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The Downtown News adventure started three years ago with a simple idea: a publication focused exclusively on a growing Downtown. The Downtown Neighbors Alliance (DNA) funded it. The challenge was doing it with a budget that couldn’t have paid half the salary of a part-time journalist. Not only that, but we also aimed for print and online editions. (Online means video, photography, music, podcasts… Multimedia.)
The Downtown Arts + Science Salon (DASS) volunteered many a service, and together with the DNA helped organize a team of citizen journalists. Eventually, a generous grant came from the office of Miami-Dade Commissioner Eileen Higgins, and other sponsors. Still, the story of Downtown News is best defined as Downtown residents committed to producing reliable information on issues affecting the various enclaves of the neighborhood. Information not available elsewhere.
One objective was to help build a neighborhood common interest. Commonality translates into political representation. Working on the cover story for May, Self-Portrait of Downtown, we contacted dozens of residents and stakeholders to give us their perception of the place we call home, and not few coincided in pointing out our inadequate political representation. Of course, that brings to mind the old saying, it takes two to tango. Even thought our tax-base, among the highest in Miami, ought to speak loud and clear when it comes to representation, politicians respond to the language of votes, and contributions. In other words, a political analyst mused, Downtown Miami needs to get politically involved to realize its enormous potential. Not much is needed. At the City Commission level, for example, elections are decided by a couple hundred votes, and the Greater Downtown accounts for more the 110,000 residents. Yes, we are a political sleeping giant.
For first anniversary, Commissioner Ken Russel, District 2, which includes Downtown, commented: “Downtown News’ coverage of the neighborhood, spotlight on the cultural activities, specialized features, and letters to the editor are all key components of robust and civic-minded journalism. Under the editorial stewardship of Raul Guerrero, Downtown News has grown into a thoughtful and clear vehicle through which Downtowners can remain engaged in the activities of the city and county.”
For the second anniversary, Eileen Higgins, Miami-Dade Commissioner, District 5, which includes Downtown, reminisced about the beginnings of Downtown NEWS, and briefly assessed the state of local news. “We all know newspapers, under heavy online competition, to make ends meet have been cutting local coverage, and community issues go underreported or not reported.”
Considering how vital an informed electorate is for democracy, how should we address this local news desert? “People, citizens, have to determine how valuable local news outlets are for them and do something about it. That is what the DNA did, downtown residents decided to create their own newspaper, to allocate funds to run a publication. Downtown residents chose to be informed and engaged through their hyper-local Downtown News… An example of a community taking action, creating a publication that is newsworthy but also fun and social…”
From the outset, we strived to celebrate culture, one important catalyst for the downtown prosperity now beginning to materialize. The Director of the Perez Arts Museum Miami (PAMM) told us: “Downtown is the future of Miami. Art, culture and commerce will lead the way!”
And Mayor Francis Suarez echoed the sentiment: “Downtown is rapidly becoming the model neighborhood every City in America dreams of having — a robust city center where people can live, work, and play without ever having to leave home.”
Amenities is an indicator of a city’s desirability. Our cultural amenities have no match in South Florida and beyond.
We are a promise standing on a solid foundation. Two other indicators that attract people to cities besides job opportunities are walkability, and diversity. Downtown is the most walkable neighborhood in Miami, and we breathe diversity, ethnic, generational, in food, language, and architecture. As tech and finance companies flock to Miami from New York and California, Downtown is labeled the Wall Street of the South, implying wealth.
But a few clouds loom in the horizon: Scarce affordable housing, sea-rise level, a diseased Biscayne Bay, aged infrastructure, and the absence of schools. Transit is at best mediocre, and can’t omit the never-ending issue of homelessness. One resident reminded us that both Bayfront and Maurice Ferré Parks, our two green oases, need some TLC. Other residents are less pacifist regarding the inviolable right of residents to local parks, and have taken on the powers that be with a well-known diplomatic stance: Speak softly but carry a big stick!
At this inflection point, if one word could capture Downtown News’ disposition pondering the future for Downtown, one strong candidate would be optimism.
Our gratitude to the team of writers, photographers and editors who made the May issue, our third anniversary issue, possible: Left to right, Aaron DeMayo, columnist. Islara Souto, editor and columnist. Aurea Veras, photographer. Marc Schmidt, guest photographer. Niels Johansen, photography editor. Matilda Kalaveshi, columnist. Stephen Dutton, copy editor and columnist. Ria Iparraguirre, online intern and musical guest.
Speaking of acknowledgements, two ladies who believed in the project must be mentioned, former DNA Presidents Cristina Palomo and Amal Solh Kabbani. Last but not least, Itai Benosh.
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