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Front Page » Opinion » Chambers Idea Gems A Down Payment On Community Legacy

Chambers Idea Gems A Down Payment On Community Legacy

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Written by on June 5, 2008

Some of the finest potential enhancements to our community can come not by paying outsiders to help but by growing innovative concepts ourselves.

The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s weekend Goals Conference was fertile ground for literally hundreds of such innovative ideas, some already sprouting and others valuable seeds for future growth.

Nobody will learn of every good idea, because the chamber brainstorms its goals in concurrent meetings. Saturday morning, at least 11 sub-groups huddled simultaneously, with no detailed records to mine for conceptual golden nuggets from all-star casts of participants from business, government and the nonprofit world.

You’ll hear later about the biggest goals. The chamber will work on some, pass on some ideas to other organizations. Other gems that deserve to stay on public agenda, however, might vanish without a spotlight.

Some of those little gems — small ideas with potentially large payback — include:

—Save both gasoline and lives by changing pedestrian signals at traffic lights from a blinking hand to a display of how many seconds before the light changes from red to green. The theory is motorists won’t rev engines long before the change and pedestrians will know whether it’s still safe to cross. It works in Europe, the conference was told. Why not here?

—Strengthen agriculture, Miami-Dade’s third-largest industry, go greener and save government fuel costs by converting both boniato and algae to biofuel for use in the county’s fleet. County Commissioner Katy Sorenson said she’s already working with two south county farmers on the concept.

—Cut both road congestion and fuel consumption by shifting some county government agencies to four-day weeks and open for business later "so fewer county employees are traveling rush hours," Commissioner Carlos Gimenez suggested. Commissioner Barbara Jordan agreed, saying a four-day week has succeeded in the federal government.

—A broader approach to the days-and-hours issue to cut congestion and save fuel was to ask every Miami-Dade business to emphasize extensive telecommuting with staggered and condensed work weeks. The chamber has already set up flex time for its own employees. Truly, the way we work is changing rapidly — a fertile field for the chamber to plow intensively with a major effort among its members.

—Increase Metrorail and Metromover use by cleaning and guarding the stations, because guards aren’t always around. "We need to see guarded platforms at all times," said Barbara Beaudry of Dialogue.

—Fund transit construction by allowing road impact fees from dense areas where roadways cannot be expanded to be used for transit capital, suggested Commissioner Gimenez. It would require a county ordinance.

—Build the community’s international business base by restoring and updating a former chamber emphasis on promoting our services internationally. Lee Sandler, new head of the chamber’s international areas, listed 27 service industries in the chamber’s action data base, ranging from accommodations and hospitality to wholesalers, distributors and representatives. He suggested careful update of a list so old that it ignores the Internet.

—Enhance industry and lessen oil dependence by making Miami-Dade the capital of the Sunshine State’s solar industries, said Commissioner Sorenson. To do that, she said, we must ease permitting for solar industries, because those that want to enter solar energy production have a hard time cutting red tape.

—Strengthen downtown retail by removing the parking penalty. After hourly rates in the old Omni mall garage rose "incredibly," said Intercredit Bank’s Lianne Acebo, she changed her habits: "I shop less because I watch my time." That led Chamber Chairman Carlos Fernandez-Guzman to suggest parking discounts for those who buy locally, tying rewards to behavior modification.

—Build lifestyle in the urban core and transit use too by modifying behavior. "We have a wonderful asset" in the Metromover "just as we do in the major cities of the world," said chamber member Gary Goldfarb, recalling that he had parked in Brickell, taken the Metromover to the Omni area for dinner and then back to the car for the drive home and wondering why others didn’t do the same.

Neisen Kasdin of Akerman Senterfitt seized on that example to suggest the chamber begin a program focused on "attitude adjustment, how you live in a city." He wisely labeled the combination of incentives and behavior modification downtown "one of the first really, truly new ideas" for a whole new chamber effort in the urban core. With luck, we’ll soon see it in action.

None of these 10 bright ideas qualifies among the major issues on anyone’s list for Miami-Dade’s future. All focus on benefits instead of problems. But all offer real, tangible opportunities to greatly enhance our lifestyle — and none seems impossible, or even expensive, to accomplish.

As we probe these creative ideas, three lessons emerge.

First, capturing and seizing upon innovative thoughts that bubble up in a think tank of 1,000 committed Miamians can pay us untold dividends.

Second, none of these valuable ideas comes with a price tag of millions or billions, or with major land purchases, or with questionable public-private partnerships that end up costing taxpayers far more than they bargained for.

And third, nobody had to pay a high-priced consultant a penny to generate ideas that can propel our community forward.

Thank you, Greater Miami Chamber members, for your free and valued consultation. Now we look forward to your intense efforts to polish your gems to a brilliant shine and make these and the dozens of other great proposals of this weekend a legacy.