Picture it, three-bedroom home with a lovely yard overlooking Biscayne Bay. The property is surrounded by palm trees in the back and banyan trees along the street. The occasional peacock lingers in the front yard, and the winters are fantastic. Better yet, how about a two-bedroom apartment home on the tenth floor of a luxury tower in Brickell with a view of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and downtown Miami on the other?
But, there are a few things you need to know about these properties. The home is in a new FEMA flood zone, and you will experience some sunny day flooding at least three times a year. Oh, you’ve never heard of flooding on a sunny day? Welcome to South Florida. That’s going to become a more prevalent issue in the decades to come. Your home insurance will be in the thousands, and I would own a large vehicle that won’t flood so quickly.
As for the apartment, you will be in Brickell, one of the hottest neighborhoods in the city. But, it also floods worse than most. During heavy rain or tropical storm, the streets become rivers. Unless you’re parking on the second floor or higher, you will replace your car every couple of years (because they will literally be underwater).
But hey, the weather is lovely – except the summers are getting extremely hot now, so you’ll be inside more often with the air conditioner cranked up. And hurricanes don’t hit every year. But, every five or so years, one big one will, and it’ll frazzle you.
Jump on this now because eventually, banks will stop giving out loans for homes in this community. Eventually, getting insurance of any value in this place will be hard. But don’t make this your retirement spot. Scientists aren’t entirely sure, but in the coming decades, the flooding will get worse, as will the heat, and who knows when a lot of this will become a great diving spot.
That’s the price of living in paradise.
Yes, that was a bit cheeky, but not far from the truth. The temperatures are rising, even making our winters a bit toasty. The ocean is rising, and flooding in South Florida is becoming a more significant threat to life here.
In this podcast, I ask two groups to share with us their views of the future. First, I spoke with scientists, politicians, and environmentalists about their thoughts on what will happen to Miami. Then I spoke with a group of GenZers about their concerns and anxieties for the future.
Planet Earth 2072 is also science fiction and climate fiction novel that looks at this area fifty years from now (2022).
In this week’s podcast episode, we spoke with an environmental reporter and author, Mario Ariza. He wrote the book Disposable City: Miami’s Future on the Shores of Climate Catastrophe.
We talked about his greatest fears for the future, as well as his hopes for how the region might save itself. We started by discussing a famous and unexpected speech made by one of Miami’s late great mayors.
You started your book with a story. It was a speech from the former Miami mayor (Maurice Ferrer). Tell us about that day and what happened.
Mario Ariza Maurice Ferrer was a legendary mayor of the City of Miami in the 1980s. Basically, the story goes, he kept the city together through its darkest years with spit and shoeshine and polish and glass. And he left a huge mark on the civic culture of this town. And for all of his faults, he was remembered as a really powerful and humane politician, which is rare in the city of Miami. Maurice was in his later years, had some advanced form of cancer, and he was giving his last speech in Bayfront Park. And he kind of wandered a bit off script in a way that people didn’t expect. People were thinking he was going to do some kind of elogium for his years as mayor; he was going to talk himself up. No, Maurice Ferrer sat down and said, folks, this climate change thing is real. You cannot stop the water from coming up under you because it is. And you have to figure out how to adapt and change the city and prepare for what is coming because what is coming will be terrible. I got the speech afterward, and it was really heartening to see this dude making his exit off the stage by telling a very, very difficult truth that we in Miami do our best to ignore.
PE 2072, Do you think people listened to what Maurice Ferrer had to say?
Mario Ariza, I mean, I think for the political class that was there, it did have some impact. We can only hope because there were both Democrats and Republicans gathered. I know that the current head of the Florida Republican Party was in the audience. I think the thing with climate is much like the thing with grief. You avoid grief and pain and sorrow as much as you can. And if you’re in public office, if you’re in a profession where you don’t have to stare at this thing straight in the face every day, then it’s a very human thing to do to just kind of try not to think about it until you can’t avoid it.
PE 2072, You talked with leaders from the region. Do you think they’re trying to save the future or just prepare for whatever comes?
Mario Ariza, I think there are leaders here who are actively working on the issue and who understand what is going to happen and who are trying to get the wicked machinery of democracy to produce a beneficial outcome where some people can stay here somehow. I think that they’re doing it using the tool that they have at hand, which is this growth machine. Cities are growth machines. They’re designed to get bigger, and you get more taxes. And that’s a rather blunt instrument to deal with the problem we have at hand because if you’re being honest with yourself, you recognize that the land area here will decrease. The ability of any municipality to provide goods and services to people, like sewage, water, light, and education, will radically shrink. And you have to really ask yourself an almost philosophical question, which is this city that is a growth machine designed to consume and extract and produce and make capital? How does it consider its own demise, or how does it consider its own diminishment? And that’s not a question that the leaders here have broached with the population, and that’s not a question here that anybody’s prepared to discuss, except some fringe elements of the anarchist collectives, which God bless them, they’re actively planning for this stuff.
PE 2072, Are your parents in real estate?
Mario Ariza, Yes, absolutely. They will sell you a waterfront apartment.
PE 2072, I don’t think I can afford it. This is fascinating. I’ve had the chance to talk to real estate developers and real estate agents, who obviously view Miami in a certain way. I’d imagine, or at least the ones I’ve talked to, they’re pleased and don’t want to see that ruined. With your folks, what are those conversations like?
