santa
A good radio station that took a lot more chances would be a damn good thing. I don't think radio out there bothers to take a chance; everything is very mainstream. There's a pretty good thing on WLRN-FM (91.3) on Saturday night -- Steve Malagodi's The Modern School of Modern Jazz. He plays some stuff that's whacked, that's different. Otherwise everything seem pretty commercial. Nobody's taking risks. I have this belief that the lack of seasons is to blame. It's good to freeze your ass off every now and then; it really wakes you up.
I would have all corporate employees work four days a week and on the fifth day have them do social work. They'd get paid, of course, but they'd be part of the community more and get involved.
owner of Churchill's Hideaway
I would rationalize the liquor licenses. Some are two o'clock, some are five and six o'clock, some are grandfathered in. It's kind of here, there, and everywhere. I think it definitely leads to people on drinks moving to someplace else to have more drinks -- which would be considered bad.
author, director of FIU's creative writing program
I'd communitize every part of Dade County. Put Main Street back in Miami, re-create neighborhoods, give each section of Dade a pedestrian-friendly shopping district like South Miami, like Coconut Grove, like Coral Gables, like Miami Lakes, and ensure that every citizen has ready access to a place like that. Of course, we'd have to enhance the public transport system to ensure access to all these places. It would also entail some changing of the street grid, to discourage zooming through and force people to drive around the outside of neighborhoods. My whole thing is predicated on the fact that everybody knows that Coral Gables and South Miami and Coconut Grove and Miami Lakes are the most pleasant communities in Dade. So I'd give everybody a place like that and do it through taxing, if necessary. Also, I'd tie it to development restrictions. If you're going to do development in West Dade, you can only get a permit if you also have a plan to invest the same amount of money in some sort of urban redevelopment site within one of the designated communities, so that there is no more unqualified sprawl without some money to revitalize existing urban centers and enhance the new ones that are created. Everybody should have a downtown of their own.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
The Reverend George McRae
Mount Tabor Baptist Church, Liberty City
The thing I would do would be to see all of the citizens in Dade County treated equally, regardless of race, creed, color, intellectual status, or social status. People in powerful positions need to take a look at the community through the eyes of people who are downcast or downgraded. I would encourage politicians to just spend some time, come out of the ivory tower for a while and spend some time in the ghetto. See what goes on there: It is a real place where real people live. We have an influx of politicians from everywhere during election time, but our problems go on every day.
former director of the Miami Museum of Science, international museum designer
Secede! Why do people visit other countries? Because they have different customs. So if we enhanced the differences in the culture, then you'd get a lot of tourists. Enhance all those things that are bad and they would no longer be bad, they'd be part of the charm. For instance, corruption would be part of the scene: People could go watch city commissioners carry on and marvel at how they do it so deftly. Cruise ships would visit Miami as a foreign port. We could have borders where we would stamp passports. It would make everyone feel good. We could issue our own currency and print our own stamps. We'd make tons of money that way. All the budgetary problems would be gone! It could even be a tax haven -- we could take over from the islands. A tax haven for those who drive! As for self-defense, the protection by the U.S. military would be a given since we're close to the U.S. anyway. So we wouldn't have to pay for it any more. That's the great advantage of living in Miami: It's so close to the United States. Secession would go beyond Disney in concept. It would be a tremendous success! It's huge!