Miami Dade County Community Forum

Thursday, August 6, 2009

An Open Letter on Miami 21. By Ernie Martin

I wrote this to my friends concerned about Miami 21:

Thanks for your focus on our neighborhood and on the many shortcomings of Miami 21. I had a long conversation with Arva Parks yesterday, and we both have numerous concerns about Miami 21. It was an ambitious undertaking and the City took many erratic turns, and, although the City (utilizing our tax dollars) spent a huge amount of resources on what many of us think, or at least thought at the time of the launch many years ago, was a quite noble goal. Everyone, of every political stripe, from greedy developers, to historic preservationists, to neighborhood groups trying to preserve a quality of life, agreed an overhaul was necessary. Cynicism is justified for those that believe no effective overhaul of a city’s zoning can possibly succeed without a moratorium first. The City launched the effort, a noble adventure, but then gave it no urgency by allowing business-as-usual during the deliberations, while the City ran amok in inappropriate overdevelopment. No wonder that no one got serious until the City, under the current inept system, drove itself into financial collapse, making itself a caricature of urban financial idiocy unmatched in the country, except perhaps Las Vegas.

Arva and I agreed that perhaps the best analogy to our current dilemma is the current debate over health care reform. Everyone agrees that the current system is dysfunctional and harmful to all of the stakeholders, except the profiteers. It sucks. Everyone agrees that change is needed. But almost every stakeholder has a little gripe about something or other, and a clamor emerges to do nothing, leaving the current ineptitude in place. Who knows when another opportunity will arise for a better system? In health care’s last attempt at reform, it took 30 years for another stab at the problem.

In the case of Miami 21, almost everyone agrees that it has good elements of neighborhood livability, energy sustainability, low-income mixed use housing opportunities, walk ability and pedestrian/bicycle friendly streetscape, and a myriad of other improvements. Reporter Andres Viglucci reported today on the principles of Miami 21 and their potential for great benefit, similar to what is exhibited on Biscayne Boulevard in Edgewater.

Sitting through dozens of hours in public hearings, Arva and I came to the conclusion that many people (the majority that spoke) wanted to keep the current system because it allows them to make more money; that an articulate minority of actual residents represented by many groups and most effectively by Miami Neighborhoods United, made eloquent arguments that the plan does not go far enough in protecting stable single family neighborhoods such as our own. The Commission will have a tough time choosing between these competing interests: the neighborhood groups are strong because they tend to vote for our elected officials that will protect our neighborhoods, but the developers are also strong because they give the vast bulk of campaign funds to elected officials which assure their development agenda.

The majority of the pressure comes from developers, but neighborhood individuals and groups, although a minority of political influence, will lose a great opportunity to make meaningful change if they don’t support Miami 21. It will take years, probably decades, for it to come back. If it passes, it contains many provisions to fight individual shortcomings in individual neighborhoods for specific projects. If it fails, we will go back to the status quo that everyone hates—but developers are excellent at manipulating. If we fight for individual changes under the current system, we will continue to lose; if we fight for individual changes under Miami 21, we will, at least, be fighting from a platform that supports our policies of neighborhood preservation. All passionate urbanites and neighborhood preservationists abhor compromise—we know what is right, and feel inferior if we don’t go to the wall—but sometimes are goals are easier to achieve from a supportive policy base, although not perfect, than to revert to a failed status quo.

I urge my neighbors to support Miami 21, and then use its improved platform to choose our battles strategically.


  1. Thanks Ernie. Well said!

  2. Unfortunately this sentiment is true and everyone lost with the vote of Miami 21. this process has brought planning to the common people of Miami and made people think about what type of community we all may want. This is worth the effort!!!

  3. I invite everyone out to the Transit Seminar Aug 26th at Captial Grille 6pm. Until Miami has transit we will not have the city of the future.