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Miami Foundation Packs the Stage for Our Miami Project

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The evening began with two able-bodied bouncers calling me over to the back alley entrance of the club. After scanning my I.D., they let me in. I walked straight into the packed venue of sweaty bodies. Soft sepia lights against the dark of the room, libations flowing--it's the standard for a night out in Miami. But not necessarily one you'd expect as the launchpad for a community development project.

Last night, the Miami Foundation kicked off its Our Miami initiative at the Stage with an overwhelming turn out of the city's community leaders and supporters, or "local change-agents," as the foundation calls them. The project was developed in association with a three-year study funded by the Knight Foundation. Known as Soul of the Community, it surveyed residents of metropolitan Miami (alongside 25 other national cities) in order to recognize what residents like most about where they live and which factors play the most important roles in connecting people to their community. In an effort to build attachment to our city and retain and foster Miami's burgeoning talent, the foundation launched the Public Spaces Challenge and Match305. Complimentary cocktails were served as attendees, from the suited up to the dressed down, engaged in a business card exchange of epic proportions.

An hour into the meet and greet, the Miami Foundation's president and CEO, Javier Alberto Soto, took the stage to welcome guests and encourage support. "What we hope to accomplish is to engage Miamians in the task of creating this new Miami, because to successfully build the type of city that we aspire to be, this can't be my Miami, this can't be [the foundation's] Miami, this has to be your Miami. It has to be everybody's Miami for this to work," Soto said before handing the microphone over to Stuart Kennedy, the foundation's programs officer.

"When we set down this course, we decided that there were two really main avenues that we had to focus on to make sure we could make this happen in Miami...livability in our community and connectivity.... Livability is about making our place a more appealing place to live. Connectivity is about giving people those connections to this place, both in their careers, in their personal lives, so they can stay here in Miami and build a life," Kennedy said.

The Public Spaces Challenge tackles livability by asking the community for their input using the ourmiami.org website, which has a tool with a map anyone can use to add an original idea, answer two quick questions, and submit their suggestion for all to see. It's all optimized for mobile, and submissions end September 19. The winning ideas will be chosen by a panel of the foundation's advisory committee, partners, and place making professionals, who will then divide the $120,000 pledged to make these ideas a reality for the community.

Match305 focuses on connectivity using a tool called AQ, which measures the attachment residents have to their city, in turn guiding the foundation's efforts to put together programs that people will actually be interested in engaging. "Match305 sends out the survey for about a month and a half and then we'll close that down and process all the data so we can then have something that we can share with the community," Kennedy told Miami New Times.

Kennedy turned the microphone back to Soto, who shared his enthusiasm with the crowd. "How can we ask people to invest in Miami and to create endowment for Miami if they aren't optimistic about the future of Miami? Well, tonight just looking around this room, it's hard not to feel optimistic about the future of Miami," He said.

Our Miami has already garnered support in its fledgling state, with FIU investing $10,000 in Match305. In addition to this, the Health Foundation of South Florida, whose CEO Steven Marcus was in attendance, pledged $20,000 to the Public Spaces Challenge in order to fund ideas promoting exercise and healthy activities throughout Miami-Dade County.

Soto and Kennedy kept the presentations short and sweet. Guests returned to their mingling, reassumed their positions at the bar, and those in the patio area grubbed on Latin Burger while huddling under umbrellas and around outdoor fans to escape the humidity.

"We really hope it spreads throughout all Miami. Both projects are open to the entire community and we won't consider them a success unless we get participation from the entire community," Kennedy told New Times.

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