The Real Deal Miami

Miami Beach rising seas strategy needs more solutions: ULI panel

City needs to build taller seawalls, use green and open spaces for their sponge-like function
By Francisco Alvarado | April 20, 2018 05:33PM

Rising sea levels in Miami (Credit: Wikipedia)

UPDATED April 22, 11:05 p.m.: To combat rising seas, Miami Beach needs to build taller seawalls throughout the island, use green spaces to sponge off water, and should consider commissioning art installations in parks that can catch stormwater runoff, according to a group of Urban Land Institute architects, engineers, market analysts and real estate professionals.

Miami Beach is off to a good start mitigating the impact of rising seas and flooding, but the city still has much more work ahead to make sure its future is not underwater, the ULI advisory panel members said at a public meeting on Thursday. They offered their initial evaluation of the city’s initiatives to combat sea level rise,  including $400 million worth of infrastructure projects meant to keep streets, sidewalks and ground floors dry.

“You need a more comprehensive vision to living with water,” said panel chairwoman Joyce Coffee. “Integrating the stormwater piece with a larger resilient strategy will make things fall into place, including enhancing public trust, trusting the public and leading to greater transparency.”

Coffee, president and founder of Chicago-based Climate Resilience Consulting, credited Miami Beach officials for implementing a rising seas strategy and said the city can be a global standard for other cities by the sea. But city officials and residents must be willing to adopt even more innovative ways to dealing with the changing environment, she added.

“We think there are ample opportunities to use green and open spaces for their sponge-like function more than they are already, as well as to improve the city’s long-term financial health to ensure the viability of projects moving forward,” Coffee said. “In the end, Miami Beach should really go big on its resiliency branding. You are distinguishing yourself with coastal competitors not only in the [South Florida] region, but around the world.”

Coffee and her colleagues were in Miami Beach for three days this week, participating in workshops, taking tours of the city’s road raising projects and pump stations, interviewing city officials and holding a public hearing with residents.

Phillip Kash, principal of Washington, D.C.-based HR&A Advisors, said requiring owners of waterfront properties to raise seawalls on a case-by-case basis is not going to cut it. “Creating an island-wide barrier doesn’t work when you do it property by property,” Kash said. “There has to be a more centralized approach that takes into account a private role and working with landowners on how to do it.”

Kash said residents who have yet to embrace changes to the city zoning code requiring higher elevation for new construction or major renovation projects must do so. “We heard a lot of community pushback regarding elevated buildings,” Kash said. “As water rises and you have more flooding, you are going to have to move up. As buildings get torn down, you need to do it then because it is cheaper. Waiting to raise all the buildings at once will cost tens of billions of dollars.”

Juanita Harvey, a senior visiting fellow with the ULI Center for Creative Placemaking, cited several examples of green spaces and parks in Oregon, Texas and Washington that also double as resiliency projects from which Miami Beach could draw inspiration. For instance, Confluence Park in San Antonio has a pavilion designed by an artist who worked in conjunction with engineers to create a cover that captures stormwater that gets transferred to a channel to be recycled.

“It is adjacent to the [San Antonio] River with pathways and walkways,” Harvey said. “The city made the investment back in 2009 and the park is now yielding a $140 million benefit annually.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified an expert who is quoted.