The 9 Most Significant Miami Buildings

Here are, in my opinion, Miami’s most important buildings and the stories behind them.

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Villa Vizcaya  (1922)

Built as the Estate for Gilded Age businessman, Jon Deering, Vizcaya is a 180-acre property that represents one of the many estates of early businesspeople in South Florida. These include the Merrick House, Deering Estate, and Flagler’s Palm Beach. This is the most lavish of those and included 180 acres of land and manicured grounds around it. Today it stands as a memento of early wealth and pioneers of Miami, selling sunshine and real estate while looking for their own escape.

 

The Freedom Tower  (1925)

Once the tallest building in Miami, this Spanish inspired tower was originally built for the Miami News Company as their Headquarters. Designed by Schultze and Weaver, it was inspired by the Giralda tower of the Cathedral of Seville. When the company moved to a new HQ on the Miami River, the federal government used the building to process refugees arriving from Cuba to Miami during the Castro Regime. It was during this period (from 1962-1974) where the building became known as the Freedom Tower. After this, the building was bought by Miami Dade College and became part of its downtown campus. Today it serves as a museum with some office space for the university; But of course, it mainly stands as a reminder of the tyranny of the Cuban revolution that forced so many to leave everything they had and find a new life in the United States.

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The Biltmore Hotel  (1926)

Built by Coral Gables developer, George Merrick, the Biltmore Hotel once housed celebrities, large golf tournaments, and swim shows in what was once the largest pool in the world. Designed also by Schultze and Weaver, it was reminiscent of Northern Spanish architecture and boasted large, lush grounds and attentive staff. During WWII, the hotel was converted by the Federal Government into a Military Hospital. After the war, it remained a Veterans Hospital and shared the property with the University of Miami. In 1968, it stopped being used as a hospital and the University moved out. It became an abandoned building until 1987 when the city of Coral Gables poured $55 million into renovating and reopening the property as a hotel. Today it hosts many events and sits as a successful hotel and beautiful marker of Miami’s history. This storied building has had many lives and will continue to be an important piece of Miami’s past and present.

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The Delano Hotel  (1947)

Pronounced Del-uh-no Hotel, it remains a hot spot on South Beach and a prime example of Art Deco building. Named after Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Hotel was built in 1947 as the tallest building in Miami and was first used as military housing before its intended use as a Hotel. While it sits within the bounds of Art Deco, many argue that it begins to reference Miami Modern style, creating a crossover project that helped inspire many other buildings in South Beach. Art Deco’s rule of three is prominently displayed on the undulating facade, reinventing this type as it is commonly used in elevation, not plan as in this hotel. In elevation, the Delano has a distinctive crown that adorns the top and creates a recognizable profile from all over the beach. In the 90s, Philippe Starck redesigned the interiors, keeping it both fresh and luxurious. It remains a recognizable property that created a model for South Beach Hotels.

 

Miami Marine Stadium  (1963)

Built originally for powerboat races, the Miami Marine Stadium has a long and storied history. It has been used for concerts of artists like Sammy Davis Jr., speeches by President Nixon, and the annual Miami International Regatta. It has even been used as a boxing arena. The stadium is entirely cast in concrete, with a dramatic folded plane ceiling and breathtaking views of Downtown Miami. New Cuban Immigrant, Hilario Candela, designed the stadium when he was 28 years old, and it has stood as an example of concrete functionality and beauty since. In 1992, the building was condemned after Hurricane Andrew and has sat vacant since, becoming a haven for graffiti artists and photographers who trespass onto the property. The stadium has $45 million earmarked for its revitalization, including shoring up the structure and building a floating stage. Hopefully, this exciting event space can gain a second life in a city experiencing a Rennaissance of events and an influx of people.

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Atlantis Condo  (1982)

In the early 1980s, when Arquitectonica was a bold young design firm looking to get a name for itself, the Atlantis Condo was built in South Brickell on Biscayne Bay. It was immediately awarded a Progressive Architecture award and signified a blending of the facade of the banal skyscraper with the geometric elements of postmodernism and the primary colors of Bauhaus design. It showed the world that Miami could play in the international discussion of Architecture beyond Art Deco, and helped the city move past the typology. Arquitectonica would later move on to design Miami staples such as the Omni Development, 500 Brickell, and the American Airlines Arena, as well as buildings all over the world.

