Alyce M. Robertson, executive director of the Miami Downtown Development Authority directs the activities of the public organization while driving its mission to make Downtown Miami a world class city and international center for commerce, culture, and tourism.
Our City Thoughts: Why did you decide to build a life in Miami?
Alyce Robertson: I moved here in 1979 straight out of graduate school. Miami in the early 80s was a very difficult place to live. We had the McDuffie riots, the Mariel boatlift, Cocaine Cowboys, ethnic strife, and finally the infamous Time magazine cover “Paradise Lost?”.
My family back in Indiana wondered why I stayed. My career with Miami-Dade County was what kept me here first. The challenges facing local government presented me with a constant, vibrant working environment that was never dull.
Then I met my husband, moved into a great historic neighborhood, Morningside, where fighting to save it made us all like a village inside the big city. Eventually, I worked on the film “Our Miami the Magic City” with Arva Moore Parks and got to appreciate what is truly special about this place we call home.
OCT: What does your initiative aim to do? How was it founded?
AR: This initiative with Judge Leifman began as a result of the problem of homelessness in downtown Miami. The Judge is a statewide expert in the issue of mental illness in the justice system, which has a lot of overlap with homelessness. It became clear to the Miami Downtown Development Authority Homeless Task Force, chaired by Dr. Rolando Montoya, that in order to make inroads to resolving chronic homelessness in downtown Miami, the linkages to mental illnesses and substance abuse had to be understood.
OCT: Describe a challenge you overcame to get to where you are today.
AR: I have my master’s degree in public administration and moved to Miami with a great deal of idealism of what you could accomplish in government. The impediments of the bureaucracies I consider a daily challenge trying to make things happen in spite of the roadblocks that are put up. In that light, when Miami-Dade County received a $6 million check for a tree program, we designed the program, bought the trees through a procurement system not know for speedy turnaround, set up an event to give out trees to the public within 7 months, now known as Adopt-A-Tree. What it means is that even in a large bureaucracy, you can make things happen if you are determined enough and enlist the help of equally determined people.
OCT: What does your team mean to you?
AR: The team at the Miami DDA is a very dedicated group of professionals who believe in the ideals of making downtown Miami a better place. I find them intellectually stimulating to work with and they are able to find humor in our day-to-day work.
OCT: How has Miami impacted who you are today?
AR: It’s hard for me to separate who I am from Miami. From the natural resources, the bay, the sky, the subtropical climate to the mix of cultures, restaurants, it’s all part of what made me who I am.
OCT: What do you love the most about how Miami is being redefined?
AR: That we are finally coming into our own. Miamians are stepping up to the plate and helping define our future.
OCT: Describe an innovation advancement you are working on?
AR: We are working on making Downtown Miami a Pedestrian Priority Zone. That would be an area where people would take precedence over cars so we can reduce the number of traffic fatalities for pedestrians and bicyclists. This would include making cars move more slowly, crosswalks more visible and other enhancements with the goal of making this a more walkable, livable urban center.
OCT: What’s the most gratifying aspect of what you are trying to achieve? And the most grating?
AR: One of the most gratifying aspects of what we are trying to achieve is to see Downtown Miami finally turn the corner in becoming the hub of a global destination.
I find it grating that groups who are charged with ending homelessness accept that someone has been on the streets for 20 to 30 years because of mental health or addiction issues don’t feel the sense of urgency to come up with alternatives to address it immediately and accept the status quo because “all downtowns attract chronic homeless” as if it’s okay to warehouse the mentally ill on the streets.
OCT: What wisdom would you share with your younger self ?
AR: Try not to be so anxious about planning the future and stop beating yourself up over your mistakes. Learn from them and move on.
OCT: What community issue keeps you up at night?
AR: The growing disparity between the haves and have-nots, the shrinking middle class and how the fascination with bling and self-indulgent celebrities, it is difficult to engage the general public to pay attention to what is going on in government.
OCT: Describe your ideal Miami. Why are those qualities important to you?
In my ideal Miami, we would celebrate our cultural diversity and not play ethnic politics. We would weed out corrupt politicians and not let them exploit their offices.
We would drive sensibly and politely. We would tackle civic problems progressively. We would understand the fragility of the South Florida environment and take action to protect it for our children and grandchildren.
These qualities are important because I believe that if you include diversity you can build a stronger economy and a more enjoyable community. Corrupt politicians further erode public trust and distort the political process.Progressive approaches to problem solving, look at solutions not just political expediency.