Streets for People / Reimaging Key West – 10 Goals for a Better Future and 10 Actions to Get There

We brought this story to our readers about 18 months ago in a different venue and are bringing it back to share with a new audience. While certainly much has changed since the time this was first published in April 2020, it seems that the 10 goals to strive for making Key West a better place and 10 actions or ways to achieve those goals are all still valid. We hope these spark thoughtful discussion. 

Reimagining Key West – 10 Things We Should Strive For and 10 Ways to Get There

By Chris Hamilton, April 22, 2020; Main Photo Credit Rob O’Neil, March 29, 2020

The Great Pause foisted upon us by the Coronavirus Pandemic gives us an opportunity to reset. As individuals and as communities. It gives us time to reimagine how things can be different in the future. People are waking up to cleaner air, crystal clear water teeming with fish, nature coming back, un-congested streets and a new appreciation for simpler ways. We should realize we have the power to not just rush back to a world that looks exactly the way it was before. Even if politicians and companies turn things back on, are people really going to feel comfortable going back to a go-go, mass consumption, crowded and crazy race to keep up with the Joneses? Are things ever going to be the same? With this new awakening what are the good things we want more of? What are the bad things we just shouldn’t bring back? And how do we make that future happen?

Here in Key West many thoughtful people have been putting together ideas for Reimagining Key West’s future

10 Things We Should Strive For

I basically hear people yearning for a Key West that is simpler, less crowded and more about our residents. In reimagining Key West, here’s 10 things we should strive for. 

  1. A less expensive place to live. Where there is enough affordable housing for people who want to live here full-time. Where people can afford to live and work in the City rather than having to drive miles and miles to afford a home. 
  2. Jobs that pay a living wage or that are good enough so that one job can cover the rent or mortgage.
  3. A place where local Mom and Pop shops rule. Where one can afford to start a business and not have to compete with national chains for space. 
  4. A community where everyone respects, protects, and celebrates our natural environment. Our air, waters, coral reef and all the living creatures in them. Where sustainable fishing and boating are done in an eco-friendly way.
  5. A culture where creativity flourishes in the arts – visual, literary, musical, theatrical, film and other – for locals and people from around the world. A culture where these creative people give us events, festivals, parties and more art – however you define it – than any town in the world of similar size.
  6. Stewardship of our history, storied characters, and unique One Human Family story and that preserves and shares this heritage with the world.
  7. Veneration of our historic district – the U.S.A’s largest of wood frame buildings, and educating people about our architectural legacy.
  8. Revitalization of our Main Street, Duval Street, and make it welcoming to residents as well as tourists. Make it more pedestrian oriented, with wider sidewalks, benches, cafe seating and more trees and shade. 
  9. Making it easy and safe for more of us to get around more often by walking, biking and the bus
  10. Embodying our One Human Family motto in everything we do. We should continue to attract people who move to the beat of a different drummer, from bohemians, hippies, dreamers, the LGBTQ community, anyone who’s starting over or reinventing themselves or whatever you want to call different.

We DO want to share all this with visitors. But we want visitors that can appreciate what our island has to offer on its own terms and merits without the expectation of mass culture or consumption that degrades all we’re trying to preserve, protect and enhance. If visitors can’t respect these terms, we should ask them to go elsewhere.

10 Ways to Get There

Here’s some things we can do to get more of the Key West we want:

  1. Limit the cruise ships. Enough has already been written on this topic so as not to warrant further elaboration. Suffice it to say research shows that the environmental degradation these behemoths bring to our small island outweighs their benefits. 
  2. Incentivize and build more workforce and affordable housing. Build it downtown where people can be close to most of the jobs and not be forced to drive. More than half the people who work in the City live in the County. That means too many people are driving. This wasn’t the case in the 1970’s and 80’s – a time lots of people feel nostalgic for. Back then, most people who worked in the City, lived here too. That made it less congested and friendlier. Some ideas: Start with approving the Porches project. That’s 480 units and 750 people downtown. Approve a similar project, with retail on the bottom on the property for sale at Duval at United Street. Perhaps another 200 units and 300 people. Build something similar on the huge parking lot of the La Concha. Put these units on top of the parking. Another 200 units and 300 people. Do the same on the City’s Caroline Street surface lot and you get another 100 units and 150 people. Double up on incentives for family-size units. That’s almost 1,000 units and about 1,500 living downtown year-round. More people living downtown will help local business too.
  3. Pass a Living Wage bill in Key West.
  4. Don’t allow any more transient rental licenses. Period. 
  5. When the Truman Annex Transient Rental Licenses expire in 2025, LET THEM EXPIRE. No exceptions. Period.
  6. Find a way to sunset as many existing transient rental licenses as possible. Don’t let them transfer with a property sale. Buy them out. Or sunset them far into the future. That or jack up their annual fees or taxes. 
  7. Re-allocate a majority of the TDC’s (Monroe County Tourist Development Council) marketing funds back to the City, County and non-profits for infrastructure and operating projects (See #8 and #9). 
  8. Invest in infrastructure. With interest rates at record lows, we’d be silly not to take money that is practically free. Rebuild Duval Street with wider sidewalks, benches, and trees. Start to elevate our streets. Refresh our beaches. Invest more in coral reef restoration. Pump money into Key West Art and Historical Society and its museums, into our historic district, into all of the non-profit art associations. Build a Rainbow Museum about our LGBTQ history. Demarcate the historic district. Invest in electric buses for Key West Transit and the Duval Loop. Provide better wayfinding signage. Build protected bikeways and bike trails. Put in more bike parking.
  9. Invest in our people and the things that make this island unique. Move the College of the Florida Keys downtown so its more part of the community. Make it free. Instead of the TDC spending money on marketing, it should spend money on providing operating support for Key West non-profit history, art and eco museums and cultural offerings (the State Department of Cultural Affairs has a similar General Program Support grant but it is always underfunded. The TDC could just supplement what the State gives without having to invent a whole new process).
  10. Work to make Key West a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is Nance Frank’s idea and I love it.

Thanks to the founders of Reimagining Key West for the opportunity to share my thoughts. 
– Chris Hamilton, Key West resident

For similar thoughts Follow us over at Friends of Car-Free Key West.

Here’s a shorter version of the article published in the Citizen as a Letter to the Editor on April 30, 2020.

# # #

You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here and recent stories below:

Chris Hamilton is founder of the local advocacy group Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown. He’s a native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led nationally renowned efforts promoting transit, bike, walk and smart growth for Arlington County, VA’s DOT. Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits. 

[livemarket market_name="KONK Life LiveMarket" limit=3 category=“” show_signup=0 show_more=0]