To create future, first build clout

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By: Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
January 19, 2014

From all the ideas that emerged at an extraordinary, two-year visioning effort that wrapped up this past week, one thing is obvious: to implement the change needed to keep South Florida livable and viable, we need change agents to continue to meet, build coalitions, stand up for us and keep our eye on the horizon.

Tough issues face South Florida when it comes to transportation, insurance, sea-level rise, quality of life and more.

But where to start? What’s the low-hanging fruit? When an informed panel was asked that question at Wednesday’s cap-off event, each person talked about their own areas of interest, their own silos, if you will. The group never agreed, “Let’s take that hill.”

There’s reason, of course. The Seven50 regional planning initiative wasn’t meant to tell us what to do, even as it engaged about 200 groups and governments in examining and imagining the region. It was meant to give us a snapshot of today, and ask what we want to look like when our seven-county region swells from 6 to 9 million people over the next 50 years.

What was great is that the initiative engaged all sorts of political leaders, business folks, crusaders and others in a fact-filled examination that lives at Check it out. The video is particularly well done.

Still, some people have nothing good to say about Seven50. They see it as a big government program, funded by a big government grant, that will spur big-government monstrosities. Tea party protestors in Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River — to the north of Palm Beach — encouraged their county commissions to withdraw from the initiative. Two have, one may yet.

The pushback comes from a fear that regional influence will undermine local character and control. Some northern neighbors believe they will be forced to accept high-density housing when they don’t want Miami-style high-rises or any more growth at all. It’s why some people moved there — to escape.

However, the Seven50 initiative doesn’t dictate anything. Its participants go out of their way to underscore local sovereignty. No one wants to make Vero Beach look like Key West or Fort Lauderdale. Still, nine percent of attendants said the initiative is headed in the wrong direction.

But the vast majority know that if we do nothing, nothing good will happen.

And if we don’t do something, our kids and grandkids may not be able to fulfill their dreams here.

Maybe it was too ambitious to define South Florida as seven counties. For while Monroe,Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach share a natural affinity, it’s a stretch to include the other three.

Yes, we must think big. But it’s tough enough to corral the four southern counties behind a common cause. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez likes to joke that two things can be seen from outer space: the Great Wall of China and the Dade-Broward line.

So let’s start there.

Let’s break down the barriers and create strong connective tissue between the four southern counties. The seeds have been planted. It’s exciting to hear leaders from Palm Beach to Monroe talk about new coalitions, including a business coalition like the Tampa Bay Partnership, which has gotten Central Florida communities to back one another even when they don’t have a direct stake.

Count this editorial board among those who want to help.

At the moment, Monroe County is screaming for attention on insurance. Windstorm and flood premiums are pricing people out of their homes. The issue affects us all, though our housing spike has muted the noise here. So let’s join Monroe’s chorus.

The most important coalition, of course, would be a muscled-up legislative caucus. We need to harness the influence of individual lawmakers and create a regional agenda in Tallahassee. More than an R or a D, let’s make the SF label matter. As it is, regional leaders believe Central Florida is cleaning our clock.

As an aside, it’s worth noting how differently South Florida approaches the politically charged topic of climate change. Here, people don’t question whether the sea is rising or what is causing it. Here, the conversation is, “How are we going to manage it?” But it takes money to raise sea walls, move drinking-water wellfields and raise road beds and buildings. Which leads us back to the need for regional clout.

The entire leadership team of Seven50 deserves applause for this significant kickstart effort, including Jim Murley of the South Florida Regional Planning Council and Michael Busha of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.

The question now is, what’s our next step?

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