Those new towers are great, but where’s the new mobility?
Written by Michael Lewis on December 12, 2017
Why does government keep approving far taller towers in Miami-Dade when we’re driving on the same old traffic-choked roads with inadequate mass transit?
Most of us have asked that question in frustration as congestion gets worse, population expands and we’re cramming more and more buildings and people into the same geographic confines.
Now the public’s question is joined by that of a government board, Miami’s Urban Development Review Board, which is tasked with recommending how the city ought to handle at least the design of new towers of all sorts.
Several weeks ago the review board’s members raised the issue by asking planners to come in and tell them how the city is going to deal with all the new traffic that the towers the board approves are going to generate.
“Every day that passes we approve more and more [while we already] have a huge traffic problem,” said board member Fidel Perez.
This isn’t the first time the board has asked. Three years ago it raised the same question of city planners.
Unfortunately, the review board is asked to look only at the quality of each new building that developers want to erect, one at a time. Most of those buildings would make fine additions to the skyline – if they were standing alone.
But they’re not. Everywhere, city and county, we keep adding towers, which means added capacity for people and added needs for the infrastructure that those people will draw on.
That means need for more and wider roads, more and better transit, more classrooms, more water pipes under our streets, more sewer capacity, more parking, more provision for the impact of rising sea levels, capacity to handle more people in the event of a hurricane evacuation, more housing for the workforce that serves those new towers, more firefighting capacity, more policing, more park space and so on.
You don’t have to be anti-development – we certainly aren’t – to question who is looking holistically at all these needs and making sure they are provided for before, not after, towers are built and occupied.
We are raising not only basic quality of life but also public safety and health issues.
We build and then government reacts, trying to find money to meet the increased demands that added population and land use cause, but making the fixes after the fact rather than beforehand.
The Urban Development Review Board raised the issue last month as it also weighed four projects totaling 1,754 new residential units – adding probably 3,000 more cars on Miami-Dade’s roads every day, thousands more toilets to flush, and more needs for every government service.
Next month the review board will be back at it, looking at about the same number of added units, and the month after, and so on – and this is just within the city limits of Miami. Add the rest of the county and you see the magnitude of the problem.
Again, we’re happy to have the people and the residences and the office space and hotel rooms and retail that these new towers bring. On the surface, they’re all good for the economy.
But how can a review board do the right thing when its only role is to tell government that this building is or isn’t good enough as a structure? The board is in an impossible spot – a great structure that overtaxes all services is still a great structure and gets a good review.
Every elected official in Miami-Dade (elsewhere too, truth be told) needs to ask how we can mesh all of our demands as a large urban area on a global stage, including extra needs coming at us daily from national and international visitors.
Should Miami’s Downtown Development Authority, which last week won a prestigious Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce award for its role in the downtown area’s rebirth, be trying to put the brakes on growth or at least slow the speed until government shows that it can handle the growth?
Actually, every elected official needs to ask herself or himself whether encouraging fast development is smart even though it fills local tax coffers and lets government spend big without raising local taxes.
Wouldn’t it be better to secure vital infrastructure that helps us all live better – as you’d guess, transit improvements come first to mind – before we welcome in all those beautiful new towers and their residents?