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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Prognosticating

A few entries back, in the entry entitled “Prognosticator of Prognosticators” I posted a letter from the New Times from a decade ago that predicted with uncanny accuracy the state of affairs in Miami. It spoke of the problems that the Herald and its parent company would be facing, it predicted that Miami would displace Detroit as the poorest city in America, it stated that the Non-Group and the class that it represented would disappear, it mapped out how and which local political players would be dominant for the next decade and how that would play out in state politics. I thought I might do some prognosticating of my own.

Following the model set out by Harvey Molotch and Jonathan Logan, among others, Miami is in a classic transitional moment in its development. Many forget that every American city has gone through a secondary speculative phases where developers dominated to some degree the political and economic landscape. This follows flight and is suceeded by a an economic bust and realignment of power and economy. Fortunately what follows is usually a much stronger civic structure and economy.

Developers form part of what can be seen as a united pro- growth coalition. This coalition also includes property owners who derive income from rent and the business community that derives its wealth from trade. They are principally opposed by an anti growth coalition which includes home owners and environmentalists, who are concerned with the impact of relentless growth upon living conditions. What follows, according to many urban political economists, is a phase where the growth coalition splits.

The large scale property ownership class becomes concerned with anything that will affect its ability to derive the greatest amount of income from its property. This elite group of property owners arises wants to solidify sections of the city to receive the greatest amount of services from the government to improve the quality of its property and services to its renters. This is achieved by drawing income away from other sections of the urban area. The elite class of property owners also wants distinct boundaries that differentiate their smaller high income producing areas from competing areas.

Most importantly the property owning elite partners with the business community because both want a large high wage, highly skilled wealth producing professional class. This professional class supplies a group with the ability to pay high rents, also having large disposable incomes to spend at retailers, enabling property owners to charge higher retail rent.

Developers who depended upon low wages and constant expansion of the urban boundary find themselves opposed by both anti growth civic leadership and large scale property owners. In this new environment developers find that the only way to continue to do business is by working to maintain and upgrade property belonging to the elite property holders.

A successful economic infrastructure today is dependent upon having a large number of highly skilled people. Thus research and educational institutions are important for generating these skilled people, as is an environment that attracts highly skilled workers from throughout the world. Good schools parks and cultural institutions, transit and transportation and low crime attract skilled workers.

Applying this understanding of Miami’s stage of development and its transition to a new stage in this paradigm, the future of the city becomes predictable. Aiding us is the fact that Miami, like most parts of the nation, is exiting a cycle of real estate development that was artificially created to buoy an economy reeling from the effects of 9/11 which affected local state and federal budgeting, consumer confidence and international confidence in American currency and markets.

Miami’s long dominant development community will lose clout. New real estate development projects will not be economically feasible. There will be a serious shakeout as developers and speculators lose a tremendous amount of their invested capital. They will also lose political clout to the anti-growth civic community as well as the elite property owning community.

Miami-Dade has a real albeit unnatural boundary with the I-95 interstate. It has traditionally separated the county, though less so than the north / south divide that splits largely low income African Americans and Hispanics from middle class and wealthy Anglos and Hispanics in the southern portion of the county. The portion of the county east of I-95 is where business, government and culture is or will be focused: Brickell, Downtown, Midtown; where tourism is or will be focused: Miami Beach, Coconut Grove and Downtown; and where some of the wealthiest neighborhoods are focused: zip codes to the east of I-95 as well as to the south of I-95) have higher income and property values.

Again, power will shift to Downtown and Midtown large scale property owners and property managers. Investors in long term land holding will be joined by the vulture investors. Look for property owners that invested heavily in rental space Downtown, Midtown as well as some of the other nearby satellite downtowns east of I-95, to form a new power bloc. Interestingly, many of the property owners that accumulated property immediately preceding and during the real estate boom were people from outside of the area. Of the "vulture funds"alredy assembled almost all are from outside the region.

