Manny Diaz served as mayor of Miami from 2001 to 2009 and is currently a partner at Lydecker Diaz, and a member of Penn IUR’s Advisory Board. Diaz’s most recent book is Miami Transformed: Rebuilding America One Neighborhood, One City at a Time.
The focus of politics in America has to change—- and that is why I wrote Miami Transformed: Rebuilding America One Neighborhood, One City at a Time.
Many politicians write memoirs and biographies, and while there is much of that in Miami Transformed, it is also my hope that readers will find something even more important. My premise is that we need to restore pragmatism in politics through a renewed investment in our cities. Unless we do so, we will continue to head down a very perilous road.
I understand I am not the first to say that our country’s politics are failing too many of America’s cities. Yet, it is a painful realization. This is especially true given my background: born in another country, a political exile in the United States—the country that took me in— where I grew up and came to deeply appreciate and love the liberty and boundless opportunity this nation provides. My personal and professional experiences—from immigrant, to businessman, to mayor of a major American city—have brought me to this conclusion: To rebuild America, we must rebuild our cities, making investments in the people and places that make us great, and make us who we are.
Cities are organic living creations that must anticipate the needs of future residents, and continuously re-create themselves accordingly. Cities and urban centers are now home to over half the world’s population. In the United States, just over 80 percent of people live in cities, and that number is increasing. Metro areas drive our national economy, accounting for 92 percent of our nation’s economic growth, and almost 90 percent of all jobs, income, and GDP. The economic and social vitality of cities has a tremendous impact on individual citizens, and on the American people as a whole. Cities are where we as a nation can realize the greatest return on our investment.
Government needs to go back to the principles of making targeted investments in the people, places and things that will yield results. When you invest in people—through education, jobs training, the arts, health, public safety—you develop a citizenry that is educated and prepared to compete with the best and brightest in the world. When you invest in place—through better infrastructure that includes bridges, roads, and ports—and in technology, you create the kind of communities where private investment follows, and that people are proud to call home.
As a country, we need to set aside differences and instead have a conversation about our shared priorities. Where do we as Americans need to invest in order to get the best possible results? The answer: in our cities. Let us agree on our priorities, fund them, invest in our people and places, then get out of the way and let America’s entrepreneurial spirit take over.
This is the lesson you learn as a mayor—when one minute you are meeting with a Fortune 500 CEO and the next minute you have a constituent in your office that wants a pothole fixed. Every person matters. Every problem matters. Government’s role is to create the climate of opportunity where both the CEO and the constituent are confident that government is responsive to their needs, where government has made an investment for their success. It is a lesson that worked for Miami, and one that can work for our nation as well.