Miami Tower  (1987)

The Miami Tower is one of the most prominent buildings in the skyline, and a remnant of the economic boom of the 1980s. This IM Pei designed building was optimistic in its design and use. Formerly called the Centrust Bank Building, it featured the country’s first elevated metro stop in a building, allowing the metro mover to pass through it. It also featured a sky lobby adjacent to a 10,000 sqft outdoor terrace. The tower is also adorned with a $1.5 million LED light system that caters its colors to special events, local sports teams, and holidays. The Miami Tower is an icon of the 80s, and still remains one of the most important buildings in the skyline. An interesting profile, memorable lighting design, and sky metro stop ensure its future as a Class A Miami Office building that is here to stay.

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1111 Lincoln Rd.  (2010)

Designed by Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron, it is one of the most iconic parking garages in the world. In the car-obsessed metropolis of Miami, it sits like a beacon on the corner of Lincoln Rd., lit in multi-colored LEDs, welcoming all to rethink these garages as they know them. The structure is formed of V-shaped columns and poured slabs with well-detailed knife edges. It has been described as a house of cards like structure, borrowing from Brazilian brutalism, and the tropical typology of a deep facade. The building also has ground floor retail, a retail shop on the 5th floor, and luxury residential on the top floor, with 300 parking spots on its many levels.

Most importantly, it served as a marker of Miami’s readiness for a large influx of starchitect projects. Developer Robert Wennett, by wanting more from his parking garage, sent a signal to the architecture world that Miami was next. Since then, architects like Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Ghery, and Bjarke Ingels have designed and completed projects in Miami.

 

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Brickell City Centre  (2016)

This project is simply programmed as a mall, but the project reinvents the typology in a way that will be copied and reimagined all over the country. A true collaboration between architect, Arquitectonica, and developer, Swire Group, the project acknowledges the new structure between disciplines. This is not just a shopping center. It includes a hotel, 2 condo towers, an office building, and a wellness building. This is a “ground floor” retail project which sits inside a plinth, hovering above active streets. It funnels air through its ceiling fins to create a cool micro-climate inside its walls without AC. It has added hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail in a world where retail is in decline but has filled almost all of its space. The project has successfully programmed 3 city blocks into a continuous and connected project that has enhanced Brickell and brought new life to its streets, creating a model for the greater region and beyond.

 

Be sure to Like Us on Facebook, and visit the buildings on the list! Add buildings you think should be on this list in the comment section below.

Sources:

https://www.architecturalrecord.com/articles/8232-lincoln-road?v=preview

https://therealdeal.com/miami/2016/05/25/take-a-trip-through-memory-lane-for-miami-tower-video/

http://www.miamitower.net/#gallery

http://arquitectonica.com/blog/portfolio/residential/the-atlantis/

https://oceandrive.com/true-architectural-excellence-arquitectonicas-atlantis

https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/art-deco-hotels-miami

https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/american_latino_heritage/freedom_tower.html

 

 

What is the Miami Forever Bond?

On November 7th, The City of Miami votes on whether or not to approve a proposal called the “Miami Forever Bond.” Nomenclature aside, here is what that means.

Many city officials, including Mayor Regalado and city commissioner Ken Russell, are in favor of the proposed Miami Forever bond. The General Obligation (GO) Bond that made it onto the ballot with a council vote of 3-2, is the first proposal City of Miami residents will see when they got to the polls on Tuesday. The proposed $400 Million is broken down into the following categories:

  • Flood Prevention and Sea Level Rise Mitigation ($192 million)
  • Parks and Cultural Facilities ($78 million)
  • Roadway Improvements ($23 million)
  • Affordable Housing and Economic Development ($100 million)
  • Public Safety ($7 million)

Miami Forever Bond Breakdown

The bond issue states that no new taxes will be levied to pay off this debt, but is simply using the expiration of previous bond issues, and not decreasing the millage rate. Many have wondered what the specifics within each of the categories are in the bond, but the truth is there aren’t any. They have written a generally ambiguous bond issue on purpose. The city is unaware as to the scope and depth of the changes they are proposing, as they are not proposing any specific changes, only identifying problems and allocating money to solve them. They are proposing this amount simply because it is the amount they can get over the next few years without increasing taxes, and it is the order of importance that they think they can start to solve some of these issues. This is both politically expedient, and if executed correctly, highly beneficial to the future of Miami.

