MIAMI: A Must-See and Must-Save Place
Imagine strolling along and suddenly you see a peacock in your path, roaming free. This may sound like an illusion, but a peacock and a large wild iguana are among the exotic animals you could see in many parts of Miami. Of course the main reasons to check out this incredible city are the beaches and the incredible food scene! It also has a rich and unique culture with its blend of Spanish/South American/Cuban influences that I couldn't imagine finding anywhere else!
Sadly, this city is at a major risk with climate change's rising sea levels. Read on for some of my recommendations for the best places to hit in Miami, how to make the trip more sustainable, and ways we can protect this incredible city!
When visiting Miami last weekend, I wasn't sure what to expect. To be honest, I initially thought I may want to escape the bustling city nearly every day by going to the beach.
Surprisingly, I found the city to be nearly as appealing as the beach! We stayed in an area called Brickell, which to our understanding is the business-district area of the city. It was incredibly clean everywhere we went with a fair amount of greenery. It also boasted a laid-back atmosphere that was quite welcome to our weary New Yorker bodies.
Strolling along the harbor in Brickell, which is a quiet walkway in front of dozens of chic hotels, is a must.
However, another beautiful place to stay and a place to definitely see is Coconut Grove. This area has plenty of leafy oaks and hardwoods to provide some relief from the intense southern-Florida sunshine.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is definitely a place to hit while down there as well. It's the elaborate early 1900s estate of millionaire James Deering. Deering's love of boating, plant conservation and rare historic artifacts is apparent throughout the home and gardens, a National Historic Landmark and accredited museum.
The Crandon Park Zoo Ruins on Key Biscayne is another fascinating place to check out.
These zoo ruins are exactly what they sound like: the remains of a zoo after Hurricane Betsy slammed into the area in 1965, sadly killing many animals. However, this zoo in a hurricane-prone location didn't officially close until the 1980s when a larger zoo more inland opened.
The area now features beautiful reflective pools and botanical gardens with the chance to spot many rare birds. I think I was most impressed by just stumbling upon a peacock nesting area!
Of course the beach is definitely not something to miss while in Miami. I fell in love with the turquoise blue sea meeting the horizon of a beach with bathtub-temperature water on Key Biscayne, where locals and tourists alike basked in the warm sunshine and felt the soft sand beneath their feet. The area of Crandon Park beach we scoped out didn't have any major hotels or condominiums, so it sort of had a private feel. While my husband and I swam in the shallow ocean waters, behind us were simply a few other beachgoers and swaying palm trees.
Doing it Sustainably
My husband and I opted not to rent a car while in Miami, and this proved to be a great way to avoid the headaches of the never-ceasing traffic.
We often used a great FREE public transportation option the city has available to anyone called Freebie. Freebie is an app that gives you access to (as the name implies) to free electric public transportation.
Also, the city's trolly system is free and has air-conditioning! Of course if either of these options may not work for you, the city also has an excellent rail system and plentiful ride-sharing (Uber and Lyft) drivers about. But traveling by foot with plentiful shade from tropical foliage isn't a bad idea even on hot days as well (sunscreen is just a must if you have skin that is sensitive to the sun).
This City's Future
As I wandered the beautiful botanical gardens of the abandoned Crandon Park Zoo in 90+ degree heat, I marveled at the concrete animal enclosures still in-tact and decorated with colorful graffiti. This area did seem a bit haunting in that it once boasted a bustling zoo and now only a few structures remain. While of course it wasn't just hurricanes that lead to this zoo's ultimate closure, I think there is certainly something to be said about mother nature's power and ability to impact humanity's plans--rather relentlessly as this failed zoo shows.
Much of Miami is in trouble due to sea-level rise, a consequence of climate change melting sea ice in the Arctic. And this is not some far-off issue for the city: it's happening now.
Since 1996, Miami's sea level has risen four inches, and while this may not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, just think about the fact that this rate is increasing.
By 2100, scientists expect sea levels to rise by about 6 feet! And Miami is on average 6 inches above sea level, so it's in trouble.
In just 40 years, sea level is expected to rise between 13 and 34 inches. And this sea level rise is not counting the effects of hurricanes and other storms expected to be more intense due to climate change.
Also, Miami's unique geology makes combatting sea-level particularly challenging as the ground beneath Miami is made of porous limestone.
Walking around downtown Miami, it seemed all of this must be so distant. New luxury buildings were going up everywhere and the sound of drills and other construction equipment often accompanied the hum of traffic. Here and there I spotted what looked to be water in the streets, but this certainly didn't seem like anything to worry about...but I still wondered...could this be a tiny glimpse of the future?
Why We Shouldn't Lose Hope
While Miami's future seems bleak, I feel there's reasons to be hopeful. In addition to the city's great free public transportation, it also has an organization called Miami Water Keeper that is working to combat sea level rise. Its initiatives include promoting green infrastructure and natural defenses such as coral reefs, educating public officials about sea level rise, and "taking legal action to ensure proper sea level rise planning."
A more proactive approach seems to be working: King Tides, or the highest tides of the year that have swamped streets and made parks look like massive ponds in recent years, caused far fewer issues in 2018 thanks to better infrastructure (and a reprieve from nature that shouldn't be discounted).
Finally, and perhaps most encouragingly, the state of Florida's new governor Rick DeSantis is actually acknowledging the threat of sea level rise.
Although a Republican like his predecessor, DeSantis has taken some bold steps to address sea level rise, including establishing the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection within the state Department of Environmental Protection. The new office aims to “help prepare Florida’s coastal communities and habitats for impacts from sea level rise,” according to the DeSantis administration.
While DeSantis is still a Republican and not exactly quick to mention the obvious man-made aspects of climate change, his stance is still an improvement from the stance of the previous governor Rick Scott—often known to dodge questions about climate change.
So there's hope. But I do believe Miami's future is in our hands and our choices today will help determine this incredible city's future--for us and our children.