Activist community

Project a model of community climate adaptation strategies

As part of the University of Miami’s multidisciplinary initiative, Hyperlocalism: Transforming the Paradigm for Climate Adaptation, residents of Homestead and Little River have designed solutions to combat the effects of climate change in their communities.



The days were unusually warm, even by Texas standards.

That’s how Merline Leonce, who grew up in the town of Baytown on the Gulf Coast just east of Houston, describes the sweltering heat that enveloped Miami this summer. “And the humidity,” she said, “which we haven’t had much in Texas, makes it even worse.”

Leonce, who has lived in Miami for 25 years, has a simple solution to make uncomfortably hot days a little more bearable: plant more trees, which can dramatically lower temperatures in neighborhoods.

The urban tree canopy is just one of many adaptations she and a group of others produced as part of a University of Miami study that asked residents to design action plans to combat the effects of climate change in their neighbourhoods.

The project, Hyperlocalism: Transforming the Paradigm for Climate Adaptation (HyLo), brought together 28 residents of Homestead and Little River communities, bringing them together on virtual platforms such as Zoom and Webex to share stories about the intensity of the heat, floods and other consequences of a changing climate have impacted their livelihoods and laid the groundwork for how to mitigate these conditions.

Funded by the University of Miami’s Integrative Knowledge Lab (U-LINK), HyLo is one of the few of its kind, putting the power of change in the hands of residents rather than government entities, said Joanna Lombard, teacher at the school. of Architecture and one of the co-principal investigators of the project.

“We demonstrated that it could be done another way,” said Lombard, whose work focuses on design strategies for creating healthy communities. “The idea was to have a process that belongs to the citizens, a process that belongs to them.”

Over the course of a year, residents met virtually in a multitude of large and small online sessions, sharing ideas on how to improve their communities. Two nonprofit organizations with strong ties to the communities of Little River and Homestead hosted the meetings: the CLEO Institute, which is dedicated to climate education, advocacy and engagement, and Catalyst Miami. , whose mission is to identify and solve problems that affect vulnerable people. communities.

Representatives from local government planning offices also participated in the sessions, offering feedback and assistance in turning ideas into reality.

“What surprised me was that residents were willing to step up and participate despite a history of promises from past initiatives that yielded little results,” Lombard said. “They came with an open heart and a very strong and passionate vision of what they wanted to see for their communities. And the solutions they found were incredibly practical.

Leonce, who lives in Richmond Heights, just north of Homestead, wanted to see more bus shelters installed along the stretch of bus lane in South Miami-Dade that his 15-year-old daughter uses to get to the school.

Little River resident Pamela Ndah expressed concern about the lack of forest cover and green spaces in parts of her community. But it’s the severe flooding that worries her most, she said, noting that standing water in her neighborhood after heavy rains makes it difficult for local children to walk to a primary school. local. “Imagine how difficult it is for a single mother living in this area. It can rain, there is flooding, and the water is up to her knees, and she tries to take her child to school,” Ndah said.

Similarly, longtime community activist Kelli Ann Thomas has expressed alarm at standing water in her Homestead neighborhood, sharing footage of how the ground floor of her apartment building floods after a heavy downpour.

HyLo investigators incorporated geospatial risk factors such as age of residential dwellings, prevalence of air conditioning, level and depth of groundwater, and proximity to public transportation and parks into the project, finding that these factors can have a significant impact on the extent to which climatic conditions affect residents.

The team also used data that supported residents’ claims about flooding, extreme heat and a lack of green space in some areas.

To document climate-related issues in their vulnerable neighborhoods, residents shared written stories and used the visual research technique known as photovoice, which puts cameras in the hands of participants.

“It’s a different way of engaging individuals within a community and focusing specifically on the issues that affect them,” said Tyler Harrison, professor of communication studies at the School of Communication, who has served as Co-Principal Investigator for HyLo. “The inclusion of visuals gives a different perspective on issues faced by community residents and provides a different way to share ideas and engage with other community members and decision makers,” he said. -he declares. “The issues and stories they bring to the table are the issues that matter most to them, and often their passion for the topics shows that.”

Some of the online sessions served as learning opportunities for residents. Sam Purkis, for example, professor and chair of marine geosciences at the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, provided information on Greater Miami’s land topography and the underlying limestone bedrock upon which he is built.

“Miami is built on top of an area that was seabed only 125,000 years ago. The gentle undulations of the land are due to fossil sandbars and tidal channels,” Purkis said. “Limestone is like a sponge; it is porous and permeable. It’s like Swiss cheese, and it lets water through, which is a good thing because, of course, it rains a lot in Miami. And luckily, all that rain is mostly absorbed. I think most of the flooding that residents experience is Miami storm sewer backup, and that’s an infrastructure issue.

Residents’ ideas for reducing the effects of climate change are turning into results. Since the end of the virtual HyLo meetings, Leonce has noticed that more shelters are being erected along the bus routes. Lombard is following county officials to verify the success of the Homestead and Little River of the Million Trees Miami campaign, a community-wide effort to achieve 30% tree cover for Miami-Dade. And the County Office of Resilience has put in place an Environmental Protection and Resilience Plan for Little River.

The researchers detailed the Homestead and Little River HyLo project in Climate PLOS.

Now, investigators have turned their attention to the communities of Liberty City and Overtown, holding online sessions with residents of these vulnerable areas.

“As cities and counties across the country plan investments to adapt to climate change, understanding how this relates to what people experience in their daily lives is critical,” said science professor Amy Clement. Atmospheric and Co-Principal Investigators. “There is, at present, no playbook for this. Our project aimed to test a new method to bridge the gap around climate adaptation between governments and the people they serve.