South Florida Rise and Sink: the Case of Miami Beach

The emergent topic of urban adaptation to the effects of climate change is among the most pressing areas of research for those engaged in the built environment. This has led to a profusion of projects centered on resolutions and projections that tend to stress vaguely articulated notions of green infrastructure- grey infrastructure with soft intentions. While post-storm New Orleans and New York have provided unique contexts for the advancement of disciplinary knowledge, professional practices and societal engagement, projects remain dependent on large hydrological engineering systems, so that cities continue to resist the realities of their coastal geography, hydrology and geology. Among the more extreme cases in this regard is the present status and uncertain future of South Florida’s coastal communities.

As part of The Harvard GSD project on South Florida, this research seminar will use the greater Miami area as case in point, exploring the patterns of sea level variation on the economy and identity of Miami Beach. Rather than attempting to postulate a linear history, or a cohesive environmental narrative, the research will prioritize particular players and specific objects that have supported the construction of Miami, as an image, an ecosystem and a cultural artifact. Using a range of scales implicit to each study, individual research projects will help to elucidate how change is embedded with opportunity, optimistically engaging the territory of South Florida in ways that offer fresh perspectives and predictions. The risks embedded in current narratives of climate change and sea level rise are nostalgic- rooted in restoration and a return to perceived original states- but projections can also lead to new conditions, and imaginations which catalyze progress. In this context, the research seminar also seeks to empower design disciplines by exploring a range of methodologies through a series of visiting lectures; including climate science, disaster mitigation, environmental law, cinematography, plant biology, coastal geology, as well as engaging discussions with other design professionals.