02/21/2012 12:22 pm ET Updated Apr 22, 2012

The Secret to Civic Longevity

Engage your imagination for a moment, and picture Miami as a wide-eyed centenarian wearing a dapper suit and tie, smiling vacantly but mostly devoid of a brain or heart. The creatively challenged can just picture Rick Scott. Now hold that picture in your mind as clearly as you can.

What you're imagining is a depiction of a city whose body matured far before its character ever did, resulting in a brain drain that is sending the city's bright future literally running for the hills.

They are running because they see the city as you just imagined it, and they know a visage so skeletal holds no promise of opportunity. It should be clear to anyone that something needs to change. But for a city in desperate need of a makeover, is another trip to the plastic surgeon really the best option? Or what about cutting deeper into the everglades with the desperate hubris of a modern day Ponce de Leon? What if I told you that the secret to civic longevity is less expensive and much more exciting than either of these options?

Allow me to bring you up to speed. Consider the study published by the National Conference on Citizenship titled "A Tale of Two Cities: Civic Health in Miami and Minneapolis-St. Paul," which surveyed civic engagement in the tri-county in 2010. You may or may not be surprised to learn that although three quarters of the residents of Miami-Dade are active voters, less than 5 percent ever contact their public officials or participate in a community rally or march.

Residents seem to be more interested in a one-night stand than an actual commitment, and who can blame them? For a city over a hundred years old, Miami is just starting to show its first signs of acne and a cracking voice. With a major casino bid looming on the horizon, locals had better take their relationship with their city beyond the puppy-love stage. Otherwise they may live to see Miami become the next Las Vegas -- and despite what certain advertisements tell you, that may not be such a good thing.

Grim as the outlook may be, hope prevails. There seems to be something in the air this year as ever more artists, activists, entrepreneurs and innovators are cropping up, driven to redirect this city from what many believe is a disaster course. With events like Philanthrofest manifesting from the phoenix-like rebirth of Wynwood, and the inception of Miami's very own arm of the occupy movement some months ago, there is evidence that the local conversation is moving away from it's usual self-centered tone. But it hasn't been easy, and the road ahead is a long one.

Bringing the occupy movement to Miami has been an exercise as ambitious as playing Beethoven for a newborn -- and while the occupy movement is a baby in its own right, those involved tend to exhibit the finest qualities of childhood: imagination, cooperation, humor, and fearlessness. I have no doubt that a grassroots movement that stays true to these virtues can elevate itself from resistance to renaissance in no time.