Miami Rising: Resilience and Citizen Action

Last night I attended the “public program” portion of the 2016 “Design Matters” conference. This annual event by the Association of Architecture Organizations which is taking place in Miami this year November 2 through today with the theme: “Miami Rising”. The public program was titled “Resilience and Citizen Action”.

On the heels of Miami being named a new member of the 100 Resilient Cities network, Next City publisher and CEO Tom Dallessio hosts a round table discussion with several leaders (national and local) working to advance public action on climate change. Going beyond flood mitigation strategies and other tactical responses, our expert panel considers the broader thinking and opportunities for addressing the social and economic challenges that will come to define the “resilient” city in the coming years.

Susanne Torriente, Chief Resiliency Officer at the City of Miami Beach and Otis Rolley, Regional Director for 100 Resilient Cities
Susanne Torriente and Otis Rolley

The panelists were:

  • Susanne Torriente, Chief Resiliency Officer at the City of Miami Beach
  • Otis Rolley, Regional Director for 100 Resilient Cities – Pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation
  • Caroline Lewis, Founder and Executive Director for The CLEO Institute
  • Tom Dallessio, CEO of and moderator for the evening
  • Marissa Aho, Chief Resilience Officer in the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
  • Ephrat Yovel, Managing Member at Counterpoint CS

Tom Dallessio started the evening of by asking “What is resilience?” A good question given the topic of the night, yet not so easy to answer. Otis Rolley offered that resilient cities are designed to “survive, adapt and grow despite shocks and stress” like a hurricanes or even homelessness while Ephrat added that resilience needed to include “the ability of municipalities to continue to function”. I liked the way Susanne put it best. She noted that we often talk of “bouncing back” from adversity, but she think’s resiliency is about “bouncing forward”.

Caroline Lewis, Tom Dallessio, Marissa Aho
Caroline Lewis, Tom Dallessio, Marissa Aho

Caroline and Susanne mentioned that they have worked closely together, and gave each other credit for coming up with the “Three “S”s of Resilience”: science seriousness and solutions. They were not the only panelists to bring up science. Marissa strongly advocated for bringing local expert scientists to the table during urban planning sessions. She noted that she is “a policy person – not an expert seismologist or oceanographer”. In Los Angeles, she speaks to her science contacts weekly as part of her resiliency planning.

When Tom asked each of the panelists to talk about resiliency in action, Susanne gave the example of Sunset Harbour on Miami Beach. The neighborhood used to have “sunny day flooding” issues – so much so that the current Mayor floated a canoe down the street as part of his election campaign. Since then the City of Miami Beach has invested in seawalls and pumping stations over last 2 years. Susanne said Sunset Harbour has become a “living laboratory” for climate change and city response to it.

Otis Rolley and Caroline Lewis
Otis Rolley and Caroline Lewis

One of my favorite quotes of the evening came from Caroline. She said, “I am not an urban planner. I am an urban planner watchdog.” And as such, she wants architects and city planners to remember the importance of “climate justice”. Poverty is a critical issue, and not everyone has the resources to take individual action against climate change. As she noted, when someone is poor, they are so low on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that climate change cannot be a priority when food and housing is. Nevertheless, climate change “harms the poor first and worst” as the United Nations put it, whether from the catastrophes of hurricanes or drought, or simply from extreme heat or cold in the cities. Caroline talked about the importance of cities providing misting stations, shade, and heat mitigation as a standard part of their urban planning to help minimize the human cost of climate change. Caroline also spoke about meeting residents in Liberty City and Little Haiti, and hearing their fears of “climate gentrification”. Because the land elevation in these neighborhoods is higher than other areas in Miami-Dade, they are already seeing predatory buying of property pushing them out of their historic homes.

On the flip side, however, Ephrat noted that in the U.S., strong private property rights are a huge challenge to cities being able to achieve resilience. There is only so much city government will be able to do, and long-term resilience requires citizen action and participation. To that point, all of the panelists agreed that education was critical to the success of any city resilience plan. Not very comforting in light of results from a survey conducted by Caroline and Susanne. Six hundred students at Florida International University, University of Miami and Miami Dade College were asked to define change and and explain some of its causes. Each response was awarded points on a rubric created for the survey. So far, 400 student surveys have been completed. All have failed.



Published byMelanieDawn

Melanie Dawn Molina Wood is a Miami native currently living in the historic downtown district. She has earned her LEED Green Associate accreditation, the NAR GREEN designation, and an Eco-broker credential. She is also a proud member of the US Green Building Council, and a member of the Sierra Club. For more information about sustainability in Miami, or to connect with a real estate agent anywhere in the world, contact Melanie Dawn by text/phone at 305.801.3133, or by email at

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