It’s a shame. A weekend that featured two celebratory “safe streets” milestones in Miami ended with startling slaughter on the city’s roads.
A recent Miami Herald opinion piece by Pulitzer Prize winner Fabiola Santiago — “Last thing Miami needs is to become Vegas”, published on Friday — is astoundingly spot on. Astounding because it so frankly states why Miami should resist the false allure of the casino, and more so because the Herald’s previous coverage of the issue has been so slanted.
The piece starts with a lean declaration. “I hate Las Vegas,” Santiago says, before giving an explanation that does not ask for your agreement.
Everything about that city is a grand fake, a man-made mirage. From the moment you land to the second before you leave, with the addicted still gambling on the last machines by the boarding gate, everything turns into a manipulated experience aimed at evoking a cheap thrill, the kind that costs plenty, wanes quickly and leaves you empty.
There is a reason Santiago is sharing her hatred of a city more than 2,500 miles away: a strengthening push by local and state politicians to turn Miami into a gambling destination, a tropical Las Vegas. A Tallahassee court recently cleared the way for legislators to expand gambling in South Florida, and Malaysian conglomerate Genting plans to turn Herald plaza, a recent acquisition, into a “mega casino-hotel-restaurant complex”.
Not only will the complex — which she dubs “the monster on the bay” — snarl traffic downtown, says Santiago, but it will dissuade suburbanites from patronizing two up-and-coming neighborhoods, Wynwood and the Design District. “Who wants to be in the midst of addicted gamblers, high-stakes prostitution and organized crime?” she asks.
Miami is experiencing a “cultural explosion,” according to an article in Sunday’s Herald. “Yup,” I thought, when I first saw the headline. But then I read the subhead: “From the Arsht to the New World Center to the Design District, culture is booming all around us. Here’s why — and how it’s fueling the economy.” And then I noticed the photos in the accompanying slideshow: a “balloon-splashed” South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, a performance at the Miami City Ballet, a Wallcast at the New World Symphony.
I read on, curious to see if the article would mention any of the folks/artists/organizations that, in my opinion, are pushing Miami culturally these days. To her credit, reporter Jordan Levin shouted out a few of them — the Borscht Film Festival, O, Miami, the Rhythm Foundation — but she spent most of her word count crediting philanthropists and local government with the “explosion”.
Led by the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and key private donors and organizers, they have helped build a growing matrix of arts organizations, from big institutions such as Miami City Ballet and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts to a growing cadre of smaller groups that span the gamut from community-oriented to avant-garde.
Add a populist focus on free events that make the arts inviting to everyone from families to students to trendy 20-somethings — a deliberate audience-building effort by funders and leaders — and you have a critical cultural synergy.
The article also described Miami culture as a means to a glittering end, namely, large-scale development. An excerpt from its “Big Money” section:
Mike Eidson, chairman of the Arsht Center’s board of directors and a longtime major arts patron and behind-the-scenes player, says that the cultural boom helped attract attention from international companies such as Genting Malaysia Berhad, the giant Asian developer that will build a massive entertainment complex on the 14-acre Miami Herald site next to the Arsht Center.
Eidson pointed to the Arsht Center, Art Basel and the Wynwood gallery scene as prime lures for Genting and other developers, such as Spanish company Inmobiliaria Espacio, which owns a two-acre property immediately to the north of the Arsht, and Dacra Properties, which is creating a massive retail complex in the Design District.
“Miami is attracting these people because it’s the prettiest place, the most fun, and now it’s got great art,” Eidson says. “They say [we] put money into culture. That means something to them. The vibration from this cultural explosion affects everything. It’s really shaking up the place.”
That is how the article ended. Rather perversely, I thought. I scrolled down to the comments section to see how Herald readers felt about the piece. Generally speaking, they fell into two camps: cynical/unimpressed and sunny/optimistic.
“You gotta give ‘em credit for trying but unfortunately most of South Florida is STILL a cultural wasteland. The majority of our lovely neighbors wouldn’t know the difference between J. S. Bach, Celia Cruz and Lil’ Wayne.” — miamiguy34
“Great article, Ms. Levin. The Knight Foundation Grants have been particularly instrumental in helping artists break ground in new directions. I’ve witnessed a lot of projects that have been brought to fruition only through the help of these grants. Naysayers can nay all day, but everything you write about has made Miami a better place. Thank you.” — Skip Van Cel
Finding myself in agreement with no one, I shared my own thoughts on Open Media Miami’s Facebook page, where I initially saw the Herald article posted.
“Significant disconnect between reporter and commenters. Can’t say I disagree with most of them. When I think culture, I think of what individuals and independents are doing. Philanthropically subsidized culture feels inauthentic.” — Me
Five minutes later, Open Media founder and Herald editor Jared Goyette asked me to elaborate in the Herald. So I did. You can read the full piece at miamiherald.com. Here’s an excerpt.
Culture. It isn’t a political campaign or a sporting event or an FCAT question. It’s an amorphous thing. Like a cloud. It grows, it disperses, it darkly menaces and mercifully cools. And it holds the stuff that we humans need more than anything else, the water that doesn’t merely make life worth living but rather makes life.
At certain points in human history, the cloud bursts. The Italian Renaissance , 1920s Paris, post-WWII New York. An article that appeared in the Herald Sunday places present-day Miami amid a comparable “cultural explosion,” citing the opening of the New World Symphony’s New World Center, the growing popularity of Art Basel, and soaring attendance at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
There is something all three have in common: they’re big.
What’s size got to do with it? Well, when I think of culture, I think small. Call me gauche, but I care less about what’s happening at a grand concert hall than what’s happening at Churchill’s, and more about what the guy down the hall is painting in his studio apartment than what’s showing at a multimillion-dollar museum.
With such biases, you can perhaps understand why the Herald’s “cultural explosion” article rang hollow for me.
In today’s Herald, Andres Viglucci provides grim analysis of what will happen to South Florida if — when — Governor Rick Scott signs measures that would mortally wound the department in charge of keeping suburban sprawl from gobbling up the Everglades. An excerpt:
Measures approved by the Florida Legislature with little scrutiny or debate in the waning moments of this year’s session would dismantle the state oversight that has acted as the principal brake on repeated efforts by the county commission to breach the line for new development.
The measures, almost sure to be signed by business-friendly Gov. Rick Scott, would significantly water down the state’s 25-year-old growth-management system, giving counties and municipalities far greater freedom to amend the local comprehensive development plans that are meant to control suburban sprawl.
“In time,” Viglucci continues, opponents of the measure fear “Miami-Dade will look like Broward County — fully paved from the Atlantic Ocean to the Everglades dike, with no remaining agricultural land.”
In blatant disregard of Florida’s millions of vacant dwellings and hundreds of millions of unused commercial square footage, Gov. Scott will likely approve the measures in the name of jobs, jobs, jobs. The ramifications are ominous for the fragile Everglades, itself the unsung and underutilized economic engine of the Sunshine State. (A recent study suggests restoring the national park could net Florida more than $100 billion.)
Indeed, there is a lot at stake in a battle that already seems to be lost. As Viglucci writes at the end of the article, “Former Democratic Florida governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham, in a joint letter with Nathaniel Pryor Reed, a Republican who served as assistant Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Nixon and Ford, called on Scott to veto the measures, calling them a ‘massive assault’ on 30 years of mostly effective growth management, and a potentially pivotal moment in state history.”
Pivotal, yes, but turning the wrong way.
Read Viglucci’s article in full on miamiherald.com.