South Beach is a continuously shifting work in progress, like our shores whose sands wash up from and then return to the waves. Blink, and the city’s landscape will have already changed.
Yet when I want to look around for reminders of what our tropical borough looked like the year I arrived, 1994, all I need do is glance down at my feet – the streets of SoBe have hardly changed in 16 years or more. The same cracks and crevices. The same potholes. The same asphalt. The same state of disrepair and sparse refurbishment.
The shame of the city.
We are the Billion-Dollar Sandbar, but replete with wooden nickle streets reminiscent, in some cases, of Third-World abandonment. There are rural pockets of this country, I can attest – I’ve seen ‘em and traveled ‘em – that have better streets than we. That’s a crying shame.
You know how we sometimes co-designate a section of street to honor a local notable like Barbara Capitman? Too many of our local thoroughfares, shamefully so, could be re-branded with monikers like “Pothole Avenue,” “Crack & Crevice Way,” and “Pockmark Street”.
In 16 years of successive administrations – from Gelber to Kasdin to Dermer to now you, Mayor Bower – these streets of SoBe have, for the most part, remained untouched by new blacktop. I reiterate: This is a true shame of the city.
City managers have come and gone, Manager Gonzalez, still no one has taken on our crumbling, antiquated infrastructure to the convincing and resolute degree that says to the citizenry and everyone else, enough is enough, we’re going to guarantee that this city has streets worthy of its residents, status, and place in the world.
Granted, it’s unfair to hold you both responsible for the benign neglect of your predecessors and their administrations, but it is most certainly fair to implore that you shatter the status quo of do-nothingness and do something – now – on your watch, while the power to do anything is still vested in you.
Our city’s high-rise and mid-rise redevelopment has been swiftly chiseled out in the last decade and so, but remarkably its streets have not kept pace. Residents go to and fro spanking new and renovated condos and apartment complexes, but must navigate roadways that add unnecessary wear-and-tear to their vehicles. Tourists from all points of origin arrive at our glistening new hotels, and step out to dine at our restaurants and enjoy our nightclubs, yet are greeted by streets and avenues that are embarrassingly substandard.
Why should we be humiliated by substandard streets? Why should we have to live in homes and why should tourists visit attractions all of which are fronted by bad, broken roadways? There is no excuse. No justification.
Nights ago, Mayor, at your latest “Mayor on the Move” Q-and-A session, this one with Normandy Shores residents, you answered one questioner’s concerns about the pace of storm drainage improvements with the assertion that neither the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods nor its better-connected citizens are receiving priority preference when it comes to infrastructure repairs.
“Every time it [storms and floods], even I have to go out and move my cars” you volunteered. Well. One doesn’t know whether to feel better that our mayor, herself, feels some of our frustration or worse because not even she has been able to coax the ploddingly slow machinery of her own administration’s bureaucracy to act and repair the street where she lives.
The 1500 block of Pennsylvania – only blocks from your home, Mayor (perhaps you drive down it on your way to and fro City Hall, although it’s advisable that, for the sake of your car, you don’t) – is a travesty more befitting a Third World country. On second thought, I wouldn’t wish it on a Third World country. It’s so bad, when I’m out on my bike or blades, I detour onto the sidewalk.
Just one street away, the 1500 block of Meridian is not much better. Nor is the 800 block of Meridian. Ditto the 600 block of 8th Street.
I could go on. And on.
Manager Gonzalez, at the same Normandy Shores meet-and-greet, you chimed in with the mayor and referred complaining residents to the Capital Improvements Plan, proudly extolling all the street repair projects that have already been completed throughout the city. If they want to know the status of their area’s projects, you told the audience, all they need to do is locate them in the CIP.
Well, I took you up on that and looked up what had been done so far, and what is slated to be done in the future, in SoBe. From out of a 565-page monster of a manual I located few resurfacing projects for SoBe, most of which were either missing start and completion dates or had been inexplicably delayed.
Mentioned is a citywide alleyway restoration program, designed to repave alleys that haven’t been paved in 30 years. “Pavement in the alleys are [sic] in terrible condition,” the report declares.
Nice to know City Hall is so concerned about our alleys, but what of our streets?
The average cycle of an asphalt road, according to the CIP, is 20 years. Must we wait that long for our streets to be resurfaced? It would appear that the city is stretching out having to repave them until at least that maximum length of time has passed – and then some.
I have, in my travels, spotted the rare sight of new blacktop. But whaddaya call that effort on 6th Street? You call that a resurfacing? That has got to be the sloppiest slap-dash repaving I’ve seen anywhere. Have you seen it, Mayor and Manager? Public Works paved only the travel lanes, never bothering to repave to the curbside where cars park. They must never have bothered to traffic-cone the street off in advance of paving day. So to deal with cars that were already parked there, they must have decided, hell, why not just pave around them and not bother blacktopping the parking shoulders of the street at all? Nice.
This, only blocks away from the new Publix and the 5th and Alton entrance to SoBe that your CIP vaunts as an entrance to “the tourist destination of world-wide renown.”
And please, PLEASE instruct the street paving crews that fill in those damn gashes that run the width of the street – where the road has been dug up for whatever reason, I’m guessing utility repair work – to fill them in so that after they’ve set, they’re level with the rest of the pavement. These patch-ups are all over the city, practically on every block. They may be nothing on a car, but they are frickin’ly frustrating to ride over on a bike or skates.
There’s no excuse for the streets and roadways of a “world-wide renown” town to be in such a state of deterioration, and even less excuse for the governmental neglect and lack of attention that has kept them in that state.
Each of you has thus far produced little or nothing in the way of restoring the streets of SoBe. Use the time that you have left in office to prove to us that you sincerely give a hoot about the locomotive engine that pulls this city’s economic vitality behind it, South Beach. Care enough to leave an enduring legacy as a token of your years in public service.
It’s very simple, Madam Mayor and Mr. City Manager: For the benefit of residents and visitors alike, invest in our infrastructure. Plan for our city’s long-term future. Fix our streets.
COLUMNIST’S NOTE: Both Mayor Bower and City Manager Gonzalez were queried for this column; neither, however, had responded by press time. Any responses by them will of course be reported here in a future issue.