via @joeflech @jenstaletovich
The sea started boiling up into the street. A major Miami Beach road was under water. Tourists sloshed to hotels through saltwater up to their shins, pants rolled up, suitcases in one hand, shoes in the other.
But one corner of Miami Beach stayed perfectly dry. In Sunset Harbour, which has historically flooded during seasonal high tides, the water was held at bay last month by a radically re-engineered streetscape that will be put to the test again this week with another king tide.
The design — featuring a street and sidewalk perched on an upper tier, 2 ½ feet above the front doors of roadside businesses, and backed by a hulking nearby pump house — represents what one city engineer called "the street of tomorrow."
This foundation for Miami Beach’s future is actually a complicated and expensive experiment: As much as $500 million to install 80 pumps and raise roads and seawalls across the city. A first phase appears to be working, at least for now. But just one year into a massive public works project that could take six more, it’s way too soon to say whether and for how long it can keep the staggeringly valuable real estate of an international tourist mecca dry — especially in the face of sea level rise projections that seem to only get scarier with every new analysis.
"We don’t have a playbook for this," said Betsy Wheaton, assistant building director for environment and sustainability in Miami Beach.
But in many ways, Miami Beach is writing just that — the first engineering manual for adapting South Florida’s urban landscape to rising seas. The entire southern tip of the peninsula tops climate change risk lists but Beach leaders have acted with the most urgency, waiving competitive bidding and approving contracts on an emergency basis to fast-track the work. Tidal flooding lapping at posh shops and the yards of pricey homes makes a persuasive argument that climate change isn’t only real, but a clear and present threat.
Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff