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What sea level rise is doing to the urban landscape of cities

Resiliency is an important topic in urbanist circles these days.

New York is working on a 10 mile “Dryline” to protect itself from future storms similar to Hurricane Sandy. And Miami Beach – one of the most vulnerable cities in the U.S. to sea level rise – is frantically building pump stations and raising its seawalls, streets, and sidewalks.

Here’s what the city’s public works director had to say via a Curbed article published about a week ago:

Miami Beach is planning to spend upwards of $500 million over the next five years on the pump stations and street-raising projects. “We are quite certain we are going to buy ourselves another 30 years, and we are hoping we are going to buy ourselves another 50 years,” Carpenter said.

According to Wired, sea levels off the coast of South Beach have risen by 3.7 inches since 1996. But over the last 5 years the high tide levels have had an average increase of about 1.27 inches per year!

This matters a great deal because of what South Beach would look like if sea levels increased by 2 feet (via the Miami Herald):

It’s for this reason that Miami Beach has been working to alter its street elevations and install pumps – as many as 80 of them over the next 5 years – that quickly drain stormwater into Biscayne Bay. (The drains are equipped with backflow preventers so that the water leaves but doesn’t come back into the island.)

Here’s an example of a raised street and sidewalk (via the Miami Herald):

And here’s an example of a pump station (via Curbed):

All of this strikes me as necessary work for Miami Beach. But I also think it’s important to keep in mind that all of this is patch work – regardless of how necessary it is right now. 

The bigger question is: what are we doing to stop sea level rise? That’s the only way we’re going to get to true, urban, resiliency.

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