Last night the ULI Southeast Florida/Caribbean Vision Awards was a debutante ball for Miami urbanism and adaptive reuse: Lifetime Achievement was given posthumously to Tony Goldman, private sector Project of the Year went to the Lincoln Theater redevelopment, and one of the two Young Leader of the Year recipients was me. After thanking ULI and a long list of individuals who took a chance on me over the years, these were my remarks: I want to say a few words about great urban neighborhoods, neighborhoods like South Beach and Wynwood (really anywhere Tony Goldman invested), Little Havana, the North End, the West Village, the French Quarter, old Savannah and Cartagena, Harlem and Copenhagen.
I want my kids and grandkids to have the benefits of these neighborhoods, the convenience, community, and culture. Many Dade County urban neighborhoods will be redeveloped in our lifetime, and each deserves to be great in its own way.
For that to happen, we need to know how to build great urban neighborhoods, and how to do that predictably and consistently. The two most important principles are: don’t reinvent the wheel, and don’t wait for superman.
Principle #1: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Most likely your favorite urban neighborhoods are all made up of many iterations of the same type of building: small and adaptable. Just building more of those buildings gets you 95% of the way to a great urban neighborhood.
Principle #2: Don’t wait for superman. A great urban neighborhood is the result not of one hero, but of 1000 small property owners making 1000 small investment decisions. Their inherent diversity creates the neighborhood’s character and strength.
But we don’t see enough of those neighborhoods growing or being built in Dade County. Why not? We put disproportionate burdens on small property owners, and the biggest burden comes from our legal framework, like required parking and water and sewer regulations. It is easier to get approval of 400 units out west than 8 units on a single lot in a central urban neighborhood.
We as a real estate industry need to change so that, as my friend Ken Naylor says, small urban development is as rewarding as large development, be it urban towers or suburban communities. I will continue to dedicate my spare time – through Townhouse Center and other initiatives – to that cause because I think we deserve nothing less.