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Definitely Not About Race PDF Print E-mail
Written by Eleazar David Meléndez, BT Contributor   
June 2017

The one topic that really, truly doesn’t affect decision-making downtown

IPix_EleazarMelendez_6-17n anticipation of the Memorial Day weekend, those taking advantage of the unofficial start of the summer tend to go through a yearly ritual. Whether it’s making plans to visit cemeteries and honor the war dead as intended by the holiday’s founders, buying the extra-large pack of hot dogs for the traditional backyard barbecue, or scanning the newspaper inserts for the best deals in mattresses, the holiday weekend in late May carries with it the weight of practiced ceremony.

In parts of Miami Beach and downtown Miami, residents engage in a tried-and-true yearly habit: badmouthing Urban Beach Week. To hear people tell their friends about how they’re getting the heck out of Dodge for three days, you’d think a Category 4 hurricane was barreling toward South Florida.

It’s not a racial thing, of course, those folks will be quick to explain. The reason they need to get out of town is the traffic the yearly pilgrimage of hundreds of thousands of mostly African-American tourists always brings. It’s a public safety issue, according to residents of the tony Venetian Islands, who a few years back convinced the City of Miami Beach to put up unenforceable and misleading signs saying the Venetian Causeway was only open to residents, in defiance of the county government that actually owns the road. But it’s not at all about race, they’ll insist, even though the abominable traffic that ties up the causeway for nearly a month every year during Art Basel draws nary a peep from the same people.

It also wasn’t a racial thing, downtowners will tell you, when people got up in arms last month about the fact Bayfront Park had become the new home of an expansive hip-hop festival, Rolling Loud. That uproar included a passing threat to cancel the festival and the sudden resignation of the excellent park administrator who had overseen Miami’s waterfront gem for more than a decade. But it was totally, totally, totally not about the race of the festival performers and many patrons. They would have had the same reaction if, say, an electronic music festival with mostly white patrons was about to take over the park for three days. Right?

Downtown Miami is about a great urban quality of life -- the mantra of live, work, play that by now seems the default pitch for those hawking luxury condos there. And that has nothing to do with race. Downtowners aren’t interested in that, which might explain why the developer of what’s likely to be some of the priciest high-rise pieds-à-terre downtown, the Aston Martin Residences, did not see an issue putting forward a plan to turn parts of Virginia Key Beach into a private club for condo owners. No irony in the plans to segregate for multi-millionaires a beach that’s a symbol of black Miami’s struggle as a “coloreds only” swimming spot under Jim Crow.

Not that it’s a new idea to ship over to African-American communities parts of projects that downtown doesn’t want. Have you heard all the recent hoopla about David Beckham’s plan for a Major League Soccer stadium? All the teeth-gnashing about how building a major sports venue without parking in car-happy Miami would cause a traffic apocalypse? No? You haven’t heard much?

Maybe that’s because the plan that was once fairly sensibly projected for a place within the Port of Miami (and after opposition arose from port interests, not so sensibly proposed in a spot that would eat up a large chunk of Museum Park) is no longer downtown. What caused major political headaches and even a TV attack ad campaign when pitched downtown is being greenlighted without a hitch once moved to Overtown, sold to residents on the promise of several-dozen permanent living-wage jobs. That’s right, a whole several dozen jobs.

Or maybe the reason you haven’t heard much Beckham lately is because the papers instead are focused on the saga of what the decorative columns on the new I-395 bridge downtown will look like? Will it be a cluster of arches framing the downtown sky in postcards or will we instead go with a pair of iconic apexes? That’s the $800 million question as the firms putting forward rival proposals engage in an escalating dispute over who gets the bid.

A tiff over aesthetics has been leveraged to garner public and political support. Yet even though one of the main ideas behind rebuilding the bridge is to open up the land underneath it and restore a connection between downtown and Overtown, that aspect seems to have taken a back seat in the discussion. Nothing racial about that, though. It’s just that there are priorities. Choosing the plan that does a better job at helping turn back the monstrous destruction of the African-American community’s fabric by the 1960s interstate is just not one of them. Clearly what’s most important, as some of our civic leaders are showing right now, is to focus on what the tuxedo-and-gown set will be able to see as they park their cars before ballet at the Arsht Center.

One thing they for sure will not see is a giant wall dividing one side of the community from another. That’s the kind of project that would basically whip up torch-bearing, pitchfork-armed mobs if it were ever proposed downtown.

Yet little is being heard in the way of protest as massive walls are going up that will likely permanently sever the street-level visual connection between downtown and Overtown along a large stretch of NW 1st Avenue. A component of the ramp that will take commuter trains from ground level to a elevated platform, the Spartan block walls certainly don’t seem to be attracting the fuss over looks that the I-395 bridge project less than a mile away is causing.

Instead, Overtown leaders seem A-OK with the new visual block. Quoted by the Miami Times, the executive director of the community redevelopment agency in charge of prompting urban renewal in Overtown -- which it should be noted has taken over $17 million in poverty-fighting dollars and allocated them to helping make this project a reality -- is arguing you shouldn’t believe your lying eyes.

“It’s not a wall,” Overtown CRA director Clarence Woods reportedly told the Miami Times. “It’s a platform for the rail.”

That statement elicited a response from longtime neighborhood activist Edduard Prince in Miami New Times. Prince mocked Woods by saying it would have been better for him to claim, “It’s not a wall. It’s a bunny rabbit.”

Maybe someone else will want to claim that the wall has nothing to do with race either.

 

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