Foundation seeks residents’ help in making Miami better

Miami skyline

The Miami Foundation is on a quest to help the residents of metropolitan Miami achieve a more rewarding quality of life and love for their city — and needs their help to achieve it.

“We asked: ‘What can we do to make our place, our city, more attractive to an increasingly mobile and global society?’” said Javier Alberto Soto, president of The Miami Foundation. “Our answer: We will marshal our foundation’s $160 million in financial resources to help target initiatives that will measurably improve Miami-Dade’s quality of life.”

The foundation has mapped out a strategy in “Our Miami: Soul of the City,” a new initiative that is the result of research that compares how Miamians feel about their community with statistics reflecting how the community actually performs.

The foundation will use the information to advance public policy and support community projects, including programs that promote college degree attainment, attract the best and brightest young talent to Miami and create a stronger sense of community.

“We believe intuitively — and our research confirms — that younger Miamians hold the key to our future success,” Soto said.

“The leaders of tomorrow are today’s recent graduates, young professionals and emerging creative class. But we must ensure that these leaders of tomorrow make their homes and their livelihoods here today. Our Miami is the starting point to make that happen,” he added.

“This body of research has helped us identify the community’s needs,” said Nancy Jones, vice president for development and communications at The Miami Foundation. “Our financial resources however are only one piece of the solution. We need participation and input from the community to be effective in addressing these issues.

“Our board of directors and staff have been steadfast in their commitment to making this a game-changing project. Nobody needs a report that will sit on a shelf,” she added.

Jones said a good place to start is with the interactive website at The website’s colorful graphics illustrate research findings about how Miamians feel and how we perform in the economy, education, leadership, safety, social life, openness, aesthetics, and basic services.

“You can also find a interactive quiz and discover what attaches you to Miami,” Jones said.

The website also will serve as the hub for people to submit ideas on how to make their Miami neighborhood better. The foundation will use the ideas for making grants to individuals and organizations to carry out neighborhood projects.

“There is one caveat to these grants. You can’t do it alone. You have to mobilize a group of people to work together,” Soto said. Our Miami stems from a three-year study, called Soul of the Community, which was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Soul of the Community surveyed residents of metropolitan Miami and 25 other cities nationwide to explore what they like most about where they live and which factors play the biggest roles in connecting people to their place. Perhaps more importantly, the study looked at how those factors contribute to the local economy.

The Knight Foundation study found that beautiful natural surroundings, great weather, social openness, a thriving arts scene, night-life, good educational systems and job opportunities, among others, are the attributes that make people love Miami most. In turn, when people love where they live they develop strong pride in their community, a positive outlook on its future and the community thrives economically.

The Miami Foundation reached into its own back yard by commissioning Florida International University researchers, who evaluated the areas of community attachment in greater depth. The research found several areas of discrepancy, such as the perception that public schools provide poor quality education. Instead, research proves Miami-Dade County high schools outpace peers in Florida for their programs aimed at increasing AP courses, especially among traditionally underserved students.

“If more people like living in Miami, then they are more likely to put down roots and become civically engaged. This creates community stability and economic success. Therefore, it makes sense for us to invest in and strengthen those things that attach Miamians to the community,” Soto said.

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