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Beware, Miami — Resilience takes time to build, but time is running out

When it comes to resilience planning and solutions, few know where to begin. The fact is, in Miami, we have to start from the ground up — and I mean that in its most literal sense. We have to re-sculpt our city’s terrain.

Let’s start by identifying areas prone to flooding. We know that our metro area has seen a 400 percent increase in sunny day floods in the past decade. And some scientific models predict that a sea level rise of just 12 inches would make 15% of Miami — including the Keys, Key Biscayne, Miami Beach, and more — uninhabitable.

Next, let’s excavate those low-lying flood-prone areas and create new land from the dredged-up earth. We can build new islands at higher elevations, supporting them with innovative canal systems that adapt to rising water levels. And through strategic land redistributions, we can replace old, risk-prone property with new, more resilient property.

(You may think this sounds far-fetched, but keep in mind that human-made islands and coastlines are hardly new concepts. Miami Beach itself is an entirely human creation, as is the chain of islands in Biscayne Bay we call the Venetian Islands. Much of New York City’s topography has been shaped by human intervention. Off the coast of Dubai, the Palm Islands are artificial, too.)

Finally, let’s use some of the same excavated earth to physically reinforce Miami’s naturally elevated land — places like Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, Little Havana, Allapattah and Little River. Highly responsive waterfront park systems allow the landscape to absorb and even thrive from excess water. This would provide Miami with an additional layer of protection from the rising sea level.

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The bottom line is this:

We already have the knowledge and the tools to start making a difference today — to start protecting Miami’s future through strategic urban planning and, importantly, landscape design. But we can’t drag our feet. We have to start acting immediately, because none of these solutions can be implemented in a day. And new building codes — say, the kind that allow people to raise their homes by five feet — are only stopgap measures; they won’t do much to protect us in the long-term.

Resilience takes time to build. But we’re running out of it. The time to act is now.

Miami’s ability to embrace innovation at the level of urban design and landscape architecture will play a crucial role in ensuring its prosperity. We have an opportunity to redo what we got wrong about urban planning in the early 20th century, and to turn our great city a paragon of resilience and livability. Let’s be the city the rest of the world can model.

Christopher Counts is principal at Perkins and Will Miami Studio, Landscape Design.

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▪ This is an opinion piece written for Business Monday’s “My View” space in the Miami Herald. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.

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