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King Tide’s effects on Morningside Park last week

The bond is purposefully vague, as making a plan for the next 20 years regarding sea level rise, affordable housing, and culture would be disingenuous. In planning for flood prevention, a new stormwater master plan needs to be updated, as the last one done only 5 years ago did not take rising seas into account. This new plan must be commissioned, debated, and implemented slowly as to learn as it is being built. Our priorities will change, and we will learn from our experiments involving flooding in Miami and change course.

In terms of Sea Level Rise mitigation, this item requires both capital projects and policy changes that plan for the next 100 years. In this category, I am more skeptical as to the blank check given. It seems that the city is focusing more on flood prevention, than the longer term problem of mitigation. This is an area that we must demand answers on, and need to push the city on over time to create a long-term plan. We need a county-wide master plan that takes sea level rise into account using solutions in every department. From zoning to parks, from building code to life safety and power, all of these pieces matter in the larger puzzle, and it is unclear that we are looking at it from that level yet.

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Affordable housing community in Liberty City

As for the affordable housing piece, it is being treated as a neighborhood by

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block grant program. The money will be allocated based on a federal formula of need and density. This gives each neighborhood like Coconut Grove and Liberty City about $20 million each to enact programs to house and economically empower people in their communities. Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon has spoken eloquently on the many options he has been looking at. One includes giving credits in maintaining older buildings or helping refinance old properties to include renovation costs. A large reason why certain communities are becoming unaffordable is that the owners do not have the funds or knowledge in how to renovate old building stock. So as it gets old and in disrepair, they sell it to tear down developers. Once any building gets beyond disrepair, it must be torn down, and the new construction cost becomes prohibitive to rent at a low rate, driving the price up. This is being seen across the city and is a large piece that is driving out low-income residents.

While those 2 categories take up ~75% of the bond dollars, the next few items do carry hefty chunks as well. The $78 million for Parks and Culture is up for grabs, as those projects have not been described yet. Projects like the Underline, Coconut Grove Playhouse, and Miami River promenade are all being considered to receive funding. In terms of roadway improvements, drainage, sidewalks, median improvement, and updates in growing areas of Miami are all obvious choices.

Finally, dollars for public safety were added, mostly as an appeasement to the police and fire unions who are angry that their back pay deferment from the economic recession still has not been completed. This $7 million, however, will not go to that, but to new fire and police stations and improvements. Each of these budget items, when put together is a comment on the kind of city we are working to create. I am proud to say that this GO Bond reflects a good direction for Miami, and has adequately identified some of our biggest problems, and hopefully, can use smart solutions to begin solving them.

If you live in the City of Miami, be sure to vote on Nov 7th, and let’s try and make a better city together! If you need help finding your polling place or knowing what you need click here.

Be sure to Like Us on Facebook!

Sources:

https://thenewtropic.com/miami-forever-bond/

https://www.miamiforever.org/

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article180917731.html

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article179288421.html

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article178126006.html

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article175659086.html

http://www.miamigov.com/miamiforever/

 

My Miami Story Conversation Recap

A review of the #MyMiamiStory Conversation hosted by MiamiGrid and Anima Domus.

Each year, the Miami Foundation asks people across the county to host a series of parallel conversation on Miami and our place in it. My 2016 My Miami Story conversation is what sparked me to start Miami Grid, and in that spirit, I was thrilled at the opportunity to host another. The conversation was broken into 3 sections: Resilience, Prosperity, and Fairness. Below is a summary of the thoughts shared in each of those sections among the 24 people in attendance, who resided all over the county.

