Miami Beach: A Model of Climate Adaptation for Coastal Cities?

How did the seven square mile, four-foot high barrier island in the Atlantic Ocean off Miami and Biscayne Bay hold-up to Hurricane Irma? The city arguably has done more to adapt to sea level rise in recent times than any other coastal city.
September 22, 2017, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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A post on September 14, largely written prior to Irma's first landfall on Sept. 10 on Cudjoe Key, part of the barrier reef islands known as the Florida Keys, and second landfall later that day on Marco Islandalso a barrier island, in the Gulf of Mexico in southwest Florida, strongly suggested that barrier islands were best left undeveloped:

Barrier islands serve a critically important ecological purpose by preventing ocean swells and other storm events from disrupting water systems on their mainland sides, protecting the coastline. 

"As the first line of defense during storms that threaten coastal communities, barrier islands are very important for reducing the devastating effects of wind and waves and for absorbing storm energy," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Miami Beach dodged a bullet, or in the words of Mayor Phillip Levine on CNN on Sept. 11, "dodged a cannon," when Hurricane Irma veered westward, sparing southeast Florida a direct hit as had initially been forecasted on Sept. 8, it still endured flooding along with much of Miami-Dade County.

As initially posted, Miami Beach has been preparing for sea level rise, flooding, and storm surge for several years.

After he took office, in November of 2013, Levine fast-tracked a program to install electric pumps along Alton Road and other prime flooding spots on the city’s west side so that, during a storm surge or high tide, the pumps can be switched on, suctioning water off the streets and out into Biscayne Bay

In a conversation with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Sept. 11, he tells how the adaptations fared:

And what we found is that during this historic high tide that we experienced with this tidal surge, all those areas that we improved were absolutely dry.

So for us, we are very excited. It was a success. But once again, you never declare victory against mother nature.

Levine adds that he believes Miami Beach is "a model for other cities" and serves as a reminder that investment is needed "in coastal cities to make them resilient because these weather events...are the new normal."

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Published on Tuesday, September 19, 2017 in Planetizen
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