Miami needs new sea-level rise resiliency agencies to smartly manage its urban infrastructure
We need new hyper-local agencies to make Miami more resilient to sea-level rise while involving residents more closely in the process and reducing the jurisdictional overlap between multiple government authorities in urban areas.
Miami’s explosion in population needs to be accommodated by creating a strong set of neighborhood-level agencies to manage rights of way and public spaces in an integrated fashion for each of the densest neighborhoods which must balance the needs of residents, businesses, and transportation in a region that has become the top economic engine for our greater metropolitan city.
Over a decade ago, the City of Miami innovated a unique public-private partnership to turn a brownfield into a master-planned neighborhood called Midtown Miami, and now it’s time to take the lessons learned from that public-private partnership and move it into other neighborhoods or cities.
My proposed City of Miami Neighborhood Infrastructure District System ordinance — which would also require a corresponding vote of the Miami-Dade County Commission to enact an interlocal agreement — will establish a permanent and systematic way to maintain our urban spaces.
New special districts would do everything from providing permanent and maintenance services to fix the potholes and broken junction boxes in sidewalks that would make the City’s public spaces a pleasure to navigate.
More importantly, a Community Development District (CDD) is permitted to independently bond for climate resiliency and sea-level rise mitigation projects.
Initially, I propose to create three special districts using Florida Statute 190 to cover these areas:
Greater Downtown CDD: From the Miami River to I-395 and from I-95 to Biscayne Bay (with a carve-out for the World Center CDD)
Greater Midtown CDD: From I-395 to I-195 and from I-95 to Biscayne Bay. (with a carve-out for the Midtown Miami CDD)
Greater Brickell CDD: Miami River to SE 32nd Road and from I-95 to Biscayne Bay
Crucially, every CDD will have elected supervisors that live inside the district boundaries comprising a majority of their boards. Creating these three independent special districts chartered under Florida Statute 190 will give control of the streets back to residents who can run to be Supervisors (it costs $25 to file). We will improve maintenance and over current standards by using competent, private companies as professional District Managers to implement master plans.
The remaining minority consisting of all of the City and County Commissioners being granted ex-officio members to the boards of supervisors which lie inside the boundaries of their respective districts. There is a lot of jurisdictional confusion between the City and County on important infrastructure matters and this will end the confusion, placing the special district in charge.
An independent infrastructure district has the ability to issue bonds to implement a master plan for managing our city streets, drainage, climate resiliency, and transit accommodations that will rapidly facilitate Miami’s extensive need for upgraded infrastructure in Downtown, Brickell, and Edgewater in the most densely populated coastal communities.
The districts can even own and manage land, parks, parking facilities, and many other uses that will offload the burdens of local government onto these dedicated agencies which are responsive to their local voters.
Residents of the districts will pay a special tax assessment for the CDD’s services, although because of the special nature of the proposal, some amount of general obligation property tax funding would probably be necessary and appropriate to negotiate through a funding formula determined at the time of enactment. In Midtown Miami, a CRA was established to provide a permanent funding source to pay down its bonds, and sunsetting CRAs could be used as a similar funding source while reserving some of their tax increment revenue to support affordable housing.
Special Districts can own and manage real estate, even parking garages like Midtown, which help pay for the bonds. They can also manage park space, green spaces, pocket parks, and the agency can act to acquire and manage more greenspaces.
The neighborhood districts can then hold their public meetings inside of their communities in order to make genuine efforts to let neighbors know these meetings are happening and increase their involvement in the important decisions impacting their lives.
The districts will have the mandate to work with the community through charettes and hearings to create master plans for their streets, signage, sidewalks, parks, bike lanes, parking spaces, Uber/Lyft pickup, and transit options with the goal of delegating some of the powers and responsibilities of the Public Works Department so that those communities have more control over the capital improvement of their outdoor spaces and maintenance of those improvements.
Keeping Special Districts Strictly Accountable
Special Districts require independent oversight to maintain the highest standards of fiduciary duty. A new office of the City of Miami’s Independent Inspector General of Special Districts would be created to curb fraud, waste, and abuse within the new districts, and in older special districts. The language will direct the City Clerk’s Office to collect mandatory lobbying registration reports for all districts and place the County Ethics Commission in charge of enforcement.
There is an urgent reason to establish an independent inspector general for special districts today due to a recent County Charter amendment which placed Cities in primary charge of regulating Chapter 190 agencies in their boundaries. Mayor Gimenez promoted the amendment which passed the referendum, after finding many existing districts were in a state of accounting disarray.
By creating CDDs to manage the neighborhood infrastructure of our most urban communities, other organizations' mandates would be shrunk, sunsetted, or subordinated. More importantly, all of the Miami boards that remain will be freed to focus on their core missions without needing to be involved in infrastructure planning and maintenance, as all of them are today.
- The Downtown Development Authority can focus on economic development, efforts to alleviate the area’s endemic homeless problems without responsibility to manage the physical streets, which it hasn’t done in years since disbanding its “quality of life” section under its last Chair.
- The Wynwood BID can focus on its security and special events planning missions.
- The Bayfront Park Trust can consolidate its maintenance operations with the district and focus on events planning, marketing, and long-term planning.
- The Omni CRA and Overtown Southeast Park West CRA can sunset their infrastructure obligations and merge both districts into a single entity with a sole mandate on supporting affordable and work-force housing now that Omni has no remaining blight or slum.
- Edgewater will get a master plan and specialized maintenance of its streets for the first time since it switched from small scale development to mass high-rise construction
- Brickell will get its own neighborhood agency for the first time now that it has enough residents and needs a smart plan to give cars and pedestrians enhanced mobility.
- West Brickell residents will get parity in pedestrian spaces with their eastern neighbors.
- Wynwood’s neighborhood residents and new high-rise dwellers will get enhanced streetscapes to complement the increased traffic through their neighborhood requires.
- Overtown’s business district will have a permanent source of maintenance funding and its residents will enjoy enhanced pedestrian spaces in neighborhoods.
- Downtown needs rapid, major improvements in street maintenance and to coordinate planning with the County’s new west-side master plan and new Flagler improvements.
Miami residents frequently complain that our city’s neighborhoods are akin to a bunch of islands without any connection, and often with geographical barriers like highways and train tracks dividing communities.
We need to connect the disparate neighborhoods to accommodate pedestrians, riders, mass transit, and motorists flowing from neighborhood to neighborhood while ensuring that our infrastructure isn’t just improved for today, but ready for tomorrow.
My Neighborhood Infrastructure Districts plan has the potential to knit together our urban streetscapes of disparate neighborhoods. It can be used to create agencies that go across municipal (or even County) boundaries, to solve problems and its successes replicated in high sensitivity places where there are infrastructure breakdowns which require long-term County and City coordination.