The Miami delusion

When you live in a city that’s kind of guaranteed to be inundated by rising seas, you have a lot of issues to deal with… like, how do you sell real estate?

So writer Sarah Miller went to find out.

I asked how the flooding was.

“There are pump stations everywhere, and the roads were raised,” he said. “So that’s all been fixed.”

“Fixed,” I said. “Wow. Amazing.”

I asked how the hurricanes were.

He said that because the hurricanes came from the tropics, from the south and this was the west side of Miami Beach, they were not that bad in this neighborhood. “Oh, right,” I said, as if that made any sense.

Yes, that is totally ridiculous and no, these people are not insane; they just have a strong incentive (their livelihoods) to pretend it will all be okay. Except it’s not all going to be okay.

I kind of thought that I was crazy, listening to these people tell me these streets were raised, the buildings were raised, there were pumps, it was all good. I spoke to Astrid Caldas, a senior climate scientist with the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. According to their projections, by 2030, there will be fifty days of sunny day flooding per year. By 2045, there will be 250 per year. She then confirmed my suspicion that while the raising of buildings was good for the buildings, it didn’t do much for the well-being of those living inside. “Yes, you do need to be able to get out of the building to get medicine and groceries,” she said. “If all the streets are flooded, what then?”

directSo Miami keeps booming, things are getting built everywhere, even as salt water bubbled up from the manholes more and more often. People talk about how the Netherlands has been able to figure this out and keep the water back with walls (but Florida is limestone and the water is just going to come in under any walls). People figure that someone will figure it out.

My mother lives up the coast from Miami, several counties away, on a barrier island far where things are driven more by the retirement preferences of aging New Yorkers than by the go-go party vibe down in Dade County. So I guess, like Miamians, my family’s economic future is partly tied up in doomed real estate (though it’s not quite as vulnerable). It’s still not a place anybody should plan on being in 50 or 75 years.

Underlying all of South Florida, I think, is the assumption that we’re well off, so this cannot possibly be allowed.

“They are going to have to get something for the people to walk on, for the tourists. They’re going to have to put something so the people can walk on top. But every year they say the same thing about Venice, that it’s going to go down.” She made a face like, how do those idiots say this?

The bathroom tiles were the color of Biscayne Bay. I said so.

“Yes!” she said. Her eyes were full of real, deep love for blueness. “Beautiful, no?”

As we walked down the stairs to the first floor, she turned to look at me. She was very earnest, standing very close. I felt her beauty soak into me. “It’s Miami,” she said. “We are surrounded by water! There’s not a solution. But nothing is going to happen!”

I think we will all keep believing that until something does happen, and then we will deal with it as best we can, but is that best going to be very good? That’s a different but more important question.

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