South Florida’s contest for climate solutions

King tide floodwaters inundate portions of Collins Ave in Miami Beach. Photo: NOAA

South Florida tops the list for most at-risk regions to climate change in the United States. Sea level rise means that an increasing amount of coastal properties are coming under threat and South Florida’s lawmakers are scrambling to find solutions, even holding a contest to do so. As Forbes reported, “the City of North Miami, a jurisdiction of some 60,000 residents that neighbors the City of Miami itself, has been looking for innovative solutions for urban designs that can weather the climate dangers ahead. Last month, in collaboration with the Van Alen Institute, the city announced a call for an interdisciplinary team of designers to reimagine how North Miami can develop flood-prone vacant lots known as repetitive loss (RL) properties.”

RL properties are defined as “any insurable building for which two or more claims of more than $1,000 were paid by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) within any rolling ten-year period, since 1978”.

Developers have been working towards reducing these vulnerable properties by:

  • Raising buildings and improving drainage of surrounding areas
  • Demolishing at-risk properties
  • Rezoning development areas based on new planning codes

But officials are looking for more innovative and effective solutions, thus content for solutions was created. As Forbes explained Keeping Current: A Sea Level Rise Challenge for Greater Miami is a series of open design competitions inviting interdisciplinary teams to develop solutions and ideas using the lenses of economy, ecology, and equity to adapt to sea level rise. The competition asks: How can we reimagine underutilized communal spaces to bring the community together and adapt to climate impacts over time? How can these sites be repurposed to reduce the cost of flood insurance for communities?

Not only is Florida fighting rising seas but physical factors of its land, as well as land management that’s not stringent enough, are adding to the urgency to act. As the Union of Concerned Scientists explained in a recent report:

  • Development in at-risk areas such as the coast of Florida has continued despite the increasingly apparent risks of sea level rise. Indeed, with the allure of its weather and beaches, Florida’s housing market has remained strong, even as sunny-day flooding has become a familiar and disruptive reality.
  • Measures to reduce tidal flood risks are hampered in Florida by factors including the porous limestone bedrock underlying much of the state’s coastal regions and the large quantity of housing built on extremely low-lying barrier islands (such as Miami Beach, pictured here) and filled land.
  • By the end of the century, Florida alone would account for more than 40 percent of the nation’s at-risk homes.

Why This Matters: South Florida is home to 6 million people and counting, thus simply relocating this population isn’t an easy (or even feasible) task. Miami-Dade County is the only county in Florida where citizens think climate change will hard them personally and this is largely due to the fact that they’re personally witnessing the impacts–like sunny day flooding that closes off streets on a regular basis. Miami has also served as a snapshot of the future when it comes to sea level rise for the rest of the country. Not only have scientists begun studying the effects of phenomena like climate gentrification in Miami but any innovative solutions to help curb and better manage sea level rise will likely be adopted by other cities who are facing drastic sea level rise–like Manhattan and San Francisco.

A Personal Wish: I (Miro) am still hoping that now that Dwyane Wade is retired from the NBA that he will become a climate activist for South Florida with a campaign called “Save Wade County.” How about it, D-Wade?

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