Keeping Current


    Designing ways to adapt to sea level rise in Greater Miami.


    Stormwater Park, North Miami, FL. December 15, 2019. Photo: Saul Martinez

    The South Florida region has become emblematic of the threats associated with climate change. Even on sunny days, the streets regularly flood at high tide. Just three feet of sea level rise would leave a substantial part of South Florida underwater. New ideas for the built environment, regional development, and opportunities for all of the region’s six million residents are urgently needed. The region must transform its infrastructure to protect everything from drinking water to homes and business from rising seas.

    In recognition of the magnitude of these challenges, Van Alen Institute initiated Keeping Current to enhance resiliency in the greater Miami area and create visionary and implementable design solutions to sea level rise. We worked with local municipalities in the greater Miami area along with elected officials, academics, business leaders, community advocates, and residents.

    Project Report (2020)

    Stormwater Park

    65% of North Miami is in Arch Creek Basin, a low-lying area of land that naturally collects water. Because of this, many people in North Miami experience flooding on their properties. If a homeowner files for flood insurance twice in a 10-year period, their land is called a “repetitive loss property” by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In North Miami, a homeowner in this situation can sell their property to the City. This has created an opportunity to transform these sites into valuable community space. In 2000, the City of North Miami purchased one of these properties, 901 Northeast 144 Street, so that the homeowner could move to a less flood-prone property. The city demolished the house and converted the land into a patch of grass.

    In 2019, Van Alen Institute and the City teamed up to launch an international competition to find a design team to transform this empty site into a usable space. Throughout the design process, we engaged hundreds of residents through events and surveys to understand their needs and wishes for this new community space. Three finalist teams visited the site, met with community members, and created unique proposals. Ultimately, a jury of city officials and design experts selected Department Design Office because of their experience in urban design, community engagement, and public art.

    Department Design Office was chosen from three finalists for their “Good Neighbor” design, and were awarded $80,000 to develop and implement their designs at the pilot site and to create a master plan for other repetitive loss properties in North Miami. “‘Good Neighbor’ highlights and celebrates its role as a stormwater park complete with a large central basin collects water, reducing flooding for the neighborhood, a limestone platform offers a place to sit and play, and a new walking path guides visitors through plants native to South Florida. “Good Design” team members include Miami-based artist Adler Guerrier who adds his experience in public art; Forerunner, who brings a nuanced understanding of FEMA’s Community Rating System and floodplain management; and Andrew Aquârt, who acts as the team’s local architect with a decade of practice in Miami.

    Of their project, Department Design Office said: “Because many of these lots, and the pilot site specifically, are within residential areas, they have the potential to give back to the community in a meaningful way — to be a good neighbor. Rather than lay vacant, these lots can increase stormwater capacity and alleviate local flooding by functioning as basins; unlike other forms of stormwater infrastructure that are typically buried underground, however, these sites offer the chance to make visible their function while showcasing South Florida’s unique ecology. We envision this pilot site, and other emergent sites, as a register for environmental change that simultaneously grows public awareness, reduces risk locally, and provides a community gathering space.”

    The site opened at a public ribbon-cutting on December 15, 2019. In addition to the new park, Department Design Office developed a strategy to transform other flood-prone vacant lots into community assets like Stormwater Park. The plan, which is currently pending adoption by City Council, outlines how to fund more of these projects and design recommendations from their work with the community.

    Project Outreach Team

    Members of the community received a stipend to help plan, facilitate, and promote local community engagement events to inform the design project Jamil Pierre, Civil Engineer, Kimley-Horn; Howard Tonkin, Business Owner, Urban Habitat; Rachel Goldberg, Local Resident; Cassandra Arnold, Political Strategist; Sara McDevitt, Local Resident

    Finalist: Office ParkScheerbarth

    The team lead by Office ParkScheerbarth proposed the following: “This proposal eschews the instinct to prescribe specific, fixed uses in favor of a flexible,community-led program that allows for evolution, dissolution, and reinterpretation over time.”

    Finalist: Resolve

    Resolve proposed the following: “Following our process with input from nearby residents, we determined a large flexible open space with surrounding areas that highlight natural systems and native planting ecotones while allowing for unprogrammed activities and provide maximum stormwater retention in rain events.”


