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Miami: Buoyant, Conscious, Resilient!

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

“Well, maybe it’s not that everybody hates Miami,” counters Jerome Soimaud of Miami real estate the S-Team, pointing to the ever-increasing population. “But rather,” he posits “we seem programmed to focus more on even the suggestion of negative than on the positive. It seems inscribed in our DNA to be more reactive to ‘bad news’ sometimes even in the face of contradicting evidence.”

Whether you prefer the term climate change or global warming, one this is for sure: We are all in it together. From London to Tokyo, from Chicago to Shanghai, from Miami to Melbourne, from New York to Hong Kong, climate change is a worldwide worry. Indeed, as Richard Florida wrote on, “it is no surprise that a list of places most at risk from climate change and sea-level rise reads like a Who’s Who of global cities.”

This is no misery loves company scenario, really, as arguably most of us would much rather roll back the climate clock and not have sea level rise dictate where we choose to live. Yet, despite the threat of global warming, Billy Grayson, executive director of the Urban Land Institute’s Center for Sustainability and Economic Performance tells us, “don’t get too depressed." And with good reason. Though Florida has become the unwitting poster child for climate change impact, still Grayson cautions “you could say the same thing about New York or Hong Kong or Shenzhen or Boston.”

We need look no further than the August 2019 Miami Herald article titled, Scientists Link Europe Heat Wave To Man-Made Global Warming, for evidence climate change is indeed universal, hardly respecting zip codes. Climate change, you could say is the tie that binds. And much like the Y2K hoopla and doomsday predictions that accompanied the turn of the current century, global warming has its concerns—mostly valid, some alarmist. This is not to say we shouldn’t take the threat seriously, mind you.

It is, however, time to pause, gather our collective thoughts and determine where we’d rather be: in cities with little or no remediation plans or activities, or let’s say, in Miami or Miami Beach where local leaders have taken the proverbial bull by the horn.

And those mitigation efforts are attracting praises from folks in high place, including former United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon who lauded Miami’s work to address sea level rise as “a model for other places around the world.”

“If we do not take action appropriately, 800 million people in the world alongside the coastal area will be seriously affected,” Ban said, adding, “therefore like Miami has been doing, try to invest wisely.”

And whether that investment is dollars or sense, both Miami and Miami Beach are fully vested as leaders know all too well their futures as a vibrant hub for trade, logistics, healthcare, life sciences, international banking, finance, tourism, arts and culture rest on increasing the region’s resilience to climate change effects. Furthermore, it is hardly a secret that Greater Miami is also the top tech start-up city in the nation and the leading business hub for Latin America. 

The city of Miami, for example, is moving with much alacrity, expending a $400 million bond to finance resilience projects. Miami Beach is just as eager to safeguard itself, earmarking millions of dollars to that end. As one observer noted, “Miami Beach is working hard to confront its problem with sea-level rise head-on. But as many of the people working in South Florida acknowledge, it’s one thing to try to keep water off a small, well-funded island like Miami Beach; it’s quite another to keep it off an entire peninsula populated by millions.”

But not to worry as mitigation goes well beyond the boundaries of the Beach. In fact, Resilient305, a unique partnership of Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami, and the City of Miami Beach (Greater Miami and the Beaches or GM&B) was born to consolidate efforts. What exactly is Resilient305? Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, Resilient305 is an amalgamation of communities to lead development of resilience under the 100 Resilient Cities Network.

Resilient305 addresses regional challenges identified and prioritized through intergovernmental and community collaboration. And according to its website, Resilient305 soon won’t be limited to GM&B as the goal is to expand to “include the remaining 32 municipalities, other community organizations and anchor institutions” to ensure reach and maximize impact.

But while naysayers might rush to see Resilient305 as just a strategy, implementations of recommendations are already underway, and are being overseen by PIVOT (Progress, Innovation and Vision for Our Tomorrow), a consortium led by the Miami-Dade County, the cities of Miami and Miami Beach and the Miami Foundation with the participation of other municipalities as well as partners and stakeholders including the Miami-Dade County Public School System, the Army Corps of Engineers, universities and nonprofit organizations.

And while Resilient305 recommends three primary focal points (people, place & pathways), perhaps most germane to this piece is ‘place,’ which addresses location-based challenges by enhancing climate resilience through design and planning. Actions include building healthy coral reeds and ecosystems, reducing storm surge vulnerability and developing mobility hubs and redeveloping affordable housing.

“It’s remarkable how much the region has already invested to help stave off the brutalities of climate change,” says Jerome Soimaud, a French transplant and founder of the Biscayne Bay Directory. “And, contrary to what we are led to believe, those efforts go way beyond pump stations and raising roads to safeguard our beloved cities.”

Soimaud’s sentiments are echoed by Tiffany Troxler, director of science for the Sea Level Solutions Center at Florida International University. "What I have seen is that municipalities—not all of them, but the city [sic] of Miami and Miami Beach—are really taking this seriously and partaking in the activities to reduce risk in the long term.”

And like many South Floridians, Troxler remains perplexed that negative narrative continues to take precedence over sustained efforts. “Unfortunately for some reason, that's not the message that gets out. Maybe it's not as glamorous as 'Miami is doomed,” she said, adding “everybody loves to hate Miami for some reason."

“Well, maybe it’s not that everybody hates Miami,” Soimaud counters, pointing to the ever-increasing population. “But rather,” he posits “we seem programmed to focus more on even the suggestion of negative than on the positive. It seems inscribed in our DNA to be more reactive to ‘bad news’ sometimes even in the face of contradicting evidence.”

But whether we choose to believe Miami is doomed, the global effects of climate change will force the reckoning of every human—in one way or another.

“Miamians thinking they will pick up and go to, say, Nashville, should think again,” Grayson said. “It is experiencing major flooding. Toronto? The number of 100-degree days is expected to double in 30 years. The problem is global, not local.”

But as local leaders tackle this global concern, South Florida might be better than most. Green solutions, like restoring the wetlands, could help prevent storm surge from swamping cities and keep saltwater intrusion away.

Reef restoration could play a role too. Hurricane Irma, as devastating as it was to the Florida Keys, for example, could have been far more catastrophic had it not been for coral-reef barriers. A storm surge of up to six feet had destroyed or damaged almost everything that wasn’t elevated. Without the coral-reef barriers that took the brunt of the storm, the Keys could have been hit by 20-foot waves.

Perhaps drawing a lesson from those mitigating properties of the coral reef during Hurricane Irma, as part of its comprehensive plan, Resilient305 does call for everything from the development of a sea level rise checklist for capital projects to the fortification of reef biodiversity & defenses.

“Let’s face it, global warming as the name suggests—is global,” Soimaud reiterates, adding, “it’s not a South Florida thing, it’s not a Europe thing. The key is, would you rather be confident in knowing your city has the wherewithal to implement safeguards or not. South Florida has those capacities.”

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