Thursday, February 15, 2007
How do you remake a city? The Council of Hialeah, Florida, famous for its Cuban-American majority, voted last week to approve a new zoning plan to create special business districts in the city of more than 200,000, just north of Miami. The plan appears to be part of an effort to remake the appearance and commerce of Hialeah, which is also famous for its low-key and low-density land uses of modest houses, small shops, and restaurants.
I question (as usual) the wisdom of having government try to remake the commercial outlook of a city in a particular way. Typically, much tax money is spent, many grand plans fail, and well-connected businesses tend to do better than those without key contacts.
On the other hand, the Hialeah project, which calls for mixed use development with many low-cost residences above ground-floor businesses, seems like the type of loosening of land use restrictions to allow higher densities that is desperately needed in southeast Florida, where build-able land is rapidly disappearing. If the zoning changes allow for the construction of new buildings in which a fourth-story low-cost apartment unit sits above a small insurance office on the second floor, which rests above a cafe serving black beans and plantain on the first floor, this seems like a rationale and welcome vision for 21st century Hialeah –- or any place, for that matter.