Florida in “existential crisis” over climate change, influencers say

By Michelle Marchante

Editor-in-Chief FIU PantherNOW

Inconsistent communication and lack of awareness are just some of the reasons why Florida is in a “existential crisis” over climate change, according to environmental influencers who attended the first day of the Florida Priorities Summit at the University of Miami on Tuesday.

“Just like the Cuban Revolution took everything away, sea level and climate change will take everything away,” said Xavier Cortada, an artist-in-residence at Florida International University who is using his art to raise sea-level rise awareness.

Cortada is one of the Influencers participating in Florida Priorities, the two-day summit that is part of an ongoing project hosted by the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and the Bradenton Herald.  The series has used questions from readers and responses from 50 Florida experts from various disciplines to identify the key challenges facing the state. 

He is also one of six environmental panelists in this year’s summit, along with Tiffany Troxler, director of science at FIU’s Sea Level Solutions Center.

Sea-level rise dominated the group’s discussion Tuesday afternoon as they tried to figure out why Floridians didn’t take the rising waters seriously and what they could do to change it.

The problem, according to Cortada, is that people look at things through an “economic prism,” and don’t realize that sea-level rise will affect them or their families in the future.

Fabiola Fleuranvil, CEO of Blueprint Creative Group, also said that information inconsistency is another layer of the problem, whether it’s between state entities or politicians. Julie Wraithmell, executive director of the Audubon Society and chair of the priority group, agreed.

“Everyone’s good with science when it’s easy,” Wraithmell said. “But everyone is shopping around for the science that is convenient [for them] when it’s not easy.”

David Mica, executive director of Florida Petroleum Council, however, defended the Legislature, saying that most of them want to do the right thing and that it’s important to recognize the progress that has already been made.

Despite small disagreements between Mica and Cortada, the group unanimously agreed that Florida needed to invest in green energy, increase educational awareness and have more media coverage of the environmental problems plaguing the state, such as red tide. However, Troxler said it’s not enough to just raise awareness.

“We need to go beyond the doom & gloom…have a singular focus on what can be done to solve issues,” Troxler said.

Finding a low-cost solution that doesn’t have negative results, however, is a challenge, according to Jorge Perez, chairman and CEO of Related Group, especially in an age of “instant gratification” where people want results immediately.

The red tide plaguing the state has drawn Floridians’ attention to their water, which is where it needs to be right now, Wraithmell said. That’s especially true if that attention can be drawn to the restoration of the Everglades, the largest ecosystem preservation project in the United States, she said,

“By recreating the wetlands, we make sure Florida is livable,” she said.

The panel will report their final decisions on the second day of the summit. Other priorities that will be discussed are education, health care, guns and infrastructure transport.


For Florida Influencers, education is top issue, but solutions aren’t easy

By Christian Ortega
The Reporter—Miami Dade College

The future of our country depends on a well-rounded education. But
as tuition costs and national debt increase, there has never been a more important time to find cost-effective ways to provide the next generation of Americans the tools they need to succeed.

That was one a primary takeaway at the first day of the Florida Priorities Summit, a Miami Herald effort to identify the key issues affecting the state.

A panel of education experts — —including Miami Dade College President Eduardo J. Padrón, American Federation of Teachers Vice President Fedrick Ingram, eMerge Americas CEO Felice Gorordo and United Way of Miami-Dade CEO Maria Alonso—discussed how to further improve the system our state has in place.

The Influencers also discussed the challenges of balancing the needs of public education with the growth of charter schools.

“Florida has seen education as an expense, rather than an investment,” Padrón said.

As Florida has increased funds to the Bright Futures Foundation, Padrón fears that there will be a limit to the number of students relying on financial aid to cover their tuition. That’s because Bright Futures is dispersed based on high school grades, and financial aid is determined by student need.

“The system is designed in a way that excludes many underrepresented populations,” Padron said. “Our state, and our nation, simply cannot afford to lose talented and dedicated students because it’s too expensive to go to college.”

Lawyer Stephen Zach, another member of the education discussion group, said “I have friends of mine who are very wealthy who did not have to pay for their children’s college education….I would ask them how they feel about it and their response was simply, ‘That’s how the system is.’”’

Because Bright Futures is measured by grade point average, it does not take into account extenuating circumstances a student may have that can impede them from attaining the grades required to qualify for the scholarship.

Their solution revolved around finding ways to ensure that ]scholarships are awarded to those who meet the gpa requirements and simultaneously require financial assistance.

The issue of teacher wages was of importance to the Influencers as well.

In last week’s  midterm elections, Miami-Dade voters agreed to a special tax in order to pay teachers more and hire enough officers to protect each school. By July 2019 the county is expected to collect $232 million.

Florida Priorities Summit identifies the state’s most pressing issues

By Alfonso Flores

Florida State University

One week after the midterm elections, the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and Bradenton Herald are hosting the Florida Priorities Summit as part of their “Florida Influencer Series.”

The two-day summit, at the University of Miami, brought together experts from across Florida to use their expertise to propose solutions to the major challenges facing the state: education, gun violence, healthcare, transportation and infrastructure, and environment.

