Economic recovery will take a 10-step unified approach
Last week I targeted needed action on 10 major Miami-Dade concerns that I first outlined 25 years ago. Since 1996, however, 10 more huge issues have surfaced. None will be a surprise.
To begin with:
A FRACTURED CITIZENRY: As the year began I feared division would permeate 2021. After the insurrection in Washington I am certain of it. In a nation divided, discord is clear in Miami.
Just as national leaders must help close a yawning gulf between us, we must locally build bridges to greater respect and understanding.
Unless we talk rationally to one another and actively seek common grounds for cooperation, the disease that is ravaging our nation will transition from Covid-19 to an era of mistrust and hatreds. In that case we will become not the United States but the Inflamed States.
CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT: Like disunity, environment was not front and center 25 years ago, although visionaries here even then focused on the issue.
Today we acknowledge changes in climate that raise sea levels. At the city level Miami Beach and others work actively to protect the land from that rising water. Many communities named environmental officers to coordinate local responses to a global issue.
What if those local teams all used the same playbook? Think how much progress we could make, because the sea’s rise doesn’t stop at city lines. Then extend the response to the state and nation. National and global policies can affect climate change, but even responses to change must be more than local.
TRANSPORTATION: Improved mobility is more than better infrastructure. Short term, it’s a job to persuade us to use what transportation we have most efficiently, whether riding transit that’s been losing riders for years or carpooling to reduce cars on the road or working staggered hours to spread the commuter load.
Now, as Miami-Dade shifts transportation directors, is the time to shift emphasis from more infrastructure to influencing people to use what we have.
HOUSING: We can reduce the need to commute by clustering housing at transit hubs and decentralizing jobs to multiple areas. That requires county policy. We already have such aims in housing around transit that could be fine-tuned to be more effective.
Certainly we need housing – not luxury homes and condos, which will rise with market demand, but housing for workers that is both affordable and near work sites. If we intertwine housing and transportation aims we can serve the working community better.
Housing costs far more in Miami-Dade than the US as a whole. Left to itself the market will keep building luxury housing for outsiders. We need to incentivize housing at the cost ranges to take care of working county residents.
THE VISITOR INDUSTRY: Who’d have thought 25 years ago that we’d worry about visitors? Who’d have said so even 14 months ago? But then, we’d never even heard of Covid-19.
Today the cruise capital of the world is dead in the water. Tens of thousands of jobs sank. The visitors don’t come. Cruises are gone. And our cruise companies suffer mightily. While the county has offered breaks at PortMiami, cruise lines earn no revenue. Ships have gone to scrap. What will be afloat when we control the virus, and how can we help the industry?
Meanwhile, airlines that carry 96% of Miami visitors bring just above a third as many as a year ago. Can they soar again, and with what passenger loads?
Loss of cruise and air travelers hollowed out our hotels. Some won’t make it to the end of the virus, which will harm not only employees and owners but also reduce the county’s capacity to house future visitors. How can we compensate?
SMALL BUSINESS: In the best of times many small businesses fail. Yet in Miami-Dade, which has few corporate headquarters, small businesses create an outsized share of both jobs and sales.
During Covid-19, an untallied number of small businesses are either closed or near it. Loans and grants help others hold on, but for how long? Local governments need unity to deal with small business fallout to mitigate the impact. Every city has patchwork aid, but we lack uniformity and coordination. We must work together in a county where everyone wants to be the leader.
NONPROFITS: Like small businesses, charities are often underfunded. Managers with the best of intentions often have more heart than operational and financial skills.
Again, these organizations are particularly vulnerable in the pandemic. Many have admirable aims. Would they be better off clustering than struggling on their own as donations wane and needs multiply beyond the ability to serve?
LOCAL NEWS VOID: News Miamians must have to function individually, make collective decisions and keep tabs on government is drying up. If media don’t tell you what’s going on, how do you know? And you’ll never know what you’re missing.
The local media industry is eroding. The once-dominant Miami Herald has dropped from 500,000 circulation daily and 750,000 Sunday to far less than a tenth of that. The company now has no home. Miami Today is the last media observer to even try to tell you what government is doing that affects you.
Without news, what links the multiple communities and people in Miami-Dade together? The internet drops each of us into silos of people just like us. What will tell us all about everything else around us? Without advertising, reader support and perhaps nonprofit aid, local media won’t last long.
ECONOMIC BALANCE: Miami-Dade’s population now looks like a barbell. At one end cluster the rich and super rich, both home grown and flocking here from the nation and world. We even work hard as a community, correctly, to lure financial firms with a few very wealthy players to beat high local taxes in much of the US.
At the other end of the barbell is the lower end of the economic scale. Its numbers are rising, increased by people who slip from the middle class, and we come to resemble poorer nations. The hopes of those at the lower end of moving up erode even as the rich flood in.
Miami must create jobs plus educational and social paths to help turn the barbell back into a bell curve, where the largest numbers of us cluster toward the center, like the economic spread of 25 years ago when disparities weren’t as large and hopes of rising were greater.
We must close the rich vs. poor gulf – democratically, peacefully and fairly. This is a challenge for the present and the future.
ECONOMIC RECOVERY: All these issues converge in the need for swift local recovery. Together we can add jobs and income and improve the quality of life for all. It is not pie in the sky.
It’s do-able, but not easy. It requires buy-in by all, business and government and citizens. That points to the leadership need we cited last week. It also requires willingness to listen and to act together.
The logical start is county hall, seat of today’s local leadership.
Just as President-elect Joe Biden must lay out cohesive national aims and persuade Congress and states to join him, we need county leadership to enunciate a single platform and persuade cities, business and others to join in.
Waiting would not give us what we need. Results may take a while, but a clear unified vision is needed now.