Mario Ariza, My folks are great. I love them. They initially thought I would ruin all of their business with this book. They read the galley, and they’re like, Mario, you ruined us. That’s it. We’re done. And then they realized, wait for a second, this is a great marketing opportunity because we can position ourselves as the realtors who understand climate risk and who can tell our buyers where to buy and where to sell. There are still opportunities in this market. The city definitely does still have some business cycles left. If you want to play that game of musical chairs and you can sleep at night, cool. But yeah, it’s a difficult conversation to have because, I mean, one of our biggest products, one of our biggest growth machines, is this extraordinary ability to turn what was once hellish swampland into glittering towers and then sell them to people from all across the world with very few questions asked as to the provenance of their money.
PE 2072, I wonder how many of the existing structures will still exist, like how many of these homes will last? We have to rebuild them because you will have to build them differently for the future. What do you think about that future?
Mario Ariza, I think we’re probably going to lose a good half dozen neighborhoods between now and when I die and that we have to figure out a good way to lose them. We don’t have a plan. We don’t have a pot of money for knocking the houses down. We don’t have a way to incentivize somebody to come in and rebuild something that will stand up to the ocean there. So that’s one issue, too. Is this question of density and verticality? You want density because density just gives you this economy of scale and allows you to be much more efficient in terms of how you get goods and services in and how you get capital out and how you get energy, and how you move around. Transit-oriented development along the East Corridor, like the high rises that are going up. And that’s what needs to happen – right – in the city. But if you’re talking about an area that has 25, 30, 40 story buildings, and they’re connected with public transportation, and the population density is super high. The tax returns buy in that area; can it make sense to defend it? And that’s just the brutal math you’ll see play out here in South Florida over the next 10 years.
PE 2072, When you published your book, what was the response like because this is a touchy subject here?
Mario Ariza, I got a lot of great feedback, but my book also dropped at the height of the largest COVID surge we had to that point. It dropped in July of 2020 in what was a very dark time for a lot of people. The book received great reviews in the New York Times, and I think the people who needed to read it. But I do have to say that because it came out at a time when everybody else kind of had something else going on.
PE 2072, People may understand that a problem and a crisis are coming. But at the same time, how do you get the message across and get people to act when they’re like, I’m just trying to pay the rent, man? I’m just trying to put food on the table. What do you think?
Mario Ariza, I think this gets to one of the main issues in journalism today, right, where, you know, journalists kind of think of themselves just as storytellers, but they don’t also think of themselves as creators of the places where stories can happen, right? And creators of the spaces where people might be able to tell their own stories. And one of the biggest things I’ve learned through writing about the climate crisis and telling people stories down here in South Florida is that community building is both an essential and a journalistic endeavor, right? Because like in a time when your attention is colonized by ad tech, you know, the singularity wants you to keep clicking. And in a moment where you know the discourse is poisoned in parties, they don’t talk to each other. And everybody’s like the feeling it was going to be some warlike chill-out, folks. But bringing people together, right? Especially people who are trying to make it day by day right and offering them a chance to come into themselves and come into a meaning of what their lives are in a shared space, in a community where they can have actualization, right? As people who are living through what is arguably one of the most critical moments in human history to live through, that is really one of the only things that I know that works right. It’s not necessarily like, Hey, I’m going to tell you a story about your city. It’s like, I’m going to tell you a story about how bad things will be, and then give me your number. And I put you in a group chat, and we’ll keep on talking about it, and then we’ll hang out. And you’re maybe going to become somebody who works on this somehow in your spare capacity or even full-time. And we’re going to know each other right, and we’re going to have disagreements, and we’re going to be respectful about them. But we’re going to come into a spirit of democratic community making, and really like one of the things as a journalist that I’m learning is that you have to curate that space. You’ve got to turn that guard.
PE 2072 Where did the passion for this topic come from? I mean, you are really into it.
Mario Ariza, I just kind of want to like the city. I want to stay here like I do. I love it. Like, this is a place that is weird and insane. And like, you know, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to write about crime here for a couple of years, which was a blessing. Like, I am motivated to try and save the place I love. And if that cannot happen, try and help it die in a good way. Right?
PE 2072 Imagine it’s 2072, which you might arrive at considering your age. What does Miami look like?
Mario Ariza, I’m going to be really optimistic in this response. I want people to understand this response through a lens of belief in the power of the human spirit, in democratic institutions, and in people’s inherent goodness and ability to come together and stop new oil and gas infrastructure from being built right. And I’m going to go ahead and say that Miami will be a lot smaller than it is now. There will be fewer people here, and the people who are here will be concentrated on the high ground in very dense. I’m going to go ahead and say there’s going to be a lot of work to make sure that people who don’t have as much can share in the benefits of living in that high ground and aren’t relegated to some sort of like, favela-like conditions on the flats that flood. And I’m going to say that the city has figured out how to sell something other than sand, sun, and sin. This is a place that needs to figure out how to sell flood control, how to sell living with water, and how to sell green finance. And it’s become a hub for the technology necessary to deal with the climate crisis. And it has taught other cities how to live. That’s how the city survives by learning how to live and then teaching other places to do so, and then hopefully, I can have a nice little validation like a pensioner’s apartment and hang out like the old guys do in Hong Kong and just play chess.
PE 2072, But you mean you’re not going to be over at the Domino Park, just slapping dominoes?
Mario Ariza Yeah, exactly. A slap in…Capicú
PE 2072, I’ll tell you what; I always love asking that question because I love to hear what people think.