Today is Earth Day, a worldwide holiday that should resonate in a city that takes such pride in its own environmental beauty. Miami is the only metro area in America sandwiched between two National Parks, and in many ways the Magic City has done a decent job in the green department. The air remains clean. Trends like sustainable farming and green-minded restaurants have taken the city by storm in the past few years.
But in many other ways, Miamians aren't doing nearly enough, especially when it comes to the big stuff. As President Obama visits the Everglades today to highlight the risks of sea-level rise, it's worth taking time to talk about how Miami's residents and leaders can make a bigger green impact on the metro area.
Take Public Transport Seriously
The real problem with public transportation in Miami is that 90 percent of the time it's almost always easier to take a car. Politicians' answer has been to try to make driving more expensive by upping fees for paid parking. Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso even recently threw around the idea of instituting a $6 toll just to drive through downtown. That's only part of the solution, though, because many of those solutions promote taxi and Uber use as much as they push public transportation. The other half of the solution is actually making public transport more comprehensive and attractive. There are plenty of ideas: streetcars, water taxis, Bay Link, gondolas, rail extensions. But most of them remain trapped in the planning and discussion stages.
Recently, NerdWallet named Miami the fifth greenest city in America, but our use of public transportation (just 11 percent of the population used it regularly) was the lowest among the top ten. So clearly something is out of whack.
Ban Plastic Bags
Do you ever feel like using a plastic bag to carry stuff around town? Well, local environmentalist are sick of you. Plastic bags are a major source of pollution, often being left to blow on our beaches and ending up in our waterways. However, efforts to ban them outright or place a fee on their use to encourage reusable bags have gone nowhere. In 2008, the Florida Legislature even passed a law that forbids cities from passing their own laws to ban or regulate plastic bag use. Of course, everyone on a personal level can do their part by switching to reusable bags.
Encourage Suburbanites to Move to Dense Areas
Densely packed urban cores are a green-minded city planner's wet dream. It's much easier to promote public transport and car alternatives among people who live there, and it's much easier to promote green infrastructure and reduce overall energy use. While Miami's downtown has transformed in the past decade, it remains off-limits to many locals. Developers have basically admitted that while there may be a market for midpriced units aimed at locals, building luxury towers to serve as second homes and investments for the world's superwealthy is much more profitable. The result is that building up downtown has done little to stop suburban sprawl from continuing to bulge outward. Building up an urban core as a livable area and then doing nothing to encourage people who live in existing suburbs to move to those areas misses at least half the green point in the first place.
Maybe that area doesn't have to be in downtown Miami, but city leaders should ensure that future urbanization provides places for existing middle-class locals to live.
Install More Public Trash and Recycling Cans
Miami Beach is a leader in this area, especially in South Beach. You can't walk more than a block without finding a place to throw your garbage, and heavy pedestrian areas like Lincoln Road even have recycling receptacles. Unfortunately, not many other cities in the county have followed the Beach's lead. I'm a regular walker along the stretch of Biscayne Boulevard that runs through Edgewater and Omni in Miami, and the extension of the trolley system has made the area more pedestrian-friendly. However, there isn't a single public trash can located anywhere along that route. The result is that the sidewalks are almost always riddled with refuse. Come on, cities! How inviting is it to walk in an area that's always full of litter?
Support Solar Power
Despite Florida being the Sunshine State, its hasn't been quick to expand solar power's wide-scale use. Existing electrical power companies like Florida Power & Light have fought to ensure that alternative energy doesn't take a bite out of their business; hence, Florida law forbids people who have installed solar panels from selling their excess juice to their neighbors or tenants. Florida is only one of four states in the nation with such a law. A proposed 2016 ballot initiative would change that fact.
Be a Leading Voice Against Climate Change and Sea Level Rise
Miami is one the world's most vulnerable areas to sea level rise. It's not like the issue has been ignored here, but if you're on the front line of its effects and you're not screaming from the rooftops, it doesn't seem enough. Of course, taking some of these other suggestions into account would help us lead by example.
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