|June 09, 2020|
Will Miami be around in 2067?
|The prospects for Miami are grim, a scientist tells Mario Alejandro Ariza in his new book: "The water's rise will be merciless and --- geologically speaking --- swift." Ariza wishes there were a more favorable forecast for his hometown. Like his Dominican grandmother, he hopes to celebrate his 80th birthday in Miami. That will be in 2067, when most of the region's coastal zone, about 500 square miles that is home to 60,000 people, is likely to be underwater unless bold measures are taken.|
Insightful and richly detailed, "Disposable City" tells the story of Miami's preparedness for the sea level increase that is sure to come, giving special emphasis to its potential social and economic impact. Miami is not the country's most vulnerable metropolitan area in this age of swelling seas. But the city's tropical swagger has always made it a media darling, and it remains one as the phenomena known as king tides routinely turn its streets into Venetian canals without Venice's romance. This otherwise vigorous, glitzy city offers a glimpse into the realities of climate change and the challenges that lie ahead.
Ariza, a journalist writing his first book, begins by describing the way geography is an inescapable challenge for the city. The advancing Atlantic Ocean has Miami pinned against the protected and low-lying Everglades. Retreat is no option and a bulwark no solution. The metropolis sprawls across a limestone plateau. You could build a sea wall to heaven and the rising water would still gurgle up through the region's porous underbelly.
Miami's only slab of high ground, the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, not surprisingly has become contested territory. Historically, the white population coveted waterside living and shuffled off minorities to places like Little Haiti and Liberty City. Both are on the ridge and now glimmers in the eyes of opportunistic developers with blueprints for more expensive housing, which would decimate these culturally robust enclaves. Ariza is at his most perceptive when discussing climate gentrification and cultural preservation, neither of which receives much attention in strategies for saving the city.
What Miami calls its "resilience" efforts are considerable if insufficient. The city is retrofitting storm water systems, raising roads, girding the coast and installing diesel-powered abatement pumps (major carbon emitters). But some challenges are beyond engineering fixes. Flushing a toilet during a king tide is an iffy proposition. The region is awash with septic systems impaired by surging groundwater, and the financial cost of fixing them strains the imagination. Budgets are tight and the number of government agencies and special interest groups vying for money is large. Finding common ground is no easier than protecting dry ground.
No group is more powerful than the real estate industry. Oddly, housing construction has been booming. Ariza attributes this paradox to a "river of funny money that flows" in from offshore financing and investment, which overinflates property values, displaces affordable housing and puts pressure on the water-choked infrastructure. Miami's fate matters little to investors who intend to pull out when the timing is right and the profits are highest.
"Disposable City" covers a vast territory, yet readers are likely to notice the absence of comparison to other vulnerable cities. Some might also raise eyebrows at the unconventional ending Ariza devised for the book. But they will appreciate its narrative force and Ariza's adroitness in making a complicated subject accessible.
And what about that Miami birthday in 2067? Ariza admits to feeling "pretty damn blue." A friend tells him, "You know there's no future here, right?" This dynamic city of economic and political refugees is already producing some of the country's first climate refugees. Still, Ariza is holding out hope for those 80 candles.