A Routine Dying
DeDe Bradley had just left the Kwik Stop with one of her six children in tow. Minutes later she was pronounced dead at the scene of yet another hit-and-run on the streets of Miami-Dade County. All of her kids, including a newborn, were now orphans. The little one with her that evening had to witness his mother fly through the air seconds after she had saved his life, pulling him back from the oncoming vehicle.
“Have a heart”, Bradley’s aunt said into the news cameras, hoping the killer was watching. “Give yourself up.”, she went on. “Think of it if it was your mom or your kids or anything like that.”
These kinds of tragedies have become so commonplace in South Florida, that the appeals to a sense of decency, which often follow, seem cliché. A lack of empathy is made even more egregious by the leniency the law affords drivers in cases of vehicular homicide.
In March of 2018, Denise March and Carlos Rodriguez were killed by a “distracted” driver. Pleading No Contest, Nicole Vanderweit, was slapped with a miniscule $1,000 dollar fine and 120 hours of community service. But, the ultimate proof that we are living in an automotive dystopia was the fact that her license was suspended for a paltry six months.
The World Health Organization calculates that 1.25 million people are killed every year as a result of car accidents, and anywhere between 20 and 50 million more are maimed or injured. 40,000 of such fatalities happen in the U.S., on average - a number that has been exceeded 3 years in a row, placing it just under suicide as a leading cause of death.
Miami-Dade County has the distinction of being the car-accident capital of Florida, itself the most car-accident-prone state in the nation. But, the greatest risk is reserved for pedestrians who brave the asphalt in Miami, which has a Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) of 182, a full 126 points higher than the national average, making us the most lethal place in the United States to take a stroll.
The deliberate evisceration of public transit by a cohort of municipal officials and constituents so hostile to quality of life, that even bicycles are deemed a threat, has made the problem exponentially worse.
People like Miami-Dade County Mayor, Carlos Giménez who is responsible for the wholesale misallocation of transit funds and Coral Gables Mayor, Raúl Valdés-Fauli, who twice blocked the implementation of bike lanes in the wealthiest suburb of Miami, have created the conditions to exact a penalty for having the audacity to not own or drive a car.
The Toll on Humanity
Miami is a place designed for the automobile, not people. Instead of neighborhoods we have interminable rows of cookie-cutter homes prized for the size of their garages and the landscaping of their driveways.
Daily commutes of 20 miles or more are the norm and our homes are glorified rest stops where we park our cars while we eat and go to the bathroom. Raising a family in Miami is practically impossible without a vehicle. Parents will enter into legally-binding contracts with their children before the age of 16 when they co-sign for their first car.
Everything is set up to keep you driving. Good luck dating in Miami without a car. Your friends will stop calling you if you always need a ride somewhere. The bus? That’s for poor people. That’s what grandma use to take back in Cuba or whatever place this place is supposed to be so much better than. The third world. Get a car. Un Transportation, they’ll tell you.
With very few exceptions, Miamians fall in line. Enthusiastically, in most cases. They’ll develop an emotional attachment to their two-ton metal object. Years of subliminal conditioning from movies and peer groups will make the transition seamless; obvious, even.
The city, itself, starts to become more and more car-centric. Any vestiges of a traditional city past are destroyed and structures meant for the automobile take their place. Overtown, a once thriving community, was leveled to erect I-95 back in the 1960’s. Today, hardly anything remains in Miami that does not cater first to the car and second, if at all, to people.
What’s left is an inhospitable ode to consumerism. The ruins of city life have become fetishized by developers who swoop in and build fake, city-like enclaves over areas decimated by decades of economic stagnation in a process called “gentrification”.
Brickellistas in the Midst
Teeming with young professionals, multi-million-dollar high rise condos and a brand-spanking new luxury retail mall, the “financial” district of Miami features what is considered to be a vibrant social scene. Look more closely and what you’ll find is more akin to a mining town from the old West, albeit without the dirt floors and swankier bars.
