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What we learned from the 305’s chief resilience officers

Miami is living with rising seas every day – and there’s no one facing the reality of our watery future more than the chief resilience officers for Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach, and City of Miami.

We got them together at the new Philip and Patricia Frost Science Museum for some real talk on their work and their role in 100 Resilient Cities, a partnership sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation that brings together cities across the world to talk and study resilience.  

On the panel we had:

  • James Murley, Miami-Dade County
  • Jane Gilbert, City of Miami
  • Susanne Torriente, City of Miami Beach

You should watch the panel and read all the comments and questions over on Facebook, but in case you need a little cheat sheet, here are a few of our key takeaways.

We could all stay quiet and not do anything, or we can plan to continue being here. I think that’s an important point: everyone faces risk. I think it also takes courage to start to plan for risk reduction. – Torriente

Will there be a “managed retreat” in Miami-Dade?

“Managed retreat” is the buzzword for when people and development have to be removed from an area because it’s not possible to stay there – in this case because the rising seas just can’t be held back anymore.

The Miami Herald raised the idea in a very real way just a couple days before the talk with this article. But the CROs were all adamant that this type of planning, or even thinking, is a long way off. Right now they’re focused on all the incremental steps they can take to keep pushing that point in time back. And when it gets there, any decisions about what goes will be one made with the community.

What are some of those incremental steps?

A lot of them are things you’ve been hearing and seeing  for a long time now: replacing the old gravity pumps with the new ones, elevating roads, fortifying sea walls, implementing new elevation standards, that kind of thing.

“We’re investing in our infrastructure, making it more resilient, designed for the future, not just the past. … It’s a series of little things were doing, both engineering wise, and planning wise,” Torriente says. 

And those aren’t just up to the local governments. Torriente pointed out that it’s just as easily done by homeowners. If you decide to put your backyard air conditioning unit on stilts so it’s not affected by flooding, “you’ve adapted for $40,” she says.

Resilience is at the center of the county’s master plan

It’s updated every seven years, and Miami-Dade is about to do it again. Murley says the new master plan is going to be “fine tuned” to climate change, sea level rise, and resilience.

How bad is it that the federal government is led by a manmade climate change skeptic? Our state?

It’s not great. The federal government previously invested quite a bit in research. But “pulling out of the Paris Accords has actually given this [resilence efforts] more momentum,” Torriente says. 

Gilbert thinks we’ve actually got a selling point.

If we do this right, we are a major job creator, innovator, economy booster… thats what our governor, our president wants to talk about. … We know that the more we put resilient infrastructure forward, the more we’re going to boost this economy a long time. 

What cities in 100 Resilient Cities are we learning from?

  • Norfolk, whose sea level rise issues are actually even worse than ours – the land is sinking as the seas are rising, so water levels are rising twice as fast, essentially.
  • New York City after Sandy for how they’re updating certain standards and codes.

Businessmen are starting to see resilience as an opportunity

“Five or six years ago, you wouldn’t imagine going to a [Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce] meeting to talk about sea level rise. And now the chambers are dying to talk to us, because they see that as [an opportunity] for business development, innovation, jobs and prosperity,” Torriente says.

They need help balancing preservation and resilience

If you’re a local architecture or engineering team that loves and understands the style and history of Miami Beach, but also the realities of sea level rise, Miami Beach wants you. They’ve got a solicitation out there for a team that wants to dig in on ideas for how to save the iconic neighborhoods. It’s gotta be more than elevation.

Meanwhile, City of Miami’s been working with Little Havana to save the neighborhood’s historic bungalows. They’re working on a guidebook for the homeowners. And the county is worrying a lot about the parks system – places like Matheson Hammock and Vizcaya are endangered by flooding already.

“A lot of this adaptation is hyperlocal, and it takes hyperlocal solutions.” – Gilbert

How they’re handling a potential flood insurance crisis

We’re talking all the time about the risk posed by rising flood insurance rates and the fact that at some point, some companies might consider not insuring property. But there’s not a ton that the CROs can do. The national flood insurance program is exactly that – national. So call your reps, they say.

But they are also hoping to take some lessons from wind insurance in Florida. After Hurricane Andrew pummeled the region and decimated the insurance market, Florida built up the best wind damage insurance program in the world. There’s a $10 billion reserve in Tallahassee. The CROs want to follow that path for water – except before there’s a catastrophe.

They’re also on the phone with FEMA all the time, making sure that every time a road is raised or a pump is installed, that’s reflected on the maps that the agency uses for flood insurance, Torriente says.

“If the map shows elevation from two or three years ago, it doesn’t show the true picture of risk because we’re investing in risk reduction.”

How to get in touch and get involved

The Resilient 305 website will be live very soon. Until then, you can go to www.resilient305.com and sign up for updates once that happens. 

If you live in one of the other municipalities, your local government is an option – just because they’re not in the partnership, doesn’t mean they’re not working on the issue. Coral Gables and Pinecrest got shoutouts for being particularly resilience-oriented.

There are also lots of non-profits, foundations, and other institutions doing great work. The CROs named Catalyst Miami, the CLEO Institute, the Frost Science Museum, the Miami Foundation, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, and the South Dade Economic Development Council as just a few of the organizations out there.

Have any lingering questions? We’re keeping this convo going. Let us know in the comments below.