Only through shared vision can Miami attain its potential
By Michael Lewis
At a Downtown Bay Forum session on visions for Miami's future, I suggested that shared vision is our greatest need.
Weeks later, that need became even greater as Miami's Downtown Development Authority talked of breaking with groups that had united on the first step of sharing, an extensive job-creation project aptly named One Community One Goal.
The development authority strayed from that united path and wandered into the Many Communities Many Conflicting Goals quicksand that long has dragged down our progress.
If you don't know where you want to go, taking any old road is okay. Lacking a vision, anything at all can look good as a future. Nature abhors a vacuum of ideas and fills it — but seldom well.
One Community One Goal targets agreed-upon economic engines to power our future. We can no longer rely on real estate, construction and the visitor industry alone, vital though they may be, to add high-pay jobs.
One Community seeks shared targets that we can agree upon — a vision — to improve all of our economic lives.
Lack of such shared aims opens the door for fly-by-night ideas parachuted in to send us drifting in a new direction — until the next harebrained scheme appears.
Lack of aims allowed casino gambling to suddenly sprout. A year ago not one Miamian in a thousand would have suggested casinos as an economic engine. But since we have no agreed-upon vision, massive gambling quickly became THE vision.
That gives us an incompatible choice: the casino industry's future of an undereducated, unskilled workforce tied to its apron strings versus a Miami moving up the ladder in jobs, income, economy and lifestyle.
Proponents call massive casinos a game-changer. That's true, but not for the better.
Of Miami's ten game-changers in its 116 years, one was pure disaster. We must focus on those that get us where this community agrees it needs to go, not down a dead-end road.
Those game-changers were:
1. Henry Flagler's railroad arriving in Miami.
2. Widespread automobile ownership.
3. The disastrous September hurricane of 1926, which depressed our economy long before the Great Depression.
4. The boom of aviation.
5. World War II and the returning veterans it then sent our way.
6. Air conditioning.
7. Mosquito control.
8. The rise of Castro and the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who subsequently enriched Miami.
9. Racial integration, which tore down social, political and economic barriers.
10. The Mariel boatlift that brought 125,000 more Cubans to Miami in a tiny span of several months, concurrent with the arrival of about 50,000 Haitians.
We must unite to keep casinos from becoming a long-term game-changer akin to the Hurricane of 1926.
Among steps to enable growth, several are vital to achieve almost any vision Miamians could agree upon:
Internal transportation. Miamians can't attain the best jobs until we link everything via public transit. Visitors face handicaps reaching the entire community. Lack of transportation exacerbates urban sprawl.
Education. Any vision higher than a casino outpost requires better public schools. One casino company happily claimed that Miami's people are best suited for casino work because it requires little schooling.
A pitfall even worse than gambling is division of Miamians into educational haves and have-nots. We must close our divide in educational attainment or we're so handicapped that even casinos might be above our grasp. If a large slice of our workforce has substandard skills, we're in trouble — and into casinos.
Leadership. We desperately need cohesive leadership, both in government and in civic affairs, to attain goals — once we set those goals. Sabotaging a One Community One Goal study before it's finished isn't leadership.
Given efforts on those three enabling platforms, we might target health sciences, biomedical firms, other knowledge-based industries and perhaps aviation as key to our future. There are many choices.
In anything we plan, we miss a key advantage if we ignore the word "international."
Miami is destined to be a global hub. We're a mere appendage to the United States but — unless we erase our advantage and stray off track to things like gambling — we'll be a key global link.
A completed vision of Miami might incorporate these ideas and many more, together with a roadmap for attaining them.
If we can embrace that shared vision, rather than see many groups wander off on paths that might suit only their own aims, Miami can and will prosper.
We will debate that final vision. But wait until the process is done and think it through before abandoning this vital and timely shared effort. Only united will we stand tall.
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