Mega Casinos or an Integrated Miami Waterfront?

Posted on Fri, Jul. 20, 2012
Mega casinos or an enticing Miami waterfront?

BY GREGORY BUSH
publicbush@gmail.com

The city of Miami’s finances are in an alarming condition. It faces gargantuan gambling casinos that beckon to redefine the entire fabric of our politics, economics, social life and our landscape by luring the public and politicians with Pied Piper-like promises for jobs, tax revenue and an entirely new face for our downtown and our waterfront.
Deferring to the wishes of outside interests such as gambling titans — their myriad lobbyists and disgraceful scads of campaign cash — will corrupt immeasurably the shape of our politics in the future while shoveling profits outside our community.

Parallel to the strategic purchase of properties by casino forces, we face continuing derelict waterfront properties such as Miami Marine Stadium and Jungle Island, long set up for failure by government neglect and bad deals. Public waterfront parks also have long been ignored as major assets. The lack of access to an exciting waterfront has a long history about which we should be ashamed — if we understood it.

Our public landscape gets sold out again and again while wealthy owners of megayachts and upscale condos all enhance their views of the bay.

It appears from news reports that local politicians may buckle to the still unknown scope of the deal of the day for Jungle Island without any clear overall plan for an integrated waterfront.

In 2000, architect Juan Bueno called for a potential Aqua Necklace of attractions around the bay. In those days, there were public design workshops for Virginia Key Beach as well as the Bicentennial Park/Waterfront Renewal Committee — promoted by the Urban Environment League and other organizations and including local politicians like Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado who saw how public involvement could provide truly creative visions for specific public places.

Today, we should again take two steps back and think about the future of the entire waterfront — the central element of our urban landscape. Miami’s waterfront has no overarching plan to connect such places as our downtown waterfront with Watson Island, Virginia Key, Biscayne National Park, Coconut Grove, the Miami River and even Miami Beach and the airport/seaport. Where are our leaders in promoting something other than micro-deals because of a short-term looming deadline pushed by the economic incompetence of Jungle Island?

A well-planned, integrated, transportation-linked waterfront derived from an open, public consensus can add immeasurable economic value to Miami’s most attractive asset and provide hope for our sense of community. Water taxis could take people to uniquely local attractions — not chain-dominated shopping malls — that make positive use of the Bay.

The Virginia Key Master Plan in 2010, for example, was an important product with widespread public involvement that called for an Atlantic World Cultural Emporium next to the Marine Stadium, providing an island welcome center, restaurants, space for Atlantic world crafts and kayak rentals. That would create revenue and new jobs — a local place of pride and identity.

Thanks to the support of Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff and Mayor Regalado, a new organization, Nature Links for Lifelong Learning, has begun making creative use of public space to provide job training and continuing education for young adults with disabilities at Historic Virginia Key Beach Park. (See www.naturelinks.net)

A Miami Waterfront Plan, a vision — with adequate implementation mechanisms — can immeasurably enhance our tax base and provide greater jobs, and job training opportunities to benefit the entire area, notably low-income folks and employable but disabled adults, all of whom need more attention.

Such a plan can set Miami apart from other gambling-dominated cities: forging a compelling and fun place that works to improve the lives of all people in our county. Biscayne Bay is a major regional asset. We still have the time to work together to create it as a place of pride.

Gregory Bush is the executive director of Nature Links to Lifelong Learning.
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