We cannot predict what Miami will look like on its 175th birthday, but we can propose it
Technology has been at the forefront of many growth cycles in Miami’s history. The dredge, the railroad, the personal motor vehicle, and the air conditioner brought new opportunities to rethink and reshape how people lived within South Florida. New technologies and applications in each of those specific areas intertwined with nature-based solutions will be key to the next 50 years in South Florida.
By 2071, Planet Earth will look considerably different, especially due to human-induced climatic changes within the Anthropocene Epoch. Extreme heat affects how we dress, how we get around, and when and what activities we participate in. Flooding is occurring more regularly, disrupting daily life and causing unnecessary property damage. The looming threat of sea-level rise and large hurricanes are affecting insurance prices and growth patterns.
At the same time, businesses and people are flocking to South Florida, bringing new energy, points of view, and capital. They are also creating more congestion on our roads, significantly driving up housing costs, and putting additional strain on the environment. It is time to assess the existing conditions of our city, the culture, the climate, and the landscape, then collaborate, and take consistent, meaningful action together to reshape and redefine the city to serve us and future generations.
Technology Evolves, as Does its Applications
Dredges were used to straighten rivers, cut canals, and build islands. Now nature is pushing back, and we are looking to restore the ecosystems that evolved over millennia and only a short time ago flourished across Biscayne Bay while also protecting the coastlines. New material science breakthroughs combined with 3D printing have allowed 3D printed living seawalls that function as coral reefs. Dredges can be used to build Hybrid Levee systems that function as linear parks to connect our communities, recreate the destroyed aquatic ecosystems, and protect us from Sea Level Rise and Storm Surge.
The ridge where Henry Flagler built the railroad that spurred Miami’s growth has fresh attention, both from the new rail lines being created to connect Florida Cities but also for its precious high ground. Building dense mixed-use ‘15-minute’ communities on high ground while providing housing and commercial spaces for all income levels will be key to Miami’s Future. Shaping policies to incentivize this growth while ensuring equity is as important as the literal infrastructure of sea walls and raised roads.
Many streets like Biscayne Boulevard were built during the 1920s land boom with wide designs to allow cars to speed. The wide right-of-way offers the opportunity to redefine our mobility system and thus how we live. Our public spaces serve many functions. They allow the movement and interaction of people, create a shade canopy, space for plant and animal biodiversity, reduce the heat island effect, and hold water during extreme rain events.
By the end of 2021, autonomous vehicles will be available on the Lyft platform in Miami, where Argo, backed by Ford and Volkswagen, has been testing its technology for several years. Autonomous vehicles offer the opportunity to reshape the zoning code, removing parking minimums which will reduce construction costs and thus housing costs, reduce material consumption, and repurpose existing parking garages. On-demand Micro-Mobility options like scooters and e-bikes offer inexpensive and sustainable choices, but we lack the protected bike lanes to use them. Even with new protected lanes, the climate is often too hot to reliably use those services year-round. Miami now experiences 133 high heat days each year, 32 more than it did in 1990. By 2071, the number is projected to be around 162 days per year, 44%.
The Baywalk, Riverwalk, and Underline are linear parks that are finally being stitched together. As climatic forces continue to affect our way of life and new mobility technology allows us to remove on-street parking spaces as well as vehicle travel lanes, we will be able to reshape additional streets, add more bike lanes, street trees, and wider sidewalks, forming a further connected network of greenways. Shade is essential to convince Miamians to walk and utilize public transportation.
The Mechanical Cooling Devices that created the needed indoor controlled climate for Miami to flourish also worsens the heat island effect creates carbon outputs, and puts huge pressure on electricity grids. Incentivizing and requiring more resilient and energy resourceful buildings will allow less AC and energy use, mitigating our contribution to further climate change and reinforcing our resilience.
From Words to Action
We cannot predict what Miami will look like on its 175th birthday in 2071, but we can propose and act expeditiously to create it. We must seize this moment, embrace new technology and ideas, and work with mother nature’s evolved solutions in a holistic strategy that considers the intertwined social, economic, and environmental impacts, to not only safeguard our people and assets but to act as a leader at the forefront of a changing world.