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Showroom at Anima Domus used for the conversation

Resilience

This question was broken into 2 parts: climate change and crisis management. In the opening, members of the group expressed hope in Miami to withstand the effects of climate change. They also believe that a whole street by street raising plan in the city is not the only solution. Mitigation and floodable areas must be paired with hardening of infrastructure systems, in order to create a more resilient and livable city. There was also fear that climate change gentrification could push low-income persons into lower lying areas, while real estate in higher elevation areas would be desirable for those who can afford it. This can be solved through a pairing of mitigation and density increases in lower lying areas, in order to fund street improvement projects.

In terms of crisis management, the first thing on everyone’s mind was Hurricane Irma. A lot of people discussed issues with the city and red cross management in terms of evacuation zones and shelters. With a number of evacuation zones, and the inability to leave the county with such little notice, many turned to shelters and found them inadequate. FPL was also discussed, and the group agreed that, although expensive, burying lines is a necessary truth in the place we live. The group discussed the Miami Forever Plan, a bond issue on the ballot in November, as a good step towards mitigating flooding. Flooding is a concept which we are all too comfortable with in our daily lives, especially with King tide coming to a close. The group agreed that infrastructure must be put in place to fix this, as it cannot be a normal part of life here in Miami.

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Prosperity

We opened this conversation with a stat from the Miami Foundation Report: Miami has the largest small business start-up rate of any comparable city. Many spoke about Miami’s connection to immigrant families, and how they are more likely to start new businesses. Some also questioned the stat as inflated, based on foreign capital usually utilizing the creation of a company for simple real estate investments.

We spoke of quality of life issues for a while, as these are connected to prosperity and economic development. The ones we reviewed were parks, transit, and culture. In parks, we discussed the unevenness around the county. Many areas that are wealthier or incorporated tended to have more programming and budgets for parks. Unincorporated Dade seemed to be the most underserved in terms of both programming and number of parks. Within transit, we discussed what goals were. Some were defeatist about Miami’s prospect with transit. Most felt that Miami would not truly be a metropolis if this is not fixed, and some were part of the Transit Alliance working to make a change. Finally, Culture was discussed optimistically. Although we discussed the lack of small cultural events, the group was hopeful that they are increasing, and ordinary Miamians are leading the charge.

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Fairness

Finally, we discussed fairness beginning with affordable housing. We agreed that Miami must be a place where everyone can afford to live. We discussed the county measure for upgrading density in exchange for affordable units as a good thing. We also discussed this in terms of transit. If there is affordable housing down south or out west, and it takes over 2 hours for someone to commute to their job on the beach, that creates an unsustainable city.

In the final moments, we discussed elected office and officeholders. Miami has a high voting rate, but some discussed that they’d like to see a change in their leadership. Through better knowing our leaders, and talking to them directly, many discussed ways in which a difference can be made.

We ended with the following message:

Vote, pay attention, plan cultural events, fight sea level rise, and keep talking. 

 

Be sure to like Miami Grid on Facebook, and Anima Domus on Instagram!

FPL in a Post-Irma Florida

Everyone’s favorite punching bag brought power back to 99.9% of households within 1 week. While that is nothing to sniff at, it is important to ask how the system can be designed to work better, instead of designed to fail better.

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Workers after Irma in Coral Gables

The City of Coral Gables announced today that it will study a plan to bury power lines in the city. It is estimated to cost upwards of $250 million, a figure almost equal to the total annual expenditures of the city. Any other year this would sound like a preposterous proposal, but with the context of Irma, it appears to be the only logical conclusion. The voters, after 4-8 days of overheated boredom, are ready to shell out an indeterminate amount of special assessments in order to never have to live through it again, and that is understandable.

The Miami Herald detailed in an article last week the complicated struggle that occurs between homeowners, city government, and FPL over the battle between distribution lines and trees. The distribution lines are simply strings hung between tall poles in front of your house, usually in the municipal right of way. The municipality usually wants to plant trees in that limited right of way to add shade and beauty. FPL wants it as clear as possible in order to allow for easy maintenance and low risk. Homeowners usually want to plant trees close to that right of way for privacy and noise mitigation. These three goals are in contrast with one another, so the compromise must be in the maintenance.

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Generic Tree Maintenance Diagram from Todd Weena. See FPL protocol below.

