Sea levels will rise an incremental 1.4 feet by 2050 and 3.3 feet by 2100. The city of Miami Beach is fortifying and adapting by raising roads, sidewalks, seawalls and installing stormwater pumps. While crucial, this infrastructure is not a complete community solution. Private property owners must raise seawalls, elevate first floors and more.
While the city invests in public infrastructure, the private sector must plan and finance to protect residential and commercial properties. There is no federal aid to proactively elevate buildings according to sea-rise projections. Federal funding is only available after properties are damaged by storms.
Miami Beach rejects FEMA’s retreat recommendation, but we are realistic. After Hurricane Katrina, Congress increased FEMA’s borrowing authority from $2 billion to $20 billion, then later to $30 billion. FEMA now owes the U.S. Treasury $23 billion. Disaster relief appears unsustainable. Local government must set policy that helps private property owners help themselves.
All around the coastline, we face an emotionally and economically troubling conundrum: Historic structures are irreplaceable, and adaptations will not save them forever.
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Historic properties on the National Register tell the story of our society. Preservation brings heritage tourism and environmental and cultural benefits.
For low streets along waterways, Neighborhood Conservation may be better than Local Historic Designation to protect neighborhood character. Design guidelines control height, scale, massing and architectural design while allowing property owners to add resiliency and lower flood insurance.
Preservationists can collaborate with owners wishing to safeguard their nest eggs, or be dogmatic and criticize from the sidelines. The preservation vs. development paradigm is obsolete. We are in this together.
John Elizabeth Alemán, commissioner, Miami Beach