In fact, boomtowns are the blueprint for the modern American city, which aren’t really cities at all. Like those ad-hoc settlements where miners and journeymen settled for a time, Brickell was built to extract the earnings of its residents through alcohol and marginal forms of entertainment during their off-hours. Mere blocks from Brickell, which is undergoing a new development phase, the store and restaurant-windows of the abandoned boom town gather dust.
Mana Construction signs hang from virtually every awning along Flagler Street in the heart of the city. The development company has been buying up property in Downtown for a few years now. A sort-of real estate futures play betting on the area’s projected revival. Ostensibly, the new Brightline terminal, along with the eventual completion of “Miami World Center” will produce the economic equivalent of a Narcan shot to the practically dead city core.
Meanwhile, the Main Public Library hosts more indigents than students, the stench of feces and urine will assault your senses on every other downtown block and the historic Olympia theater clings to life between vacant lots, mocking the rare passerby with a sign that welcomes them to the “New Downtown”.
The contrast between these two areas, separated by a 50-yard stretch of the Miami River couldn’t be starker. But, there is nothing fundamentally different. Neither hosts a community of any kind. They’re just two shopping malls. One reflects the fruits of a recent capital infusion; the other sits abandoned, awaiting the laundered billions to materialize.
No Place Like Home
In the throes of America’s Westward expansion, a man whose biggest claim to fame would come as a result of his allegorical criticism of the robber barons in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, L. Frank Baum was the editor of the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer when he wrote a screed in support of the genocide of Native Americans just five days after the massacre at Wounded Knee:
The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe those untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.
It is in the insane words of a Dakota Territories Settler, that we find the seed of the modern American city, enshrining within it the mentality that gave birth to a certain demographic of the modern American citizenry. The persistent pattern of village razing and development at the center of so much of this nation’s economy, innocuously referred to as the boom and bust real estate cycle, is nothing more than a manifestation of the colonial mind.
Perhaps no other city in the world suffers from a higher frequency of these unnatural cycles than Miami. The frenetic pace of development, redevelopment, house flipping and everything in between makes us shed more skin than a python in the Everglades.
The chances of anyone in Miami growing up in the same house are quite low for the vast majority of the cash-poor and underpaid population. What’s more, the chances of growing into adulthood and being able to find your childhood home may be just as slim. In all likelihood, your memories have been trounced by bulldozers and replaced with a parking lot.
Nothing lasts half a generation in Miami. Everything is always new, unfamiliar and on the chopping block. For converts of the church of free market economics, this is the way things should be. Consumer demand should dictate life on earth. Continuity is a luxury only the very rich can afford. The rest of us should be left at the mercy of their tornado of market-induced indifference and pining for home like Dorothy in the middle of the desert.
The King has no Brakes
The automobile is ever present in the American experience, like a clue to the pathology of escapism embedded in so many other of its “pastimes”. Cloaked in phony euphemistic descriptors like “social mobility” and “freedom”, the car is driving us off the edge of a cliff.
In Miami, much of the public transit conversation centers around traffic and finding solutions to the inevitable gridlock of more and more cars on the street. But, the issue is much more profound. In a place like Miami, where car-ownership is a requirement for socio-economic viability in virtually every sense, our lack of public transit is an attack against human being-ness.
When you don’t have a choice but to own a car and drive it every single day, that is not freedom. That is not social mobility. It is the very opposite. Your freedom - in its most basic and real sense - has been subsumed under a paradigm that requires you to carry a massive financial burden and unacceptable levels of stress as you try to not die or kill someone on the road each time you get in a vehicle.
It’s no wonder people don’t stop after hitting a mother of six on her way out of the convenience store. Human beings are not supposed to be in a position where daily routine poses a fatal risk to other human beings. The driver who killed DeDe Bradley is as much a victim as she was. Nicole Vanderweit shouldn’t have to be in a position in which a momentary lapse of attention results in the death of two people.
But this is where we live. What do we call such a place? This isn’t a city. It’s some sort of big roadside motel. A place to crash, at best.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Alejandra Agredo, a budding transit activist who, perhaps, would have been free to pursue other dreams if we didn’t need someone like her in a place like this.