Cities are supposed to maintain their trees so that they do not overpower the right of way, and FPL is supposed to trim trees that are infringing upon power lines. This simple description of responsibility becomes anything but simple when you magnify it to 5 million people. Maintenance schedules are not followed; Some homeowners do not like their trees trimmed due to privacy or aesthetics; FPL and municipalities often ignore calls from concerned citizens about overgrown trees encroaching on lines; Cycles of recessions move properties through states of disrepair that allow trees to overgrow without maintenance.

Power Lines

After Irma, 4.4 million FPL customers were without power, representing 90% of its system in the state, along with 2,000 fallen poles. For context, Wilma brought down 12,000 poles, but only 75% of state customers lost power. Why the discrepancy?

After Wilma, FPL raised $3 billion from its profits and new costs on its customers in hardening its system. However, to many customers’ dismay, hardening the system is not about preventing outages. Hardening is simply about restoring them faster. After Wilma, most got power back in the second week, while in Irma they achieved 99% restoration after 1 week. That is the actual result of hardening of the system. Hardening involves changing poles to concrete and steel in order to prevent massive failure. The predictable and almost designed failure is for trees to topple and hit power lines, causing the widespread outages that were seen.

With all of this information, it would appear that Coral Gables is correct. The only way to allow for a peaceful right of way, more curb appeal, larger trees, and fewer outages is burying the lines. The question simply boils down to cost. Right now, FPL gives a small discount to those that want to bury their lines. This discount should be larger and take in the present value of the lowering of needed maintenance vs. a standing distribution line. These storms will continue to grow, and as mentioned in a previous article, an event like Irma is predictable and manageable if planned in advanced.

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City of Miami Commissioner, Ken Russell, called on citizens to report power line damage on the app NextDoor, helping to speed up the cleanup process.

Not all cities will be able to afford this system. This will have to be a local decision. For cities that want the canopy, and want to spend less on maintenance, it appears to be something they should consider. In the meantime, state legislators should create and enforce proper oversight over FPL’s tree program and new construction of power poles, requiring them to be resistant to Category 5 winds (as they are in the Keys). They should create a grant program for burying power lines if municipalities want to bring money and coordination efforts to the table. Finally, we all should take lead from Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, who spearheaded a community-wide effort in Coconut Grove to map out where the fallen trees that were effecting power were. Using the app NextDoor, FPL was able to see in real time, photos and information regarding fallen trees. Without a dollar spent, he helped to speed up recovery efforts in his neighborhood and FPL should be working on creating an app of their own.

If citizens want to get involved through voting, tax increases, or by providing information, we need to create avenues for them to do that. If not, every storm will simply be a reiteration of the same complaints and failures.

Be sure to Like Us on Facebook for more updates!

Sources:

http://www.coralgables.com/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=16496

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/coral-gables/article175553886.html

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/fl-op-column-rosemary-ohara-fpl-irma-outages-20170923-story.html

http://newsroom.fpl.com/2017-05-26-FPL-conducts-staging-site-training-to-prepare-employees-for-storm-season

http://wlrn.org/post/hard-hit-keys-power-was-restored-within-days-after-hurricane-irma-why

 

EVENT: My Miami Story Happy Hour, hosted by MiamiGrid and Anima Domus

Join us for this special collaboration between MiamiGrid and Anima Domus!

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Life in Greater Miami is captured in stories from the 2.6 million people who call this place home. My Miami Story adds your voice to the countywide conversation hosted by the Miami Foundation about who we are, where we’re going and what we can do to get there.

This conversation will be centered on Miami’s urban development, and how we can grow more resilient, prosperous, and fair as a city.

Refreshments and light snacks will be served.

Register online here.

Irma: A Storm 25-years in the Making

South Florida has been preparing for a storm like Irma since Andrew hit in 1992, and our efforts have paid off.

“We dodged a cannon,” said Miami Beach mayor, Phillip Levine on CNN. Although that may be true, it took more than meteorological luck for the minor outcome rendered from Hurricane Irma in South Florida. The majority of the damage, thankfully, appears to be related to foliage and signage, unlike the damage seen in the islands, and on the west coast of the state. While it may feel like luck, smart regulation, planned preparedness, and large infrastructure projects have drastically lowered the overall damage in the region, and have been preparing us for a storm like this for a long time.

