Aerial photo of the Sunny Isles Beach shoreline.

Applying CityAge to Sunny Isles Beach

By Christopher J. Russo, Former City Manager

(Sunday, May 14, 2017) – During my career, I have attended hundreds of conferences, seminars, workshops and the like. Most recently, my friend and colleague, Ft. Lauderdale City Manager Lee Feldman, invited me to attend a conference named CityAge. It was one of the most interesting and meaningful sessions I’ve ever attended. It presented from a 30,000 foot perspective, the latest trends in day-to-day government operations, and reflected on many of the issues our City encounters in an age of constant change and evolution, such as sea level rise, traffic and transit, public-private partnerships, affordable housing, infrastructure improvement, better education and how to create resiliency and build community.

CityAge is a unique platform for ideas and creating partnerships between businesses, universities, and cities to foster innovation and ideas in design, finance, business, government and urban city building. It is an international network of decision makers, thoughtful leaders and investors who are building our urban economy and society. The whole premise of this platform appealed to me, first and foremost, because in my 30 years experience as a City Manager, I have become increasingly aware that any kind of enterprise, whether public or private, cannot and should not be run in a vacuum. The longer we do this job, the more we realize the interconnectivity among business, government, civic and educational sectors, and that success is most often achieved by each of these sectors working together.

Since we live in a community, it is of greater benefit to share our knowledge and experience in a broader spectrum recognizing that each sector may experience and look at things through their own filters. But all sectors share a prism of interests and perhaps even shared goals. All the players may come from different backgrounds, different industries and training, and in Sunny Isles Beach, from different cultures as well. But regardless of whether you are dealing with private industries’ goals of profits or the government’s goals of providing services in an efficient and economic way, or the schools’ goals of providing a good education to students, each sector working together enriches the end goals of the other and creates resiliency for all participating institutions.

So, what does this look like when you arrive back to the ground from the “30,000 foot” perspective? It means we continue doing some of the more innovative things the City has done from its inception. For example, we continue the collaboration between the City and its school. The City secure and contributed the land to the school board, provides parks as playgrounds and will now help to foster the creation of marine life education, one of the original intended focuses of our school. A great example of the creation of a relationship with the private sector is Tony Roma’s Corp. Their original restaurant was the perfect site for the Government Center. City Administration negotiated the purchase of the property, built the new restaurant that exists today, and collects a base rent and percentage of profits above base to help fund the Government Center operating expenses. This was a win for both the private and the public sector. And finally, we fostered relationships and collaboration with other governmental agencies, with the negotiation of the housing of the United States Post Office, Miami-Dade County Public Library, and Sunny Isles Beach Police Department in our Government Center, which will soon expand to form the true “civic center” of our City. As CityAge suggested, all sectors working together, can better achieve mutual goals and enrich the lives of our citizens just a bit more.

As a fairly new city that is geographically small but dense and surrounded by water, our collaborative efforts with all of the above sectors is paramount. Together we can achieve great things, excellent education for our growing families, jobs and business opportunities for our residents, and access to all of the shared governmental services.