Posted on Tue, Jan. 25, 2011
Better uses for money than arena-site park
Pardon Irby McKnight if he's not overly excited about the prospect of the creation of a park where the Miami Arena once stood. McKnight isn't against the addition of green space in Miami's blighted Overtown neighborhood; he just doesn't see how it's going to help his community. An activist who for three decades has participated in numerous boards and committees that promised to revive the area, he's heard plenty of grandiose ideas for redeveloping Overtown -- from creating tax-free zones to building movie studios.
In the 1980s, it was the Miami Arena and the creation of a Community Redevelopment Agency that was supposed to pump life back into the neighborhood. It never happened.
Not only did the arena not generate the promised jobs for area residents, it began to decline only years after being built. It was razed two years ago. And despite millions of dollars in community redevelopment funds spent during the last three decades, the community continues to spiral downward.
``Overtown is in worse condition now than it was then,'' he sighs.
Now a developer who has built lofts near the arena site is proposing that the city of Miami put $200,000 in community redevelopment money toward a park on the arena parcel. The park, which would host events and possibly soccer matches, would be temporary -- a sort of placeholder while the arena site's owner works toward building a small convention center.
Here's what McKnight would do with the community redevelopment money instead: Put it toward subsidizing educational and work-training programs for people living in Overtown.
Other community residents have their own ideas for putting the money to better use -- creating a public vegetable garden, luring a major grocery store, building a community education/training center.
But those aren't the kinds of projects many politicians want to hear about. They aren't grandiose. They don't generate attention-grabbing headlines.
``Politicians want big things,'' McKnight says. ``They don't want to hear about the little things. Well, for people who have given up, it's the little things that make life worth living.''
More specifically, they make daily life livable. Little things, like free or low-cost childcare centers so that moms can work or go to school. Little things, like better transportation services so that those who don't drive can go out and find jobs or buy groceries.
Those are the little things many people in the community give each other every day because no one else will. Every so often, McKnight says, outside organizations come to Overtown and one of the first things they do is try to enlist local volunteers because it will help them obtain funding.
When few people from the neighborhood sign up to volunteer, they want to know why.
``It's because people here already are volunteering,'' he says.
They volunteer to take care of their neighbor's kids so the neighbor can work. They volunteer to drive the elderly person next door to the grocery store or the bank. They volunteer to wash the clothing of neighbors who don't have washing machines.
Those are crevices of necessity that are unreachable by mega projects like sports arenas that don't produce the jobs promised to a community.
An arena? A soccer park? A convention center? Sure, it all sounds really good -- except when you consider all the little ways community redevelopment money could be put to better use.