- The Knight Foundation has granted the Harvard University Graduate School of Design $1 million for a three-year study to create solutions through community engagement for some of the sustainability and resiliency challenges facing Miami and Miami Beach, FL. Focus areas will include urban mobility, housing affordability and climate change.
- During each course, one professor and 12 graduate students will work in a "design studio" while conducting research and collaborating with other researchers, and each team will spend at least one week in Miami to speak with residents, leaders and other stakeholders. At the project's conclusion the team will share recommendations.
- This is the first phase of the school's Future of the American City project, a broader initiative that aims to foster communication and ideas about the future of American cities and urban life. It plans to examine Los Angeles, Boston and Detroit in future sessions.
Centering the three-year study on one region can help to create solutions catered specifically to Miami and Miami Beach rather than attempting to make general urban solutions fit with the challenges those cities face. And while the focus areas for this initiative may seem broad, they're particularly appropriate to these cities.
Miami was in the midst of major growth — evidenced by the dozens of cranes that dotted the skyline — when the recession occurred in 2008, and it was hit hard when the housing bubble burst. South Florida topped the national list of metro regions with the most foreclosures and took a long time to pull back up; there are still some backlogs of foreclosure activity plaguing the region.
One issue with affordability in Miami and Miami Beach is that the cities are hot spots for foreign investors, many of them in South America. Whole high rise buildings, and even neighborhoods, are known for having dozens of housing units that sit vacant and merely serve as a holding ground for investors' wealth. That creates a double whammy of shrinking the housing supply and driving up costs.
Climate change is also a hot topic in South Florida. Sea level rise is of greatest concern for the coastal cities, especially those like Miami Beach that are positioned on coastal islands. Climate change is being blamed for the region now experiencing regular flooding from "king tides," which arrive based on lunar and tide schedules even if it hasn't rained. King tides cause the ocean to swell near the shore, bringing salt water into the streets, businesses and residents' homes.
Mobility is also a challenge in South Florida, where residents are quite car-dependent and transit options are not robust. Miami isn't exactly the most walkable city either, although a few neighborhoods that are undergoing transformations do have more walkable new designs. Once the new Brightline high-speed rail service opens its Miami extensions, that will create another option for traveling to Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and eventually Orlando. But mobility within the city remains a challenge.
These factors make the new study's topics of housing affordability, sea level rise and urban mobility quite relevant to Miami and Miami Beach. The focus on engaging residents and other stakeholders further caters to the cities and attempts to devise solutions of best fit for community members. This type of targeted research project could produce new ideas to help Miami, Miami Beach and future cities develop better plans for solving their problems.