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Keeping Current: North Miami

Keeping Current Festival: Climate Action by Design

Ribbon Cutting & Block Party
Sunday 12/15, 1–5 pm
Celebrate the transformation of a vacant lot in North Miami into a community space and water retention site at its grand opening with design tours, music, and food!


Van Alen International Council May 2019 London, UK photo: Marina Piedade

North Miami is one of the most flood-prone communities in Miami-Dade County. In collaboration with the City of North Miami, Van Alen Institute launched this design competition to reimagine public uses for flood-prone vacant lots—also known as repetitive loss (RL) properties. By selecting an interdisciplinary team to develop a master plan and pilot project for an RL property in North Miami, this competition aims to design spaces that promote climate-consciousness, reinvigorate underused communal areas, and reduce the cost of flood insurance.

We are piloting solutions at a local level, but this is an urgent national issue: RL properties are a significant drain on the National Flood Insurance Program, costing about $200,000,000 annually. Nationwide, RL properties are expected to account for 25-30% of flood insurance claims. Together, Van Alen and the City of North Miami are identifying strategies which address the social and financial strains caused by RL properties, in hopes that other cities will benefit from these learnings as well.

Three finalist teams were awarded $5,000 and flew down to North Miami in late July 2019 to participate in stakeholder engagement, site tours, and rapid ideation. The teams were asked to create renderings for the repetitive loss site pilot at 901 Northeast 144th Street located in North Miami’s District 3.

Winner: Department Design Office
Van Alen International Council May 2019 London, UK photo: Marina Piedade

Of the three teams, Department Design Office was selected as a winner due to their innovative design, which sought to restore native plantings and to make water visible to community members. Department Design Office—whose team includes local artist Adler Guerrier, local architect Andrew Aquârt, and hazard mitigation start-up Forerunner—was awarded $80,000 to develop and implement their designs at the pilot site and to create a master plan for other RL sites in North Miami.

A pilot project ribbon-cutting will take place on December 15. Van Alen will collaborate with Miami-based placemaking organization Urban Impact Lab and local stakeholders to ensure that the design will genuinely serve the needs and desires of the North Miami community.

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 design team includes Miami-based artist Adler Guerrier; Forerunner, floodplain management and FEMA Community Rating System consultants; and Andrew Aquârt, the team’s local architect.

Department Design Office is raising additional funds to maximize their efforts in reshaping the space. Contributions can be made here.

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.”




The jury, comprised of local and national leaders in climate change, design, and community engagement, played a critical role in selecting finalist and winning teams, and in helping to shape their concepts.

Jessica Lax

Director of Strategic Initiatives, Van Alen Institute



Jayantha Obeysekera

Director & Researcher, Sea Level Rise Solutions Center, Florida International University



Community Engagement

Participatory design is central to our process. Department Design Office will work with Van Alen, our collaborator Urban Impact Lab, and local stakeholders, to ensure that the design of this treasured public space will truly serve the needs and desires of the North Miami community.

Take the Survey!
Help the project team understand more about the community and its needs.


Preliminary survey results can be found here.

a group of individuals who are knowledgeable of and well-connected in the community. Members of the team receive a stipend to help plan, facilitate, and promote local community engagement events to inform the design project. Current members are:

Jamil Pierre

Civil Engineer, Kimley-Horn

Howard Tonkin

Business Owner, Urban Habitat

Jamil Pierre

Civil Engineer, Kimley-Horn

Howard Tonkin

Business Owner, Urban Habitat

Rachel Goldberg

Local Resident

Cassandra Arnold

Political Strategist

Sara McDevitt

Local Resident
About Keeping Current
All photography by Scott McIntyre unless otherwise indicated

Keeping Current: A Sea Level Rise Challenge for Greater Miami is a series of open design competitions inviting interdisciplinary teams to develop solutions and ideas using the lenses of economy, ecology, and equity to adapt to sea level rise.

Van Alen Institute is working with local municipalities in the greater Miami area, along with elected officials, academics, business leaders, community advocates, and residents.


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