    Akin Ozaydin

    City Engineer, City of North Miami

    Debbie Love

    AICP, City Planner, City of North Miami

    Jessica Lax

    Innovation Fellow, New Jersey State Office of Innovation

    Germane Barnes

    Director, Studio Barnes

    Marta Viciedo

    Founding Partner & Strategy Director, Urban Impact Lab

    Jeremy Alain Siegel

    Associate, BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group

    Jayantha Obeysekera

    Water management, sea-level rise, & climate change expert

    Jennifer Bolstad

    Principal Landscape Architect, Local Office Landscape & Urban Design

    José Martí Park

    José Martí Park is a well-loved and beautiful community space in Little Havana. Due to its location along the Miami River and its low elevation, the park is also very vulnerable to flooding. This is most clearly seen during King Tide, when the park’s riverwalk becomes completely submerged in river water. This will likely become more frequent in the future due to sea level rise.

    Van Alen Institute and the City of Miami joined forces to find a design team who could create a new vision for José Martí Park — one that will reduce flooding in the park while meeting the community’s needs for a treasured public space. In 2018, the City of Miami nominated local residents for a Project Outreach Team, all of whom are especially knowledgeable about the communities surrounding José Martí Park: With this team, we distributed a community survey to learn how residents wanted to improve the park. We also hosted two community events in February and November to keep the neighborhood informed about the project’s progress, hear from residents about their ideas for the park, and introduce them to the winning design team. The community’s top needs for a new José Martí Park are a safer, more spacious, and more inviting space.

    Curtis+Rogers Design Studio was selected by the City of Miami for their expertise in urban design, landscape architecture, and engineering, and extensive local experience in Miami-Dade County. Their team — composed of architects, ecologists, engineers, planners, scientists, and community engagement experts — are creating a dynamic vision for the park that will support a resilient Miami for generations to come.

    Curtis+Rogers Team

    Curtis+Rogers Design Studio 

    Cummins & Cederberg

    E Sciences Incorporated

    FIU – Sea Level Solutions Center

    The CLEO Institute

    Touzet Studio


    Local Office Landscape and Urban Design

    Project Outreach Team

    Ian Zink, Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Miami; Madelyn Rodriguez-Llanes, Director, Centro Mater; Avra Jain, Owner, Miami River Inn; Carlos Dulzaides, Corporate Trainer, Hertz; Barby Rodriguez, Public Outreach Specialist, EV Services, Inc.

    Peer Review

    These interdisciplinary experts support the design team to make sure they have the right resources to complete their vision: Sonia Chao, University of Miami; Nancy Clark, University of Florida; Jane Gilbert, City of Miami; Katherine Hagemann, Miami-Dade County; Ken Jeffries, Florida Department of Transportation; Jessica Lax, Van Alen Institute; James Murley, Miami-Dade County; Sonia Succar, The Nature Conservancy; Marta Viciedo, Urban Impact Lab

    Climate Design Lab

    In collaboration with Miami-Dade County Public Schools and The CLEO Institute, we hosted Climate Design Lab, a summer intensive program in 2018 and 2019 that engaged high school students in a competition to research, design, and develop forward-thinking solutions to climate change. Over a three-week period, the students worked one-on-one with a leading group of South Florida architects, designers, academics, and experts on the development of design solutions to address the future impacts of sea level rise on South Florida.

    Students presented their final ideas to a group of experts from various disciplines at a final awards ceremony: Commissioner Eileen Higgins, Miami-Dade County, District 5; Jessica Lax, Van Alen Institute; Katie Hagemann, Miami-Dade County; Lauren Ordway, Institute for Sustainable Communities; Rene Gonzalez, Rene Gonzalez Architects; Yoca Arditi-Rocha, The CLEO Institute.

    Climate Design Lab Partners

    CLEO Institute

    Miami-Dade Public Schools

    With special thanks to the University of Miami Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy

    Climate Leaders Workshop

    On December 16 and 17, 2019, regional leaders in design, government, development, and community engagement gathered at the Miami Center for Architecture for a design-thinking workshop to help create tools and solutions that better advance climate-adaptive design. Workshop participants created the following questions to guide the discussion:

    How might we…

    …hold space for creativity and experimentation within government climate work?

    …create a sense of “we’re all in this together” across municipal lines to get things done?

    …motivate people to action without having to personally experience a climate crisis?

    …create quick wins to keep people engaged with projects/timelines that span years?

    …build meaning, active, on-going partnership with marginalized people on technical, bureaucratic projects?

    Participating Organizations

    Broward County Office of Resilience
    C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group
    City of Miami Beach Office of Resilience
    Florida International University
    Local Office Landscape & Urban Design
    National Innovation Service
    The CLEO Institute
    University of Florida

    Resource Guide

    Keeping Current kicked off with a one-day research summit in Miami, engaging over 30 scientists, researchers, designers, and other experts to identify promising approaches to key challenges in the region. Attendees also discussed future research, resources, and policies that are needed for the region to adapt to climate change in ways that promote ecology, economy, and equity.

