Monday, October 17, 2011

Wonky

I didn't post last week because I was out of town. I was at an infrastructure conference in Washington DC, the equivalent of a spring training trip for fans of public policy. The national picture is dismal for the infrastructure in North America. While there is general agreement that investing in water systems, transportation, new power generation and fixing the aging systems in place is critical for economic recovery, that sense of critical has not translated into a sense of urgency. In two sessions with members of Congress, I realized that the only consistent message is that Congress is deeply divided and not much is likely to get done. That's pretty depressing.

On Saturday night, when I got back, I went to the New World Symphony Soundscape in Miami Beach. It was the season premier and the park outside the concert is a marvel. The projection on the wall and the excellent acoustics outside make for an amazing experience, unique to Miami Beach. In this economic climate, the Soundscape is a concrete example of how public private partnerships can work and make a city a better place.

And that got me thinking about North Bay Village and what's going on.

Put aside for one moment the filthy tactics of personal destruction that pass for politics in this town and look at what is not happening. The city is stuck. We voted for and agreed to pay new taxes to improve the quality of life here and for a little while, a short while, it looked like we were on track to finally become the waterfront city so often discussed.

The Causeway, our main window to the world, was going to be upgraded and lined by businesses and housing that we could be proud of. There was to be a Baywalk, a strip along the northern section of Treasure Island to connect the restaurants, shops and housing along the beautiful bay. Harbor Island would have a waterfront park and sidewalks, with a new city civic center anchoring the development.

But what do we have? One good thing is that the sewers did get done so we don't flood at every rainstorm. That's been particularly good this week.

Overall, lots of money was spent to build a wall of marginal attractiveness on North Bay Island, nice enough but they already had one. The park was a total disaster and is not even functional. Harbor Island has no sidewalks and no plans. A large functioning taxpaying business, Jumbo Buffet, was forced out of business when its access was cut off and it's not going to be open again soon. Treasure Island continues to be blighted by the empty retail spaces of the Lexi, the flooded parking lots, auto repair junkyards and the derelict strip malls.

Our taxes went up again to pay for such improvements as - the wall around Harbor Island, which kills the chances of retail taxes, further improvements to an inaccessible park surrounded by garbage scows and overgrown abandoned lots, the further entrenchment of city facilities in the barely functional Lexi building.

None of these are the type of infrastructure improvements that will bring stability to North Bay Village, fix our broken tax base or improve our property values (except maybe the sewers.)

Unless and until there is significant progress in fixing that causeway and attracting high volume businesses to North Bay Village, we are going to become a waterfront ghetto, a place to speed by and not even wonder what's there.

It could be different. Instead of paying back political debts with public money, protecting entrenched interests without regard to the damage it does to the city, the commission could and should be focused on getting us out of this mess.

But like Washington, the greed is too immediate to concentrate on the long term fixes and the future looks bleak.

Kevin Vericker
October 17, 2011

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