FiftyOneZeroOne

Miami in 2009 – images of the US economy

Posted on: March 16, 2009

Coming from England where walking and cycling are widely encouraged, Miami is a shock as it’s designed for the car. On Sunday, I went for a walk to see how the folks who live in the Coral Gables and South Miami areas, near to the  PR research conference I was attending.

The first challenge was to cross any road of substance. Where there are pedestrian crossings (and that’s not often), it takes three or four changes of lights before you can step off the curb in safety offered by a green pedestrian light. In many places there was no path for the walker to follow; when crossing a waterway near the opulent Biltmore golf course there was no pedestrian area on the bridge over it. You had to spot a gap in the traffic and run.

The other surprise for me was that in the extensive suburban areas, there are no local shops. If you want milk and bread, you must get in the car and drive for at least a mile and probably two or three. I’m told that this is common across the country. Now, I’m sure that American readers can remember quaint English villages with sidewalks and no local shops, but that’s different to the designed suburban areas of Miami. Without a car, you must be really isolated as there’s not much public transport to fill the gaps.

Apart from a taxi driver who lamented that work had dried up badly in the past six months, there’s no immediate evidence that the Miami/south Florida economy has hit the buffers. There are reports of 30%+ drops in house prices from their peak but my two hour perambulation found some evidence of houses for sale but none with the much-televised bank foreclosure signs on them. Also, a couple of nights in South Miami restaurants indicated that the locals are still out enjoying themselves in large numbers. It was also spring break for students who have traditionally flocked to Miami for sun, sand and non-scholarship. Colleagues who went to the famed South Beach area at the weekend said it was very busy and very noisy. Outside the sunny south east of the US, colleagues said that because their house prices hadn’t inflated like Florida, there has been less of an impact from housing defaults but that manufacturing and service employers are cutting jobs extensively.

At the conference, there were academics from all over the US. Some reported that universities are cutting staff as income from investments and alumni has fallen rapidly. That’s not happening in the UK yet, although budgets are tight and being squeezed down. We aren’t as exposed to financial markets; it’s government funding that is critical.

I was going to make a snide comment that there are a lot of very overweight people in this part of the world (although most PR academics are lean and slim, a factor of high workloads) and then I joined the queue for my BA return flight to London. It made me realise that there were lot of overweight Brits who had just waddled off their cruise ships. So it’s back to the diet and away from gratuitous comparisons.

Finally, I did enjoy myself in Miami. The mainly American PR academics who came to the conference were kindly, courteous, collegial, great company and very bright. Also, it was warm and sunny which was a real benefit after the coldest winter in England for a decade or more. It was a great time.

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