The decisive role of the highways in determining the fate of Overtown a half century ago is not lost upon City of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.
The southern part of Ms. Spence-Jones’ District #5 (marked in pink the map below) covers Overtown, and she’s clearly had a history lesson or two on the role of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in her historic, predominantly black, socio-economically disadvantaged, yet eager-to-reemerge district.
As we’ve extensively noted over the past few days, Resolution #13-00581 (as originally written) would have transferred control of Brickell Avenue from FDOT to the City of Miami.
Referring to Brickell as the “Park Avenue of Miami”, Sarnoff made a compelling case for the resolution, further emphasizing the potential for better speed control and safety provisions on the financial business district’s most critical artery. He continued:
Now we have the opportunity to own Brickell. This is a very, very big piece for the City of Miami — to take ownership and control of its own Park Avenue. And I just don’t want this opportunity to slip.
On these points, TransitMiami couldn’t agree more with Sarnoff.
Critical to understand, though, is that (in its original form) Resolution #13-00581 would have required the City of Miami to give up control of a handful of important streets in the Historic Overtown / Downtown Miami District. In fact, FDOT was actually trying to take more roadway length than it was actually relinquishing.
Fortunately, FDOT’s desperate grab for Overtown’s historic streets met with a ferocious defense from Commissioner Spence-Jones, demonstrating her thorough understanding of the agency’s highway history in Overtown.
Read closely — this one’s a classic!
Unfortunately, FDOT gets an ‘F’ for our community in Overtown.
They have been responsible for not only destroying a very prevalent African-American community, but also displacing many of them, many of the people that live there. [...]
I am very uncomfortable with giving up any anything in Overtown — in any way — until they handle what they promised they’d handle. There’s things that FDOT has said that they’re going to do [...]. They say one thing, and then it’s a totally different thing.
They haven’t done anything that they committed to do. So, you know, for me to give up something or allow them to take one thing over the other and not have them live up to their responsibility to the residents of Overtown — I have an issue and a concern with it.
So all I asked was for [City of Miami Assistant Manager Alice Bravo] and [City of Miami Manager Johnny Martinez] to set-up a meeting with FDOT and let’s go through all these items that the residents of Overtown have asked for that they have not complied with. [...]
It’s amazing that in the midst of getting [Resolution #13-00581] negotiated, my district [District #5] was considered in it without even having a discussion with me . . . because I would have told you then, that anything that FDOT is doing in Overtown — we got issues! [...]
And then, not only that; beyond that: They promised that they would not take anybody’s property. The next thing I know, they’re taking people’s property!
Then I’m hearing again — without us even having a conversation — you know, the properties that we’re building in Overtown, or trying to create in Overtown . . . now they want to take that side of 14th Street and 3rd Avenue from the businesses that we just put money into . . . so — I got issues with FDOT!
It don’t have anything to do with Brickell [...]. [...]
So all I’m asking is that I would like to have a meeting with FDOT to make sure that our issues get resolved. [...]
If you’re talking about giving them something in OT — Yes! The District 5 Commissioner has a big issue and big problem with it. I’m not saying you can’t get [the transfer of Brickell to the City of Miami done ...]
But Overtown — when it comes to I-95, roadways, highways, anything that sounds like that — it’s a problem for us in Overtown.
It destroyed a community. [...]
TransitMiami has one word for Comissioner Spence-Jones: Righteous!
Resolution #13-00581 was ultimately passed (3 commissioners in favor; 0 opposed) at the most recent Commission meeting on June 13. Fortunately, though, the Resolution was amended to exclude at least parts of the streets in the Overtown / Historic Downtown Miami District. TransitMiami will follow-up with more details soon.
As for now, though, just try to bask in a bit of the glory of Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones’ passionate words in defense of her district and the people of Overtown, and our community at-large. Kudos to you, Commissioner Spence-Jones!
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