After two weeks in Miami, we finally came up with a name for our group: The Synergists.
It took us a long time because we all have such different ideas and opinions. Most of the names suggested by our Green Guard members sounded militaristic — things like Eco Squad, Green Battalion, and The G-Team, which apparently is a reference to a TV show called The A-Team that Harold watched as a kid. Jess liked that one because it was a pop culture reference. Tenalach, on the other hand, tended to come up with mystical-sounding names: the Atlanteans, the Reclaimers, the Renewers, the Green Nexus. Ermete and McKenna, the civil engineer I never did introduce properly here, had a few philosophical names in mind: Ecosophy, The Integralists, InteGreen, Greenaissance, Greenewal.
We chose The Synergists for a variety of reasons. The biggest one was the influence of Buckminster Fuller, a 20th century philosopher, architect, designer, inventor, and futurist whose insights and innovations served as inspiration for many green, holistic, and integral movements. Most of the people on our team are from Southern Illinois, and Bucky lived and taught in Southern Illinois for part of his life. I visited his geodesic dome museum while I was in Carbondale and I was really impressed by what I learned about him. And while we draw on other sources of inspiration too, his concept of synergy is a good description of what we’re trying to do here. We’re bringing together diverse groups of individuals and resources in order to achieve new and exciting things that none of them could achieve separately.
I also really like one of the quotes from his “World Game”:
“Make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”
That’s a really big task, but hopefully our small actions here in Miami will be in line with that goal.
So what have we been working on?
It started with our own space. Over the past two weeks, we’ve been slowly but surely transforming One Broadway into a green living center. The roof at the very top of the building has been covered with solar modules and a rainwater catchment system. We haven’t had a really good storm yet, but when we do, the rainwater will be collected in a few large containers on the upper floors and delivered by a gravity-fed system to the lower floors, mostly through existing plumbing. If residents want to drink it, they should filter it to be on the safe side. But it should be fine for showering, washing dishes, flushing toilets, and so on.
Toilets are actually one of the biggest problems in Miami today. Before Hurricane Florence, the sewer system was already in serious trouble, constantly working against the increasing frequency and severity of flooding to clear out the excess water. But now that most of the city is permanently flooded, the sewer is essentially useless. So what do we do with all of that sewage?
It depends on what neighborhood you live in.
If you live in a poorer neighborhood, there’s nobody there to set up new systems to replace the flooded sewers,. There’s also nobody to enforce any rules or laws about proper disposal of sewage. So you get some people just dumping buckets of human waste into floodwaters when no one’s looking. That’s just gross! Not a good solution. But honestly, what else can they do? There are these boats cruising around the city with portable toilets, but you have to pay to use them, and you’re not allowed to bring in buckets of extra waste.
The richer neighborhoods like Brickell have strict enforcement of no-dumping rules, so the waters are a little cleaner here. The banks and offices hire waste management contractors who have set up a few different types of systems. I’ve heard that it usually involves either the wealthy equivalent of a Port-a-Potty or expensive modifications to the plumbing so that they just flush as usual and the waste all gets stored and shipped away in big containers.
It all seems to be working better than it did when I left the city in the aftermath of the storm. But the solutions for poor people are a mess, and the solutions for rich people involve a lot of needless waste of energy and money.
We can do better.
I’ll admit that I didn’t think much about toilets and sewage until I came back to Miami, but I’ve learned a lot in the past couple of weeks. There are things like composting toilets that can take care of human wastes without wasting so much water. And even if you do use a flush toilet, there are ways to waste less water and use biological processes instead of chemicals to clean it all.
There’s no “away” or “elsewhere” for us to dump this water. We need to either not use water or set up ways to clean the water when we’re done with it.
Since basic sanitation is such a big need, that’s one of the first big projects we’re working on outside of One Broadway. The Liminals are helping us to connect with other groups in Miami and resources outside of the city. Our long-term goal is to get each house — or at least each block — set up with its own way of treating human waste using either composting toilets or a variety of ecological wastewater treatments that use plants and microorganisms to clean the water.
I’m glad Jess and Ermete have such a good sense of humor about all of this. Tenalach is a permaculturist, so she’s used to all of this talk about how to handle human waste in a green way. But it’s very new to most of us, and honestly it was a little gross for me to think about at first. But Jess and Ermete lighten the mood with jokes about our glamorous new lifestyle here in Brickell, living in fancy apartments and installing solar panels and talking about [blank] all day. We’re living the dream!
Another fun project we’ve been working on is gardening. Gardening takes time to set up, but we’re getting it started. We’re converting the rooftop tennis court and pool into outdoor garden spaces, and we’re using some of the apartments that face in the right direction as greenhouses. The goal of these greenhouses will be to grow as much food as possible for the people who live here as well as some for trade.
One of the sad projects we’ve been working on is dealing with the effects of the saltwater on the trees. There’s a park just across the corner from us called Simpson Park Hammock. Before Florence, it was already starting to suffer from saltwater stress caused by repeated flooding. Now, there’s standing saltwater from the ocean throughout the park. There are still some people taking samples, measurements, and so on, but there’s not much they can do for the park. Anything that can’t handle saltwater is dead. All that’s left to do is deal with the dead and dying plants and decide what if anything we want to replace them with.
We’ve only been here for about two weeks, so everything but the basic upgrades to One Broadway is still in the very early stages. We’ve been spending a lot of time lately meeting new people, finding out what projects they’re working on, sometimes connecting people with each other, deciding what to focus on, and so on.
Honestly, my portion of it all is a lot more bureaucratic than I expected it to be. As the team coordinator, I have to keep track of who’s working on what, why they’re working on it, who they’re working with, and so on. So I meet with people, prepare agendas, take notes, make spreadsheets, write emails, and so on. It probably sounds boring to some people, but to me it’s very exciting. I spend all day meeting with friends, talking to new people, helping to plan green projects, and going on errands in our little speedboat, the Clover. That’s always fun. I’m starting to get used to the fact that most of our travel nowadays is by boat rather than car, bus, or train. But on some level, it still feels strange and exciting to cruise down city streets in a speedboat.
I’m sure I’ll have more news to share on these and other projects soon. In the meantime, Jess is going door to door and telling everyone on the team that Ermete has tracked down enough rum and fresh mint to make us all some proper mojitos. I was planning on going to bed now, but I may have to take some time first to celebrate his discovery. After all, no matter how hard we work, we have to remember to celebrate.