The City of Miami has landed at the bottom of most accountability measures when it comes to public parks. It has always seemed incongruous that one of the most beautifully sited cities in America, where the tropical Caribbean Sea meets the Everglades and its tributary the Miami River and the Atlantic Ocean, to form Biscayne Bay, could lack public recreation spaces. The peculiarity of this fact is made more quizzical when the lifeblood industry that sustains such a place of natural beauty is tourism. How could our founders be so smart to find such a location, and then so dumb to allow us to build barriers to that natural beauty that block access and views?
This mystery is coming into full focus at the City’s Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board as some regulations try to unravel this Miami mystery are wobbling their way through the bureaucratic process of taking a hard look at regulations. Real estate moguls, gambling advocates, billboard companies, and local card sharks are already well into it. The general public seems more a bit at slumber, but need to pinch themselves awake. The hearing was this Wednesday, and the ordinance passed seven to two.
First, there is the 2020 future land use plan, a left over requirement of the Chiles Administration that Tallahassee legislatures haven’t yet completely dismantled, although not for lack of trying. The City has to show how it measures its “level of service” to its population in terms of parks. The City has really nothing to lose, since it already ranks the lowest in the nation when it comes to parks per 1000 population; Miami is dead last. But, according to Peter Harnick of the Trust for Public Land (TPL), there are more sophisticated measures that are far more complicated but allow for better policy making, that measure public access, playgrounds, scenic corridors, and other accountability measures that are more meaningful to a resident. The City of Miami is proposing to shift its accountability level to this higher, more sophisticated stand, in order to help it guide future resources toward responsible park acquisition, development and maintenance. This gives the City a little better rating, and it can end the city’s shameful last place rating, but it also allows the City to set attainable goals for new park policies so it can drag itself out of the bottom. This sophisticated ParkScore system gives the City a new measuring tool, kind of like going from a slide rule to a computer, but doesn’t solve the basic problem: the City is broke.
The second problem, given the Commission’s aversion to property tax increases, is to raise park acquisition funding through impact funds—the fees paid by developers for the privilege of building huge new structures packed with people who need to be healthy and have daylight—in other words people who need parks. Miami’s park impact fee structure is as shameful as its ParkScore. Although the City Administration showed great courage in bringing a new parks accountability process, it has been consistently silent on parks acquisition funding, except in rare cases such as a non-general fund source such as the Florida Inland Navigation District or a Community Redevelopment Agency has given them a windfall. The City administration has an ongoing study of its Parks Impact Funding that has been languishing for years, and still remains stalled. The City cannot achieve its geographic destiny and join the ranks of great American cities until it finds a way to build and improve parks. This is a one-two punch game: the first punch was laid, but the second punch is still pending.
The other side of the Miami mystery, of why a great City with scenic assets unrivaled in the world, would choose to obscure that scenery with giant, electronic distracting billboards and other signage will also come before the Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board. Our companion group, Scenic Miami, led by UEL member Barbara Bisno and aided by County watchdog, Dusty Melton, is monitoring this issue. Dusty is puzzled by why the County, which passed landmark regulations in the 80’s has been so timid regarding enforcement of clearly illegal signage that does not meet minimum federal standards for highway safety, and Barbara remains curious why a Commissioner for her district who ran on his constituents’ demand for Biscayne billboard freedom has become such a champion of blatant illegality in his district?
Keep an eye on the PZ&A agendas on the City of Miami portal, and come out for these debates. Many of us thought the City would end these debates with the adoption of Miami 21, which did indeed settle some longstanding growth issues, but which has yet to address our issues of our basic rights as citizens to our waterfront and our scenery. Stay tuned.