The research is in: Across America, the cities that are thriving economically are those where people — especially skilled, talented people — love to live.
So where does that leave Miami, a city blessed by temperate climate, natural beauty and a uniquely diverse culture and population, but also beset by a youth brain drain, uneven schooling, and low levels of what urban experts call “affinity” — i.e., the aforementioned love for the place?
With lots of potential, but also in need of much more prosperity-giving TLC.
Which is just what the Miami Foundation has set out to provide with its Our Miami initiative, which launches Sunday with a special insert in The Miami Herald and an interactive website at http://ourmiami.org.
The foundation’s idea: First to give Miamians a chance to sift through information on 10 key indicators of community well-being, ranging from the local economy to social life, education and aesthetics. The idea is to promote discussion.
Then, in the fall, the foundation will solicit ideas for projects to help make Miami a more attractive place to live. It will make available $500,000 in grants for winning proposals this year.
The foundation also hopes to strengthen a sense of community by encouraging people to volunteer for or donate to groups that work to improve quality of life in Miami, in particular those focused on helping kids go to college.
“We hope to do a few things, and one of them is to grow attachment to Miami,” said Miami Foundation president and CEO Javier Soto. “We think that’s important to drive our economy and drive up civic engagement.”
The initiative is a collaboration with the locally based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The group’s mammoth, three-year Soul of the Community survey of 26 U.S. cities, including Miami, forms the basis for the project along with the work of celebrated urbanologist — and newly established part-time Miami Beach resident — Richard Florida.
Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, has documented how “creative” workers like scientists, engineers, tech entrepreneurs, artists and designers have become the motor of the U.S. economy. He says they congregate in “cool,” diverse, gay-friendly and pedestrian-oriented cities rich with cultural, social and recreational amenities, driving expanding local economies.
Oftentimes, members of this young, mobile generation will choose where to live first, then worry about finding work. That makes quality of place — including elements like parks, bike lanes, restaurants and lively neighborhoods — a critical ingredient in attracting and keeping talent and fostering economic prosperity, Florida and the Knight Foundation survey both concluded.
“They vote with their feet,” said Nancy Jones, the Miami Foundation’s communications director.
The Knight survey, conducted by Gallup, identified 10 factors that make people feel emotionally connected to the places they live, and uncovered what residents liked in particular about the cities they live in. Miamians, it found, while proud of their hometown’s beauty and openness to different people, scored at the bottom in levels of community involvement.
“We have to change that,” Soto said. “This project is a strategy to move that needle.”
The survey also found that three out of four respondents felt the Miami metro area is “not a place where people care about each other,” and two-thirds said it’s “not a good place for talented college graduates looking for work,” Knight’s Miami program officer Matt Haggman writes in the insert.
For Our Miami, the Miami Foundation asked Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center to layer local data atop the 10 factors to find how residents’ perceptions align with reality. The full report can be found on the Our Miami website, with some highlights in Sunday’s special section.
The Beacon Council, the quasi-public business-development organization, has embarked on a complementary project to identify ways of fostering Miami’s “creative” economy. The Miami Foundation’s Our Miami initiative will focus on the other piece of the puzzle, what urbanists call “placemaking.” That means creating or improving “real” urban neighborhoods of the type that lure the creative class.
“The question is, what can we do to create a place that’s attractive to these young creative folks? We believe firmly that keeping our talent, and recruiting fresh talent, ought to be a key focus for our community,” Soto said.