Irma was a massive dress rehearsal for the worst case scenario. 3 days out, the hurricane was a Category 5 storm headed directly towards Miami from the south, with 200 mph gusts. It eventually hit Marco Island, on the west coast of Florida, as a Category 3 storm and spun up the center of the state. South Florida felt Category 3 wind gusts with Category 1/Tropical Storm sustained winds. This was a welcome deviation from the predicted outcomes, but the real story is not in the outcome but in the process.

While Irma was only named a few weeks ago, preparedness for her has been a 25-year event. This year marked the chilling quarter century anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, an event seared into the minds of Miami natives (see photos of damage above). It is the original sin of Florida hurricanes, causing the costliest storm cleanup in history when it struck in 1992, essentially flattening entire communities with its Category 5 sustained winds. With this context, South Floridians began bracing for an Irma-like storm over two decades ago.

After Andrew, buildings codes, condo association documents, infrastructure projects, and more began to change in response. Building codes required large scale changes, such as concrete construction and roof structures that included tie-downs. Zoning also began to acknowledge permeable surface and evacuation zone planning. Cities developed crisis management infrastructure and planning that had never been seen before. Condo docs began requiring shutters and hurricane preparedness requirements brought up and voted on by residents. Nationwide, entire industries were changed to accommodate hurricane preparedness from insurance to windows to government agencies. The South Florida Water Management District alone spends over half of a billion dollars annually on flood mitigation, and the region has been a model for storm preparedness for decades.

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Grocery stores and Gas Stations are required to carry generators to make for quick openings after a storm event. This represents one of the effects from Hurricane Andrew. Above is a line in front of a grocery in Miami Beach after Hurricane Irma.

Irma preparations began in full swing a week before she was estimated to hit. Water was absent from shelves and gas lines ticked in at up to an hour long. Zones A and B in Miami-Dade County were under mandatory evacuation, and Zone C was later added to the list. To put that in context, the evacuation order included the entire areas of Miami Beach, Pinecrest, Coconut Grove, and all of the Florida Keys. People either drive or flee north, or shared homes with their friends out west. FPL was in full crisis management, as millions would inevitably lose power across the state. They prepped lines and were the first vehicles out on the road after the storm. Florida Department of Transportation managed the highway evacuations, and although there were delays, almost all were able to get to their final destinations before the storm, whether by land or air.

The process worked. The seriousness the storm offered was met with an equal measure of preparedness. The deaths in the state will measure in the tens, not hundreds due to the seriousness and preparedness of its citizens, government, and businesses.

Massive Hurricane Irma Bears Down On Florida
Storm clouds are seen over Fisher Island as Hurricane Irma approaches on September 9, 2017

This was a triumph, at every level, and inspired confidence that for the next storm, South Florida will rise to the challenge. The storms will only intensify as oceans warm; Their surge effects will multiply as seas rise; And calls for abandoning efforts to manage and mitigate their effects will amplify as defeatists who lack creativity or morality will grow; But despite this, we should continue to be creative and comprehensive in protecting our homes and cities. This month neighbors, city officials, and contractors will clean roads, yards, and businesses, and next month rebuilding efforts will commence. Hopefully the month after that we will take stock of what we did right, and what we did wrong and continue preparing for what comes next. For we have learned that preparation is not something that happens in the week before the storm but begins decades prior.

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Sources:

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/weather/hurricane/article171223317.html

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/refresh/graphics_at1+shtml/094751.shtml?swath#contents

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/weather/hurricane/article172537476.html

Houston’s Harvey, an Urbanist Perspective

Blame is counterproductive. Let’s talk solutions.

Before I begin this piece, I want to say how heartbroken I am over the devastation in East Texas. I personally lived, studied, and worked in Houston for 5 years, and have come to claim it as a home. I could not be prouder of Houstonians today, as more and more stories of courage and selflessness are being shown in daylight. This is the inspirational response we need to meet in our planning efforts.

