Pamela Druckerman’s NYT Op-Ed, “Miami Grows Up. A Little.“ sure hit a chord. What was meant to be an insider’s clever tour through a region’s history read more like a foreigner’s social appraisal of a city she no longer understands. Sprinkled with truths and doused in disrespect, my first instinct was to raise my voice in defense. But there’s what to learn from people’s confusion about Miami. Lessons about inclusion and the new educational economy, about regional beauty and civic leadership. So let’s allow this to be a teachable moment — first for us in Miami who may still wear these insults like a scarlet M, not realizing what a gift it is to live in a city during its adolescence. But more importantly, let’s celebrate this as a teachable moment for cities across this country that feel pressured to pretend to be a “little New York” instead of relishing in exactly who they are.
Lesson 1: Worldliness is the new “cosmopolitan.”
Yes, we speak a blended dialect here. In a global city like ours, making fun of our regional “accent” is a sign of ignorance. The value of our ideas is not qualified by whether or not English is our first language, and assuming we’re not as smart if we slip elements of other languages into our conversation is a sign of multicultural naiveté. There’s a reason we’re able to boast having the most microbusiness per-capita while also being a tourist trap, and why we can house Art Basel and EDM in the same small town. Instead of throwing darts at our offerings, put on some neon, crank up the music of your choice and take some notes.
Lesson 2: Excellence for SOME is passé. Opportunity for ALL is king.
Many tease Miami for being a city devoid of intellectual power. Aside from being completely asinine, that is rooted in a very old-fashioned understanding of what a strong education system is all about. In the previous century, perhaps a city’s educational prowess could be measured by the number of elite universities it housed. In an era where the democratization of information is happening faster than universities can catch up, the number of PHDs in a city just isn’t as lustrous as the likelihood that everyone can achieve opportunities.
We are endlessly proud that our nation’s “Superintendent of the Year” led us to win this year’s Broad Prize for Urban Education, increasing black and Hispanic graduation, achievement and college-readiness rates faster than any other urban district in the United States. We are honored to boast the second largest institution of higher education in the U.S., and we are thankful to host one of our nation’s most successful statewide career and adult education system. Our city of immigrants is focused on the success of all people, and we have no delusions about the long road ahead. Instead of taking jabs at our intellect, perhaps others in the nation should take cues from our educational leadership.
Lesson 3: Established cities are great, but SHAPING a city is inspirational.
Yes, we look like a giant construction project. I can’t tell you the number of cities around the world that would cut off their right arm for that problem. We are thriving, and the cranes are up. But we’re not just building…we’re collaboratively creating. Watch with bated breath as the Knight Foundation invests in our “Startup City,” and take a visit to LAB Miami, Venture Hive and countless other hubs for entrepreneurialism now bursting at the seams. Visit our International Book Fair, and learn with our Girls Who Code. Relish in the homegrown ideas and national programs that are making a difference here. It may take a moment longer in a city as robust as Miami to find “people like you.” But as you’re finding them, perhaps you’ll stop by Sweat Records, O Cinema or Locust Projects to meet people who manage to be deliberately welcoming while pushing the boundaries of their fields. Tune in to The Miami Foundation’s recent Public Spaces Challenge, which invited every citizen to bring ideas to life across our city. Learn about Meg Daly and the Green Link. Join in the Roller Derby in Bayfront Park. We’re alive. Skim the 30 Days of Change Miami page to learn about issues you can help tackle and people you can do it with. Grab a bite with the Algonquin Dinner Club or Miami Soup to meet new friends and support local initiatives. If you’re not sure where to start, check out Our City Thoughts or Infraculture….The Starting Gate or Creative Mornings. But do us all a favor and do some more searching before determining that a massive region is devoid of genuine creativity and worthy social offerings. Our skyline is still being negotiated, our libraries are being re-imagined and our future is being co-written by a thousand voices. Yours could be one of them.
Lesson 4: Inner strength trumps our perfect smile.
Miami takes heat for being a city concerned with outer beauty. And yes, the world has taken many cues from us about what is attractive, from our fitness routines to our music scenes. But the most important lessons from the 305 are about our values. Our local celebrities make us proud on the courts and screens, but their philanthropic dollars make countless non-profits able to achieve their goals. From Cuba to Haiti, we invest unwaveringly in the needs of our neighbors.
We have ways to go as a city, and for the most part, we own our flaws and actively seek to improve. Corruption, transit, persistent inequality and the threats of the rising tide all chip away at our potential. But for every problem, I see people stepping up with solutions. It’s easy to tear down the progress of others, but perhaps on your next visit you’ll join us in shaping the future instead.
Photo © Tomas Loewy
Editor’s Note: The article originally appeared in Huffington Post in 2014.