Politics Hurt Liberty City?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Leading planner: Politics to blame for Liberty City problems

By John Dorschner 
Andres Duany
    Andres Duany, an internationally respected urban planner and architect, blames politics for the lack of development in Liberty City.
     "Basically there are handlers of the government subsidies and they don't want anyone interfering. ... It's disgusting."
      He said a "huge mafia" works to control the government funds that finance considerable housing in Liberty City and don't want outside developers or urban planners like Duany interfering in their business. 
       Duany said this some weeks ago when I asked him: Why has an area like Wynwood, longtime home to Puerto Ricans of modest income, surged with private development in recent years, while Liberty City, longtime home of poor African Americans, continues mired in poverty with too many vacant lots, boarded up store fronts and run-down buildings? 
    Duany made the comment during an interview for a profile on him and his partner-wife, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, for the Biscayne Times (available HERE). 
    He said it before an intense political feud erupted in the press over the $200-million redevelopment of  the 700-unit Liberty Square public housing project. The feud involves Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, whose daughter Raquel is running for county mayor against the current county mayor, Carlos Gimenez, whose administration conceived of the elaborate remake.
    Related Group Involved

    The remake is likely to get further politicized as one of the six bidders who submitted proposals by the July 9 deadline was RUDG LLC, connected with mega-developer Related Group, led by Jorge M. Perez, a major player in local politics.
    The question of Wynwood vs. Liberty City was sparked by an observation from Joe Oglesby, former editorial page editor of The Miami Herald, when I talked to him in May, on the 35th anniversary of the McDuffie riot. 
Joe Oglesby

    Oglesby observed how many areas -- including South Beach, the Design District, Coconut Grove and others -- have been transformed in the intervening decades while in many ways Liberty City is “worse today than it was before the riots in 1980.”
    Before, the area had “a fair number of middle class,” people who moved out after the riots, Oglesby said. “And the businesses are not there. There’s some economic activity – government offices, FPL’s office – but Northside Shopping Center is worse today than it was then. It’s almost a flea market. Major retailers are gone.”
    Duany is a supporter of Hope VI projects -- a New Urbanism concept started in 1992 intended to revitalize the worst public housing projects by transforming them into mixed-income spaces in which the poor would live among the middle class. More than 200 projects were completed, at an expense of more than $5 billion.

    Attacked by Left and Right
    "Hope VI was attacked from the right because it was considered too good for the poor. It was attacked by the left wing because it deconcentrated poverty, and there was a net loss of units," by having less clustering in small apartments, so instead of 1000 units, there were 600." 
    Duany maintains that in many places, many of the old public housing units were empty because they were in such poor shape, but what happened in Miami was a mess of a different kind -- the redo of Scott Carver as a Hope VI project was miserably mismanaged by government officials, displacing hundreds of residents in a mire of delays lasting a dozen years -- such a disaster that The Miami Herald won a Pulitzer for it with a series called House of Lies.
    For board members of the Miami Workers Center, which advocates for the poor, Hope VI became a phrase for something that screwed the poor in the name of gentrification -- without giving them any say in how the changes were managed.
    A 2004 study of Hope VI by the Urban Institute, a lberal Washington think tank, found "some notable accomplishments" of reviving distressed public housing and served as "an incubator for innovations"  such as project financing by public-private partnerships. 
    Conflict with city governments

    "Some projects have helped turn around conditions in the surrounding neighborhoods and have contributed to the revitalization of whole inner-city communities. However, HOPE VI implementation has also encountered significant challenges. Some HOPE VI projects have been stalled by ineffective implementation on the part of the housing authority or conflict with city government. In others, developments were simply rehabilitated or rebuilt in the same distressed communities, with little thought to innovative design, effective services, or neighborhood revitalization.
    "Most seriously, there is substantial evidence that the original residents of HOPE VI projects have not always benefited from redevelopment, even in some sites that were otherwise successful. This can be partly attributed to a lack of meaningful resident participation in planning and insufficient attention to relocation strategies and services."
    The new Liberty Square project is not formally a Hope VI project, but it is using many of its New Urbanism ideas -- middle class paying market rates for some units, mixed-use zoning that could include shops, perhaps even a super market.
    Michael Liu, a former Washington housing official who took over county housing last year, has been working assiduously to keep residents informed, including showing Liberty Square resident leaders similar projects, such as one in Tampa.

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