I never finished talking about our arrival in Miami! A lot has happened since then, but I’ll start at the beginning.
After we met up with the Liminals, it was time to explore the city and set up shop in our new home base. Since our little electric speedboat can’t reasonably fit all thirteen of us in a single trip, we split into two groups. Jess, Ermete, Harold, Murray, Jalen, and I took our speedboat out for its maiden voyage while the others spent a few hours running errands with the Liminals.
The biggest challenge facing Miami right now is the water. Yes, I know, that may seem obvious. But let me explain.
The water isn’t just a single problem. It’s a dozen problems rolled into one. For example, as we toured the city by boat, we discovered that the depth of the water varies considerably. Most of Miami is mostly flat, but no metro area of this size is entirely flat. There’s a limestone ridge that runs from about Palm Beach to just south of the city. The high ground along this ridge is bone dry in between storms, but the vast expanse of low ground all around it is now permanently underwater. And it’s all connected to the ocean now, so the tides make a difference in how deep the water is, what parts of the city you can navigate by boat, what size the boats have to be, and so on. We have some ideas about new ways to deal with this, but I’ll talk more about that next time.
If you took away all of the buildings, it would look like an archipelago, with the dry spots being the islands. Honestly, it might technically be an archipelago now. That’s a strange thought.
As we took a look around, I talked to Jess about the tide. She’s never lived by the ocean before, so the tide was just an idea to her. Here in Miami, it’s always been a reality for anyone who travels by boat. Ever since Florence, that includes the majority of people left in the city.
It’s strange to think that this is the only way that future generations will know Miami. Jess had never really been here before, so she will always know it as an Ocean City. Harold says that he visited family out here a few times, but never really got to know the city. Ermete is probably the only other person on our team who spent any length of time here before it sank beneath the waves. Every time we visit a new part of the city, I turn and look at him in wonder, as if to say: “Isn’t this crazy? Remember what this used to look like?” He just nods knowingly, like he does sometimes when he’s deep in thought.
We weren’t the only boat out in the streets. Not by a long shot. There were hundreds of small craft, most of them similar in size to our speedboat. The Ocean City Resolution has broad language about boating which basically states that any seaworthy vessel that can safely navigate the city streets is free to do so. The City Commission is considering additional limits, but in the meantime, it’s a free for all. There are canoes, rafts, rowboats, some larger boats here and there, and even a few small nautical drones cruising slowly but surely toward their programmed destinations.
I left Miami in the aftermath of the greatest disaster that this city has ever seen. On the day that I left, it felt like such a chaotic, dangerous, shattered place. As we toured the city by boat, though, it was exciting and refreshing to see so many people out and about on their daily business. It almost seemed normal. Some of them were commuters, like the people on the growing fleet of Green Boatbuses. Some of them looked threatening, like the big Bastion boats and the unmarked boats filled with heavily armed men in expensive clothes. Some of them were locals getting by on a small rowboat or makeshift raft. Some of them actually looked like tourists, gazing around in wonder and taking a bunch of pictures and video. Put them all together and you get something resembling a living, breathing city. It’s a very different place now, but at least it feels alive again.
After taking a tour of the city and making a few quick stops along the way, we headed to our final destination: One Broadway.
Before Hurricane Florence, One Broadway was a 42 story residential skyscraper in Brickell, one of the neighborhoods in downtown Miami. I didn’t know One Broadway by name, but everybody knows the neighborhood. It’s the Wall Street of Miami — banks, office buildings, condos for the rich people. and so on. I never thought I would find myself living in Brickell, but here I am.
The hurricane did some damage to the building — broken windows, ground floor flooding, and a lot of other odds and ends that you don’t even think about until you own a building. Under normal circumstances, this would be no big deal. It’s expensive, but these things happen in Miami.
Of course, these aren’t normal circumstances.
The building was without power for several weeks because the whole city is without power. Grid power in Miami has gone out entirely and won’t be coming back anytime soon. The Army Corps of Engineers, the power company, and a few other big players all say that a massive construction effort could restore grid power eventually. It’s feasible. But it would be incredibly expensive and nobody wants to pay for it. They also all agree that between the storm damage and the saltwater becoming a permanent part of the city, it’s simply not safe to use the old lines, especially anything underground. Salt water corrodes power lines and equipment. If it hasn’t given out yet, it will eventually — and it will be dangerous when it does.
That’s where we come in. One of our goals here in Miami is to work on solar electric installation. Why spend countless billions on some massive city-wide engineering project when you can just replace the old system with distributed solar? The lack of grid power does create extra work, but it’s still cheaper and easier than going back to the old system. The power company is sending people to City Hall and Tallahassee and even Washington D.C. every day of the week trying to convince the politicians to fund a big project to restore the grid. But considering how close Turkey Point came to a meltdown in the aftermath of Florence, why should we listen to their complaining? Thank God we were able to avoid a nuclear disaster in the middle of our hurricane disaster. I can’t even imagine what that would have been like. No need to risk it again.
Of course, Miami has plenty of people who know how to install solar. But some of them — like me, now that I think about it — fled the city in the aftermath of Florence. The rest have been scrambling to meet the sudden spike in demand. Everybody wants power and most people want solar, whether it’s residential or commercial. There was an anxious lull in installations right after the storm because every solar module in the city had been installed. But then a handful of companies worked on improving distribution channels. Now the installation has resumed.
We’ve basically come to One Broadway to set up an all-purpose workshop for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Some of that will involve solar electric installation. Some will involve creating local food systems, water systems, and transportation systems. Some of the details were planned before we came here and some are emerging now that we’re here in the city. Our goal right now is to work on One Broadway itself, but our longer-term goal is to help the entire city transition in this direction. The person who ultimately owns One Broadway and other properties is actually a climate refugee himself now, so he’s very open to all of this, even though it’s still very new to him. He’s still very business-minded about it, but he needs someone here anyway to tend to the building, and he wants to reinvent it as a green space. He really likes our idea of making Miami a model for the region. So we basically have free reign to do what we like with the building as long as we do everything we can to help the few remaining tenants and improve the value of the building.
That’s about all I have time for tonight. I’ll post more about our first week here soon.