“We went out to the influencer group and said ‘what are the top critical issues that we need to address,’” said Alexandra Villoch, president and publisher of the Miami Herald. “We also went out to readers across the state and invited them to come back and give us their ideas. There was a remarkable amount of consensus that led to these being the top topics.”

Using a crowd-sourcing tool, the Miami Herald asked readers across Florida which issues and topics mattered most.

“The number one issue that the influencers identified as most important to Florida’s future is education,” said Julio Frenk,  president of the University of Miami. “Education is truly the engine that makes progress possible in all other areas: the economy, the environment, social justice and healthcare.”

At the event, the influencers were divided into groups, each of which focused on one of the five different topics., and explored potential solutions to some of the hottest topics facing the Sunshine State.

“Between the work of the influencers today and the summit tomorrow where we invite the community in, our goal is that we will prepare documents that we deliver to our new governor and to our new elected officials in Tallahassee and to the local officials,” Villoch said. “We want to continue this through the 2020 elections and we want to make sure that we have civil engaged discourse that really speaks to the real issues that we have.”

Hillsborough and Broward counties have money to spend on transportation, but will it matter?

By Tim Fanning

University of South Florida St. Petersburg

The Sunshine State is growing, and Florida’s infrastructure and transportation networks need a growth spurt to keep up.

Some counties, including Broward and Hillsborough, recently approved sales tax increases to unclog highways and improve public transportation. But for that to work, Floridians need to change the way they think about getting around.

“You can have all of the funding in the world, but if you’re not going to change the way people think about buses or trains, you’re done,” said lawyer Carlos Garcia-Perez, one of six experts seeking solutions to Florida’s transportation challenges during the Florida Influencer Summit on Tuesday.

Earlier this year, 80 percent of the Influencers — a group of 50 of the state’s leading figures — said increasing funding for buses and local mass transit projects was “very important.”

Even as cities invest in massive expansions of rail and bus systems, choice and personal situations will always be a factor hindering most metro areas from expanding public transportation, said Michael Finney, the president and CEO of Miami Beacon Council, the economic development organization for Miami-Dade County.

“Providing more choices in line with our personal situations is key to changing behavior,” said Finney.  “People primarily focus on their personal situation, factoring in speed, comfort and cost when figuring how they’d like to travel.”

A major obstacle to improving urban travel is human behavior, according to a 2017 Conduent survey, which surveyed people in 23 cities around the world to better understand their habits, needs, perceptions and expectations of transportation.

The report showed that cities need to provide a good reason why people should give up their cars. Otherwise, people will stick to what they know.

But many areas in Florida, including Tampa Bay, public transportation is limited.

In other American cities, public transportation helps connect the working poor to jobs, schools, shopping and health care. That social safety net barely exists in the Tampa Bay area.

Out of the country’s 30 largest metro areas, the region ranks 29th in four of six common ways the federal government measures public transit coverage and usage, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The lack of efficient bus or rail service forces many of the working poor to devote huge chunks of time to getting back and forth to work, the Times found.

So when public transportation is so poor, how do you encourage more riders?

There is no magic way to convince people to use public transportation when it isn’t their only option, said Chris Caines, the executive director of the Miami Urban Future Initiative, a think tank at Florida International University.

“It’s a chicken and the egg type thought,” said Caines. “Not enough people ride these transit options in order to make them viable because they’re not good enough. But the transit won’t be good enough unless people ride them.”

Before spending millions on massive transportation overhauls, Caines suggested transportation planners focus on micro changes such as improving buses and routes in heavily populated areas and ensuring that bus stops are sheltered or close to air conditioning.

“You’ve got to make it appealing,” said Caines. “Sometimes little adjustments can go a long way.”

Florida Influencers to discuss state priorities in two-day summit

By Michelle Marchante

Editor-in-Chief at FIU PantherNOW

A host of Florida influencers, including three from  Florida International University, met at the University of Miami on Tuesday to discuss community-driven issues ranging from transportation to healthcare.

The two-day summit, hosted by the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and the Bradenton Herald, is part of an ongoing project that has been driven by reader responses over the past few months, and features 50 state leaders from various disciplines ranging from education to healthcare to the arts.

The main priorities discussed in this year’s summit are education, the environment, health care, guns and infrastructure/transportation.

Of the six environmental panelists, two are FIU-affiliated: Tiffany Troxler, director of science at FIU’s Sea Level Solutions Center and Xavier Cortada, an FIU artist-in-residence who uses his art to raise awareness about sea-level rise.

Another Influencer with ties to  FIU, Chris Caines, executive director at FIU’s Miami Urban Future Initiative,  served as the chair for the infrastructure transport panel.

Student journalists across the state, including from FIU Student Media, were  invited to cover the event.

The two-day summit aims to conclude with recommendations on how Florida might solve key challenges facing the Sunshine State. The proposed solutions  will be shared with the newly elected state Legislature and the governor.

Day two of  the summit will include discussions of the midterm election results, the ongoing recount and next steps on the issues tackled by the Influencers.