I'm a little slow today. I just switched to Sanka. So...have a heart?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

See? I'm not crazy. Other people think like me too.

From the Miami Herald, and my go-to boy Fred Grimm. Mr. Grim and I think very much alike. I like Mr. Grimm.

The filthy rich make our home unaffordable

The luxury condo towers we hate . . . that's what we do.

We build soaring glass cylinders stuffed with ostentatious amenities and impenetrable security and Jacuzzis and stratospheric views so rich entrepreneurs and their trophy wives can gaze down on the rest of us, peon specks scurrying in and out of our low-rise bungalows.

That's what we do. That's our special niche in the new global economy.

We suck up to the rich.

These buildings barge into quaint neighborhoods, chase out the middle class, usurp the sky and look as natural to the streetscape as I would in ballet tights. Protesters show up at city hall to raise hell, but find that the builder bought off the homeowners' association and lobbyists packed the room with flunkies in ''We Support Progress'' T-shirts, ready to filibuster the public hearing.

Civic activists, if they can find a politician's ear, worry that we're forsaking affordable housing to build multimillion-dollar condos that no one who actually works in South Florida can afford, even with the most insane of the new mortgage schemes.

Maybe we shouldn't look at these structures as homes but as the nearest thing to factories that South Florida can muster beyond those of the Cheesecake kind.


We manufacture towering baubles for the rich.

Over the last few months, The Miami Herald told how residents of the old Cameo Apartments, a middle-class enclave between Biscayne Boulevard and the bay, had been tossed out of their homes into an impossible rental market to make way for a luxurious 43-story tower. When the condo project faltered, squatters moved in until the building was demolished. The Cameo was an outrageous symbol of middle-class displacement along a 100-mile strip from Miami to West Palm Beach.

But construction workers building these luxury towers make far more than workers earn in manufacturing states. Folks up there make sofas for $10 an hour or Fords for $17 an hour. Our factory workers make penthouse suites for $20 to $30 an hour. I've been seething about South Florida's ruthless development for years, but I've never actually asked a middle-class construction worker whether he'd rather live in a $475 apartment at the Cameo or make $30 an hour building a high-rise playhouse for the rich.


The finished product provides a part-time bed for the transient rich, who sleep through rush-hour traffic, whose kids attend private schools in Connecticut, who summer in Maine and ski in the spring in Aspen, who pay full-time taxes for a part-time residence.

Maybe we've been deluding ourselves. We have a woefully under-educated workforce, an underfunded school system and a state Legislature that filters science through the Old Testament. Florida's in no position to get a jump on other states in the new technologies.

But what we have -- that Silicon Valley doesn't -- is the Nicky O. We have the Hilton sister's boutique hotel on Ocean Drive, with cupcakes on every pillow, and other luxury hotels for the rich and the fabulously, conspicuously rich. South Beach's average room rates now exceed a stay in New York or Hawaii. Meanwhile, South Florida's occupancy rate has stayed flat while Orlando hotels, dependent on the vagaries of the middle-class, are down 15 percent.


A planned mega-yacht port on Watson Island will provide 48 berths for boats and egos too big for most cities. Each visit from those floating money factories, according to a 2002 study by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, injects $140,000 into the local economy.

Two percent of the world's population now control 50 percent of the world's worth. Our economic plan is pretty simple -- suck up to the 2 percent.

The others . . . let them eat Nicky O cupcakes.