E Was Never for Elitism Print
Written by Jay Beskin, BT Contributor   
August 2017

The City of Excellence is losing its edge

Abigstock-Road-Construction-Ahead-Sign-2611424t my age, it’s getting harder to pat myself on the back without wrenching something or other out of joint. But a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, so every so often I indulge myself in that particular form of contortionism. Like, for example, when I pass billboards or buildings billing Aventura as the City of Excellence.

On those occasions, I allow myself a moment of pride in the thought that my years in city government might have contributed in some small way to that excellence. Indeed my tenure included key stages in the early development of the city. Enough said on that score.

But these days, I have moments when I wonder if the “excellence” bar might be moving further and further out of reach. My concern lies in the area of repairs and improvements to roads, pipes, and other infrastructure. It’s obviously impossible to manage a city of any size without budgeting for (to borrow from the techno lingo of our age) updates and occasional upgrades to the physical plant of the city. Even when there are no special projects going on, no new city buildings, no new public parks, no new bridges or highways, the old ones still need attention.

Aventura has traditionally managed those aspects of public welfare well, budgeting adequate funds on a yearly basis to keep freshening things up and prevent a steady decline in the quality of our infrastructure. We haven’t practiced the sort of benign neglect that leads to sudden breakdowns and crises. Even the county library, which was felled by one of the 2005 hurricanes and languished in its fallen state for too many years, was finally restored, thanks to a fruitful cooperation between county and city. Today it stands as a far more impressive structure than the one it replaced.

Yet there is an odd sort of disconnect taking hold whereby the city has taken to doing this maintenance and repair work without proper notice, without proper signage, and without proper concern for the practical arrangements of civilian and commercial activity.

One egregious example of this lately has been on NE 189th Street east of Biscayne Boulevard, where eastward traffic has been blocked during business hours without any real effort at posting signs that would explain how to detour around the affected area. For locals this may not pose much of a challenge, but for customers and patients coming to the many professional buildings on that street from other neighborhoods, this has caused massive confusion and dislocation.

The city does not seem to be losing much sleep over the problem, with each day as bad as the day before, or even worse. In the meantime, the businesses and professional offices on the block are pulling their proverbial hair out trying to proceed with a semblance of normal scheduling. Their customers are flailing around, driving into blind alleys, and parking in the wrong lots. It is hard to pinpoint the most accurate word to describe the situation, but I am fairly certain it is not “excellence.”

This sort of situation is cropping up all around Aventura, with barricades suddenly going up that block the turns off the Boulevard, all on account of this or that construction on one lane or sidewalk, causing the already congested roadway to form even more complex bottlenecks. Suddenly there’s no turn to the west at this corner, or no turn to the east into this shopping center.

It all gives off an air of shoddy preparation, sloppy execution, and a general disregard for both citizens and merchants.

If all this were taking place in a city of comparable size elsewhere in the region, the tendency would be to assign the disordered state to a shortfall in financing, a lack of competence, or a loss of pride. Yet these phenomena are not attributable to Aventura in my observation. It isn’t that we’re letting things run down because we’re out of steam. It’s more likely to be the result of a misguided sense that we have bigger fish to fry. It is a Downton Abbey kind of thing: If the upstairs are run down, it means the servants don’t try enough, but if the downstairs are run down, it’s because the masters don’t care enough.

When we branded our home the City of Excellence, the word was never intended to evoke an image of a walled bastion of privilege, of fat cats huddling in penthouses insulated from the importunities of the huddled masses. Excellence implies a commitment to invest both the necessary resources and the hard work needed to live life on a high level of achievement and meaning. Ideally, a person waking up in the morning in Aventura should be inspired to keep striving and succeeding, not to lounge in a state of lassitude and watch the calendar pages turn.

It can’t be that people driving through Miami Beach or North Miami Beach expect clear streets while people driving through Aventura learn to expect orange barrels and yellow cones. The malls and shops of Aventura have been a prime destination for a long time, but shoppers are easily dissuaded by traffic jams and a general atmosphere of inconvenience. We can’t afford to lose our dynamic edge because we’ve grown complacent in a misplaced sense of entitlement or elitism.

Excellence is an aspiration, not a politically correct code word for luxury. Perhaps we should never have bought into that word, because of the high bar it sets. But having committed ourselves to it, there’s no escape -- or excuse. Those who aim higher accept higher demands upon themselves while enjoying higher rewards.

As funny as it may sound, we need to aspire to excellence in laying out our job sites, as well. The signage should be bold, ambitious, and explanatory. Drivers and pedestrians should be impressed by the scale of our work, and by the atmosphere of order and professionalism with which it is infused.

I will conclude with a little story about a friend of mine who was overweight. He was hired as part of a catering team, and as he set up the tables, he kept cutting himself little pieces off the various delicacies.

Before inviting the public into the room, the lady of the house came through to survey the presentation. She noticed the gaps and turned to look at my friend. He mumbled something about not being concerned with appearances. She looked meaningfully at his stomach and said: “Yes, I can see you’re not concerned with appearances!”


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