The population shift will change power bases in districts. The Upper East Side/ Morningside, with its largely Anglo population had been a swing vote for their Black majority district. The swing vote will increase with Midtown/Wynwood, lower Biscayne and the Upper East Side all growing. This means Miami’s Blacks may become even more disenfranchised. It is also logical to anticipate redistricting.

As a neighbor to the mega-development Midtown, the Wynwood Art District will change demographics of the whole neighborhood. Today the ambitiously named “Art District” is a sad few retail blocks bordered by I-95 to the west, largely Puerto Rican Wynwood and Midtown to the South and Little Haiti to the north. The Art District has minimal foot or auto traffic. It has long been rumored that the majority of shops are front businesses for money laundering. The Puerto Rican homeowners of Wynwood may be pressured to leave by rising values and taxes but Little Haiti will likely hold because high density and pooled resources and continued influx from Haiti.

Little Haiti, an economically struggling neighborhood, will push the northern and western boundary to Biscayne rather than I-95. Expect to see a considerable increase in the population of the northern beach communities that have been practically dead for the last several years. As Little Buenos Aires proved, with a relatively small number of ambitious, entrepreneurial folk, these areas can quickly spring back to life with commerce.

On a countywide level expect an end to school board corruption of the building process. I think reasonable heads prevailed with the selection of Superintendent Rudy Crew andhis team and will continue to. The desperate attempt at getting back to filthy practices by dividing the county into districts is going no where, but it speaks to how desperate some of the lower orders of the construction industry has gotten.

Construction of the Miami Intermodal Center and the MDOT rail lines will not be able to wholly avoid corruption and mismanagement. The county government is structured with a weak mayor and commisioners who are lowly paid, open to lobbyists and rarely accountable. They have already stood in the way of stronger auditing, transparent awarding of contracts and an independent airport authority. Expect an embarrassing debacle followed by an independent authority with power over the intermodal center. Also expect the MIC to go way over schedule and budget.

Also on the county level expect to see some major shake-ups. The county commission is where the hardcore development stooges are. At least two seats in more affluent districts will have support of large property owners and an expanded, powerful civic base.

Incorporated towns throughout Dade will become the focus of civic political power. To the degree that any individual incorporated town is wealthy enough, they will push for a greater share of county spending and local tax dollars. Many other municipalities will fail.

Expect to see a greater voter turnout among non-Cuban Hispanics and Haitians. The influx of Latinos from throughout the 1980’s and early 90’s have children born here who will be old enough to vote, many Latinos from other parts of the country have moved here and many immigrants are slowly but surely getting citizenship. The average age of Cuban Americans means the population is declining (Te Quiero, Abuela) and younger third generation Cuban Americans will be a higher proportion of a dwindling ethnic bloc.

Expect to see the re-engagement of Anglos. I believe that the watershed will happen when one Anglo candidate (Evelyn L. Greer?) runs and brings in the Anglo, Black and progressive Hispanic vote. No Anglo will win the mayor’s seat because conservative property owners will not want to confront real estate development interests along a potentially racially divisive rift. It will be the Trojan Horse candidacy that will create a new bloc of voters cutting across race. Do not be surprised if the beneficiary is a progressive Hispanic (Jimmy Morales?) in a mayoral race if Alvarez missteps or a state race if he does not.

If a Jeb supported candidate loses the Governor’s race expect that a whole group of politicians will make way. Jeb was depending on the FTAA for a throne to sit on or beside, with stooge (too harsh?) Jorge Arrizurieta and active oldster Chuck Cobb (I went to b-school with his son so I will hold back on strong name calling there.)

As a closing aside, I happened to have a talk with Rep. Jim Davis (I’m not Democrat necessarily) and he turned out to be a good egg. He talked about policy stuff with me until he was called away. I asked a couple of questions and, zoom! off he went with some thoughtful, well considered ideas. He gave well reasoned responses when I disagreed with him. Real Atticus Finch. It struck me that he was far too intelligent, articulate and earnest to be a politician. He ain’t winning. I think most people would take Charlie Christ, with the perma-tan and the charm. His distancing from the Terry Schiavo thing had made me a fan but Jim Davis probably has 10 times more compassion.

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