Will Miami Be the Atlantis of Our Modern Times?

Atlantis — a magical city of legend. Reputed to be an island in the Atlantic (at least according to the philosopher Plato), Atlantis supposedly led the world in science and technology and was reputed to be a paradise. That is, until the residents angered the gods and an earthquake sunk the island below the waves.

While Miami isn’t an island, the city is a paradise of modern times. Miami is the beach playground of the world and it has claimed its place as a world-class city. But it didn’t start that way.

Atlantis – by Athanasius Kircher – Public Domain, Wikipedia

Where it all began

While the potential of the Miami area had been known for many years by many people (such as by Julia Tuttle – the Mother of Miami), the city took off slowly. Miami’s location and fantastic weather could not be denied however, and right from the beginning it had ambition. Miami was never a town, it started as a city.

Miami was officially incorporated as a city on July 28, 1896, based on the votes of 343 people. These days, there are approximately that many people vying for every square metre of beach on a sunny day.

While the population of the new city was small in its early days, Miami grew rapidly. While the population was only 1,681 in 1900, it blossomed to 29,549 people in 1920 and kept growing from there. In the present day, the city of Miami has a population of over 440,000, and the surrounding county has many more.

About those angry gods

Miami’s current fate has a lot less to do with the anger of gods than it does with the inevitable march of time, rising oceans, and bit of bad luck.

“If you believe that, I’ve got some swamp land in Florida to sell you.”

It’s the punch line of a very old joke, but one that has its roots in truth. Long before Miami Beach looked like this:

Miami Beach – by Miamiboyz – uploaded to the English language Wikipedia in March 2007, Public Domain

It looked more like this:

Red mangrove trees bordering a tidal estuary in the Everglades- By Moni3 – Own work, Public Domain

The swamps were drained, beaches were extended, islands were built, and everything was turned into a paradise of sand, surf, and bronzed bodies.

We might not have offended any gods, but we are fighting against weather and nature. Where nature originally built a swamp, we have now built skyscrapers and high rises. Boasting the third tallest skyline in the US, Miami seems poised to enter an arm-wrestling competition with nature for the space.

New Orleans isn’t the only city that is sinking

The situation around Miami is a complex one. Some people (*cough* Trump *cough*) still debate the source of climate change. However, in the case of Miami, the cause of climate change is a moot point, they’re dealing with the ugly results. Take a look at the numbers:

  • From 2010 to 2015, the waters around Miami have been rising at an average rate of 1.27 inches per year
  • Sea levels around the world are rising 60% faster than expected
  • The ocean is predicted to rise between 6.6 and 30 feet by 2100
  • Miami Beach would erode if not for serious ongoing efforts in beach reconstruction
  • The metropolitan Miami area averages just six feet above sea level and has over $400 billion in real estate and infrastructure that could be swallowed by the sea
  • Miami is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on pumps to fight the water buildup from storms and floods
  • Salt water is creeping inland through the water table, contaminating wells and water supplies
  • Miami sits on a foundation of porous limestone, so even if sea walls are used to protect the city from storms the water can rise from underneath the city
  • The city of Miami itself is sinking (okay, not actively sinking, just settling) as the underwater aquifers are being pumped out for drinking water and the ground settles
Maybe a life-jacket will be known in the future as a Miami Tuxedo?

Miami isn’t necessarily doomed. The value of the city’s real estate and the profits from the tourism industry will ensure that efforts are made to save the city for as long as possible. On top of pumps, seawalls, beach restoration and other tactics, there is even a plan in place to physically raise parts of the city (rather like what Chicago did). Human ingenuity has accomplished many things, perhaps it can save Miami as well?

The sunny dreamlike vision of Miami that has captured imaginations, fuelled David Caruso’s career, and encouraged spring break fantasies for decades might be sinking under the waves just as effectively as Atlantis; you don’t need to panic just yet, but you might want to keep an eye out for discount plane tickets if you are planning a trip to the 305 any time soon.