Destination 2017: Miami

When Miami incorporated as a city in 1896, oil and railroad magnate Henry Flagler, who masterminded the effort, had crews working day and night to complete a winter hotel and build a community seemingly out of thin air—which gave Miami its nickname, Magic City. Or so the legend goes, if you believe early 20th century tourism propaganda. In reality, Magic City was a marketing slogan coined by E.V. Blackman, a real estate speculator who didn’t even see the town until long after he’d conjured the term. But it stuck.

The nickname wasn’t entirely misleading then, just as it isn’t wholly unwarranted today. The omnipresent labyrinth of cranes and traffic cones around Miami-Dade County, the 36 distinct communities we generally refer to as Miami, is a constant reminder of the city’s perpetual state of transformation. Today the region possesses one of the world’s priciest aggregations of real estate, attracting investors and residents globally and fueling the area’s $300 billion economy. Its waterfront property alone is estimated to be worth nearly $15 billion. Yet most of the waterfront lies only a few feet above sea level, making it especially vulnerable to flooding, hurricanes and the rising seas.

Talk of sea-level rise and climate change here tends to produce one of three reactions: skepticism, alarm or complacency. Not many people fall into the first category anymore, though Miami-Dade County mayor Carlos Giménez, until fairly recently, held doubts about the severity of the problem, while Florida governor Rick Scott, has actually forbidden his staff from using the phrases “climate change” and “global warming.” But regardless of the cause, most everyone acknowledges that the seas are rising. One only need witness the increase of tidal flooding, aka “sunny day flooding” because it occurs without any rainfall or other storm activity. It’s a consequence of Miami’s location atop a permeable limestone aquifer; as seawater rises it literally seeps from underground and appears on the surface, creating saltwater flooding even in communities that are miles from the coast. All forecasts project this threat to worsen; the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates it will cause a loss of $3.5 trillion in assets by 2070.

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