As Miami's towers rise, so do needs for vital infrastructure
By Michael Lewis
Even as nonstop construction fuels Miami's economy, everyone is saying we must create vital infrastructure to sustain growth before it's too late.
Even as we build 100,000-plus units that can house 200,000 to 250,000 new county residents - 10% added population - thoughtful Miamians are asking that we be prepared to serve them and ourselves.
These are not anti-growth people but business executives who recognize that we are building first and planning to handle the growth later - if at all.
How, they ask, can we drive across our own county - which now seems to take forever - when we add 100,000 more automobiles?
How, they ask, will we house those who must provide the services to make the new 100,000 residences habitable but don't earn enough to live in them?
How, they ask, will physical infrastructure like water and sewage lines catch up with population?
How, they ask, will emergency services like police and fire departments and disaster preparations keep pace?
How, they ask, will we educate all those newcomers when our schools aren't keeping up with today's needs?
Last week, a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce luncheon heard a clarion call to act now from John Beystehner, chief operating officer of UPS. Miami must be sure development is sustainable, he said, so we can lure executives to whom quality of life is central when they choose a location to work or bring their companies.
Well, executives who are already here are concerned that we aren't doing enough to maintain that quality of life in the face of rapid development. In conversations last week, folks as diverse as architects, engineers, chamber leaders and real estate developers voiced those concerns.
Their point: The pace of physical growth is unprecedented since the 1925 Miami land boom, and the scale of growth has ballooned. Yet we lack agreed-upon solutions to increased traffic snarls and infrastructure needs. We are reveling in good times and ignoring what will happen when Miami's building and land booms slow or halt.
What happens to Miami's global glow, they ask, if the end of the boom is a bust in services and quality of lifestyle? How can we remain a business magnet when quality of living here declines?
Of course, we haven't ignored these issues. Dedicated people are targeting education and transportation, affordable housing for working residents and plans for the community's future.
Unfortunately, they are not planning in concert because we lack consensus on our goals and a central leadership to unite our resources in a structured effort to prepare for our future under both best-case and worst-case scenarios.
Some executives worry that business leaders haven't come together to squarely face such problems as traffic congestion or education because they don't want to awaken government when times are good and money is rolling in.
Whether that's the reason or whether it's myopia or inertia, Miami sorely requires a shared vision for its future and a community structure bent on achieving the best possible outcome. We do not work together, and no leader has come forth with a call to do so.
So while, for example, the booming city of Miami is now planning for its own future, that task cannot succeed without linking to every other municipality, the county and the region. Miami can't on its own deal with auto traffic originating elsewhere. We are talking about regional issues in a subdivided county.
It's not too late to ensure a future that meets the challenges of today's growth, but the clock is ticking loudly. Every tower that rises adds to the burden and eliminates options in planning infrastructure to support added needs. Every dollar of transportation tax receipts spent by well-meaning guardians who are not working in a master plan for all of our infrastructure needs is a decision we cannot reverse.
Two avenues offer hope. The county's mayor can step to the front to enlist the community's top thinkers and leading power centers to target the problem as his No. 1 priority (after all, what else is he doing?), or business and civic leaders can initiate the process themselves.
Both options are behind in handling problems that should have been under control yesterday, but they offer our only hope of meeting future needs in a rational way.
Everyone is talking about the crying need. Instead of just crying, now is the time for community action.