essay: 180 days

Susan Askew
Susan Askew
After moving to Miami Beach full-time almost two years ago, I fell hard for this city. I’d been coming here sporadically for about ten years with no connection to the people or the place. I saw what every outsider sees: people simply coming and going and the glamour and grit of an international urban environment.
 
What hit me almost immediately upon settling in is that Miami Beach is a small town, in all the best ways. There is a history (albeit young compared to other American cities) that includes our architecture but, more importantly, our people. I am amazed by all the Beach High grads I meet. At first I chuckled that it was simply “Beach High” but now it seems just right. What else would it be? Miami Beach High School is just too stuffy and formal. This is the Beach, after all, where we take some things seriously but not too seriously. Life is good here.
 
Yet, we are also a town of transplants and we all know what it means to walk into a room where we don’t know anyone. Magnify that to an entire city. Taking a stab at integrating into the community, I joined the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce. As a small business owner, I was interested in learning from others who had done business here. Again, I met with the unexpected: seasoned entrepreneurs who always said “yes” when I asked them for coffee, offering up advice and encouragement when I needed it most. Now I am committed to extending that same kindness and openness to others. And that’s just it, isn’t it? The cycle of community that has been forged here. We all start at the beginning, are helped by others, and we pay it forward, enriching this community’s character further.
 
After sitting through hours of neighborhood, business, and City Commission meetings, I noticed a gap in awareness of how to have an impact on issues facing us. Often these things would not come to our attention until the last minute, when decisions were already baked. It’s not for a lack of information. It’s out there. It’s just often hard to find and most definitely time consuming to read through material or attend meetings. I was already doing the work and putting in the time. Why not share it with an eye toward bringing people together to participate collaboratively in the process?
 
And so, 180 days ago, the experiment that is RE:MiamiBeach launched. It has been a fun, heartwarming adventure. I have met many people who are as passionate about this City and ensuring its future as I am. They are City Commissioners and Board members, City staff, small business owners, big developers, environmentalists, and preservationists. Many I now call friends. We don’t always agree and the process isn’t always pretty but we are deeply connected to each other, to our neighborhoods, our local businesses, our environment. I am inspired and awed by all of you.
 
What I’ve learned: We can make a difference working together. The conversation around raising our roads is one where people and process benefitted from residents speaking up. The spotlight on keeping the City clean is another. The first developments in the revitalization of North Beach, one more.
 
On the lighter side, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. An ice rink in Miami Beach? Who knew?
 
Stormwater is one word. Except when it’s not.
 
The Snickers bars in the City Hall vending machine are smaller than they used to be.
 
And always wear a sweater or jacket to Commission Chambers. There may not be an ice rink in there but there might as well be!
 
That said, there is a real warmth in this town that is not just from the sunshine. I look forward to many more opportunities to work with all of you. Thank you for being so welcoming and encouraging.

Photo: City of Miami Beach