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Houston Flood Plain map

In looking at the map above, many would not recognize its shape as Houston. The map of Houston is usually drawn by the pinwheel form of its highways, but truly, Harris County is a physical representation of a tree diagram of bayous, flowing into Galveston Bay in the Southeast corner. A large percentage of the water that falls onto Houston has to make it to that Bay, in order to escape the city streets. The strategy of this is very important and should be essential to how the city is planned, built, and zoned.

Anyone who lives or knows about Houston understands that that last sentence is a joke. Houston has no land use zoning or planning efforts. However, it does have codes related to permeable surface and density, and that is that we should be talking about. Houston has always had a flooding problem but in the last large flooding event in 2016, the Tax Day floods, about a quarter of the rescues occurred outside of even the 500-year floodplain. In the last 5 years, Houston has had 3 100-year flood events, that theoretically have a 1% chance of occurring.

In the past, the Bayou’s and prairie land have done a decent job of draining the city. Most of the water goes to the bayous, with a smaller portion draining into the soil. However, the city has had unprecedented growth, and with that growth unprecedented concrete. While Houston has no zoning, it does have strict parking codes that require a high number of spaces. It also has a very poor level of permeable surface requirements, creating large runoff issues, blocking soil that already is among the slowest draining in the country. A study found that water in the Brays Bayou watershed over the last 40 years has increased 26%, while water runoff has skyrocketed 204%. This is a manageable problem and a necessary burden on new construction that must be imposed. While none of this would have prevented all of the issues with Hurricane Harvey, which dropped Houston’s entire annual rainfall on the city within a week, it would have made the problem smaller, and other flash flooding events moot.

Precipitation Chart
Rainfall counts as of 8/29 vs. Avg Rainfall line

Harvey’s rainfall was both historic and predictable. With the heightening frequency of flood events and the escalation of tropical systems due to climate change, a storm like Harvey’s was inevitable. Houston has known about this, and has been preparing for flooding events for decades but has only scratched the surface of necessary improvements. The city spends $100 million annually in flood mitigation efforts and has used it in hydraulic systems, floodable highways, and water reservoirs. That may sound like a lot, but South Florida spends $664 million annually on water management and still has issues. Houston’s soil and drainage situation begs for more permeable surface and the addition of usable underground water storage tanks. There are opportunities for Public-Private partnerships to sell unpotable water directly to consumers, for large developments to create water features, and for architects to create micro-mitigation solutions to make homes and commercial buildings more valuable. Policy must also follow suit; Perhaps a cap and trade system of permeable surface? Or a series of city-funded competitions combining quality-of-life projects with mitigation efforts? Extraordinary thinking and solutions are needed to save cities all along the Gulf from predictable and frequent catastrophe.

Houston’s annual GDP is nearing $500 billion dollars and its population remains the fourth largest in the country. Its problems are not insurmountable, and ignoring them has ripple effects for each and every one of us. This week, amazing acts of courage will fill our TV screens and make us stop in awe at the incredible bravery. A DEA officer taking his small motorboat out and saving 40 people. A woman who met a stranger at a gas station and is housing 16 people in her unflooded home. And a Houstonian, known as Mattress Mack, who opened his 2 stores for victims escaping the flood, and currently has 400 people sheltered, and is providing them with food and water. There are countless stories like this of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, and if they can do it, then I think Houston can find its way out of this in the long term as well.

PS: If you wanted to donate to help people on the ground right now, here is a list of local charities you might consider.

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Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/harvey-should-be-the-turning-point-in-fighting-climate-change/2017/08/29/21c53244-8cd2-11e7-84c0-02cc069f2c37_story.html?utm_term=.27ca91b7c375

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/8/30/16214212/harvey-extreme-weather-science

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/08/how-much-does-houston-spend-on-flood-control/538257/

https://www.upi.com/Boom-town-flood-town-How-Houstons-development-increases-flood-risk/9161481127606/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/investigations/harvey-urban-planning/?utm_term=.d77ef61e8e9f

http://www.npr.org/2017/08/29/546953258/houston-s-matress-mack-opens-his-doors-to-house-flood-victims