Saturday, December 28, 2013

Miami 2014 … by gimleteye

My wife and I took a walk on the beach the other day. Miami Beach was packed with vacationers. Earlier in the week I had written about the perplexing mini-boom in construction that is gripping Miami only a few years after the worst real estate crash since the Great Depression.

The political abuses that mounted during the last building boom -- high as Mt. Trashmore -- had consequences, although it is hard to find any at all in 2013. On the other hand, for the great majority of South Florida residents, the effects of the boom and bust are still etched in cratered family finances, prospects, and to the extent that it exists, a vision of the future. What is our future?

By "our" future, I don't mean builders like Jorge Perez risen like phoenixes from the ashes of the boom. In downtown Miami, construction crews are running 24/7. The Barnum and Bailey hucksterism from the developers that accompanied the last boom is back on full display. Where is the money coming from? What does it mean for Miami that -- according to CondoVultures -- applications for more than 180 new condos have been filed in South Florida?

My walk on the beach provides some shade. Twenty five years ago, when we used to regularly take our children to the beach on weekends, the dominant language was Spang-lish. That was right about the time that Miami began attracting Western European visitors. Bruce Weber, Gianni Versaci and the fashion shoots that planted their flags on Ocean Drive in the background. The Van Dyke Cafe appeared like an totemic transplant from NYC's Soho on Lincoln Road.

Three years ago, we were visiting Buenos Aires at Christmas. We scheduled our return to Miami for New Year's day, guessing the airport would be empty until the revelers had shaken the cobwebs from celebrating the night before. Wrong. The airport was jammed with Argentines. All were headed on 8 hour flights to Miami for vacations or to visit their second homes.

The other day, the beach south of 5th Street was crowded with visitors. Unlike twenty five years ago, or even five years ago, there were Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Malaysians, and Russians. It wasn't Spanglish that one could hear. It was a cacophony.

In the abstract, driving through downtown Miami and viewing the recent construction, one can understand how the economy of Miami-Dade County is reliant on the inflow of foreign capital. The exact statistics on how many units and how much commercial space is owned by foreign nationals are not available. However, this point holds true: Miami has been swept up into the globalized uni-destination. We are not the sum of our parts so much as a strange amoeba grown to gargantuan size.

There are implications for 2014 that follow from that observation.

Perhaps the one most relevant to Eye On Miami concerns politics, corruption and consequences. Our government is drifting on the tide of globalization. The buyers and investors behind the hundreds of new Miami condos have no connection whatsoever to the underlying history or politics of place. They want the electricity to work. And it does. They want police on the street. And they are. They would like parks, but there aren't. They would like culture, but it is grafted on where it exists. And traffic -- one of our pet peeves -- well, it's bad in Shanghai, Bangkok and Buenos Aires, too.

Miami is warm in winter. And -- best of all to new capital from around the globalized world -- Miami is comparatively cheap. Money instantly flows to cheap, until money itself becomes more expensive.

What about protecting the environment, our waters, a quality of life that was once two generations removed but is now four generations gone and drifting away day by day? If you asked those visitors on Miami Beach, my guess is that they would look at you like a three-headed monster. In 2014, it is not that people don't know. Like so many earlier generations of Floridians, they come from somewhere else. Increasingly, that somewhere else is a place where the public good is in a strait-jacket, shoved in a basement prison cell.

In 2014, people will continue to receive information about their worlds through a fire hose. "Caring" requires a background of specific knowledge; whether you are caring for an ill relative or for a city charging off in the wrong direction because politics and law enforcement are distracted by a different set of values.

In 2014, Miami is predominantly Hispanic but what Miami is becoming is built on flight capitol -- from the Americas extended to the forces of globalization that instantly attract wealth from Asia, from Russia and Europe with just a few clicks on Google. Welcome?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you 100%. We care, we vote - it seems we always lose since the commissioners are still there. We look at the map wondering where to move, a place that is also eclectic and balmy and that will care for our natural resources... then we close the map and stay here a bit longer. Any suggestions?