    With over one billion dollars in infrastructure spending planned in the region, it’s vital to think about what this could mean and how it can benefit communities. The summit engaged local academics at the University of Florida, University of Miami, Florida International University, and Florida Atlantic University who are leading the way in discovering and identifying the myriad of causes and effects of sea level rise in South Florida and beyond.

    Building from their research and the work of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact, the summit advanced the conversation on resilient design solutions. We’ve compiled notes from summit discussions, interviews, and additional research into the Keeping Current Resource Guide.

    The Keeping Current Resource Guide is intended for design teams applying to the project’s competitions or working on future infrastructure projects in the region—in particular, those who are not familiar with the South Florida region.

    The Resource Guide shares information on various local approaches to climate change adaptation and gathers together reports, articles, online mapping tools, and other information that can inform teams’ work. The Resource Guide is intended to offer a user-friendly survey of resources and a starting point for exploration and understanding of the region.


    Miami Herald

    North Miami bought her flooded home. Now it’s going to become a park to fight sea rise

    Sierra Club

    Keeping Current Trains Youths to Be Climate Leaders of Tomorrow

    Next City

    A North Miami Lot Shows How Small Cities Can Manage Stormwater

    Fast Company

    This vacant lot is turning into a park designed to protect the neighborhood from flooding


    Florida Cities Launch Contest To Find Urgent Climate Change Solutions

    Who We Worked With

    Project Advisors

    Jesse Keenan

    Faculty of Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design

    Christina Deconcini

    Director, Government Affairs, World Resources Institute

    Nicole Hernandez Hammer

    Biologist and Environmental Justice Advocate

    Stuart Kennedy

    Consultant, Sub-Culture

    Caroline Lewis

    Founder, CLEO Institute

    David Martin

    President, Terra

    Jayantha Obeysekera

    Water management, sea-level rise, & climate change expert

    Research Team

    Nancy Clark

    Research Chair, University of Florida Center for Hydro-generated Urbanism CHU College of Design Construction and Planning; Founder and Program Coordinator, UF G|SoA Global Lab

    Peter Jenkins

    Facilitator, Program Manager, 100 Resilient Cities – Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation

    Nancy Schneider

    Facilitator, Senior Program Officer, U.S. Program, Institute for Sustainable Communities

    Anthony Abbate

    Director and Professor, School of Architecture, Florida Atlantic University

    Esber Andiroglu

    PhD, PE, LEED AP, Associate Professor of Prof. Practice, Dept. of Civil, Architectural & Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering, University of Miami

    Jessica Bolson

    Postdoctoral Associate, Florida International University

    Henry Briceño

    Research Faculty, Southeast Environmental Research Center, Florida International University

    Sonia Chao

    Research Associate Professor, School of Architecture, University of Miami

    Andrea Dutton

    Assistant Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Florida

    Debbie Griner

    Resilience Manager, Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department

    Denis Hector

    RA, LEED AP, Associate Professor, School of Architecture, University of Miami

    Roderick King

    Director and Assistant Dean, Miller School of Medicine’s M.D., M.P.H., and Public Health Education, University of Miami

    Benjamin Kirtman

    Professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Miami

    Martha Kohen

    Director, University of Florida Center for Hydro-generated Urbanism CHU College of Design Construction and Planning, Professor

    David Letson

    Professor, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami

    Joanna Lombard

    Professor, School of Architecture and Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Miami

    Marilys R. Nepomechie

    Professor of Architecture, Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives, College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts, Florida International University

    Juliet Pinto

    Interim Executive Director and Associate Professor, Department of Journalism + Media, Florida International University

    Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk

    Professor, School of Architecture, University of Miami

    Gray Read

    Associate Professor, School of Architecture, Florida International University

    Sonia Succar Rodríguez

    Urban Program Manager, The Nature Conservancy

    Roberto Rovira

    Associate Professor, School of Landscape Architecture + Environmental and Urban Design, Florida International University

    Tiffany Troxler

    Director, Sea Level Solutions Center, Florida International University

    Shahin Vassigh

    Professor of Architecture and Associate Dean of Research and Faculty Development, Florida International University

    Farah Akiely

    Recorder, Ph.D student, Urban and Regional Planning, University of Florida

    Silvia Aloisio

    Architect and PhD fellow DRACo, Faculty of Architecture, Sapienza-University of Rome

    Maria Estefania Barrios

    Research Associate, Center of Hydro-generated Urbanism, University of Florida

    John P. Bernal

    Graduate Student, University of Florida School of Architecture

    Derek T. Hill

    Graduate Student, University of Florida School of Architecture

    Christopher Yanes

    Graduate Student, Architecture and Urban and Regional Planning, University of Florida