Neighborhood Transformation
Neighborhood Transformation
CitiStates Report:
Megastakes for the new century:
Success in a global economy will demand unified vision

Web-posted: Sun-Senttinal 7:03 p.m. Nov. 17, 2000

Few regions in world history have entered a new century with prospects as dramatic, challenges as serious, as South Florida today.

Here are three great urban counties Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach -- with true global potential as a great air, sea, financial and Internet port of the 21st century economy.

If they learn to develop as an integrated unit, these counties could become a globally respected city-state -- a great world region as distinctive and exciting as Athens, Carthage, Genoa or Hamburg in other centuries, and Hong Kong or New York in recent decades.

But if the counties quarrel and insist on separate and clashing strategies, they'll not only decline to second-rate status among world regions, they'll be in peril of dramatic losses in income, in quality of education, in the natural environment and quality of life.

With amazing rapidity, the world has shifted from a predominantly military to an overwhelmingly economic age. Serious disturbances continue, from the Middle East to the Andean highlands. But the Cold War and centuries of militarized nation states are now fading into memory. The Internet and instant global communications are transforming economies. Worldwide trade has risen to dimensions not dreamt of in times past.

This is what the age of the city-state is all about -- great metropolitan regions, spread across the globe, simultaneously competing and collaborating in the new global economy.

In thousands of interviews with city-state leaders, from Seattle to Sydney, Hanover to Hong Kong, Dallas to Denver to newly-unified Berlin, we have heard one central message: The leaders of a city-state, governments and business and civic sectors, pulling together, must forge and then pursue a common vision. They must seize and apply new technologies, develop a quality workforce, resolve transportation dilemmas, establish global trade ties and protect their environments.

Divided city-states, fixated on internal divisions, face defeat.So what does this mean for South Florida?

There are few more complex, nuanced counties on U.S. soil than Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties. They seem to proceed from a Latin beachhead to solid middle-class communities to a remarkable contrast of rich retiree havens and dirt-poor farming communities.

But view South Florida's counties, for a moment, as two worlds: Miami-Dade, socially splintered but bursting with the entrepreneurial vigor Cubans and other Latins brought, and Broward and Palm Beach -- more typically "American" and middle-class places. And then ask: can either of these worlds, standing alone, do very well in the 21st century?

We'd argue no. Miami-Dade, with its remarkable confluence of peoples and languages -- Anglo, Latin, Caribbean and other -- is tailor-made for folks who take life fully caffeinated, relish a world of many tongues, and enjoy living with multiple cultures. There's a terrible dilemma here however. Whether your measure is school quality, crime, poverty rates or social stability, Miami-Dade comes up appallingly short. The Elián affair revealed the depth of the social fissures and alienation among ethnic and racial groups. At this moment, it would be hard to identify a U.S. city or county where civility in public dialogue seems lower. The political theater in that case, which the national media molded into cultural entertainment, has done real harm.

It would be hard to imagine a major U.S. corporation relocating to Miami-Dade at this time. The Beacon Council, an industrious force trying to promote Miami-Dade's economy, acknowledges major difficulty getting employees of U.S.-based firms to accept Miami assignments.

'South Florida North'

So what about "South Florida North" -- Broward and Palm Beach?

Each county now has a handsome and revitalized center city. Each has enough middle-Americans, soccer moms, classic U.S. high schools to resemble a lot of America (notwithstanding fast-growing numbers of foreign born, especially in Broward).

Focused on Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and several other areas of Broward, the two counties have emerging high tech cultures strikingly different from their historic tourist and retiree base -- a phenomenon we treat in our accompanying story today.

Still, Palm Beach and Broward are in South Florida -- which means they're well removed, geographically, from the American mainstream. Typical U.S. manufacturing enterprises will likely not make much headway here. Tourism should continue to provide many jobs -- but given its nature, few new really good-paying jobs.

The era of heavy U.S. tourism into South Florida -- Mom and Dad and the kids, or granddad and grandma coming to see the palms and beaches and exotic birds -- is mostly history now. Foreigners have accounted for most tourist growth of recent decades -- the majority from Latin America, with good chunks from the Caribbean and Canada as well. Broward's Sawgrass Mills, where the parking lot is dense with chartered buses -- mostly foreigners -- is Florida's second most frequently visited tourist destination.

Now and for the future, Broward and Palm Beach depend more than they might wish to acknowledge on the Miami allure and proximity, plus Miami's special ties to Latin America. The Miami name is already so familiar that a good part of the world will always say "Miami" when it means South Florida.

All for one?

We looked for groups in South Florida interested in region-wide collaborations. The most active, it appears, are the three counties' business promotion groups, in alliance with the universities and foundations. Cumulatively, they seem far ahead of the politicos in seeing down the road, grasping the potentials of South Florida as a closely interdependent entity.

Yet collaboration's still the exception, not the rule. Too few people, too seldom, pause to think how intimately interconnected South Florida's three great urban counties are.

Maybe a physical image would help. Imagine viewing South Florida from a space ship at night. Would you discern three quite distinct places? No. Time and population numbers have fused these communities, into a virtually continuous strip of light, brightest beside the Atlantic, fading into darkness near the Everglades.

Or think of the flowing rivers of hundreds of thousands of headlights, north to south and east to west. This immense, seemingly interminable flow of traffic, community-to-community, county-to-county, underscores the region's intimate connections for work, shopping, play and learning.

Yet watch how the rivers of headlights congeal, congest, decelerate toward gridlock, and you witness at least one of the critical challenges South Florida's counties must address jointly.

"We are really capable of making a pluperfect mess here, even as we talk of being competitive in the global environment," laments John DeGrove of FAU/FIU Joint Center for Environmental and Urban Problems, former Florida secretary of community affairs.