At the Art Basel spectacle in Miami last week, heavy rains swamped the parties, forcing fairgoers to prance through the streets in soggy stilettos. It wasn’t a freak occurrence. It was a peek at the future.

In a frightening New Yorker article, Elizabeth Kolbert tours the city with Hal Wanless, a geologist at the University of Miami, who points out seawater lapping at the wheels of Mercedes parked in front of mansions a few blocks from the beach. Miami Beach is already being inundated with this type of flooding, and it’s poised to rearrange the real estate market long before it actually makes these homes uninhabitable:

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To cope with its recurrent flooding, Miami Beach has already spent something like a hundred million dollars. It is planning on spending several hundred million more. Such efforts are, in Wanless’s view, so much money down the drain. Sooner or later—and probably sooner—the city will have too much water to deal with. Even before that happens, Wanless believes, insurers will stop selling policies on the luxury condos that line Biscayne Bay. Banks will stop writing mortgages.

All of this wouldn’t be as much of a concern if it weren’t for the unique geological foundation beneath the city: A porous limestone which is—surprise!—already filled with water. One resident puts it this way: The water comes from six sides.

Turning streets into a series of canals, from Isaac Stein’s Miami project

The water is rising so fast that infrastructural solutions can’t be rolled out quickly enough. Residents buy pumps that are quickly overwhelmed. Streets are raised a few feet, but the water catches up. Cities like Venice and New Orleans are experimenting with a series of sea walls and pneumatic gates to keep high tides out.

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But Miami’s problem is unique due to the water bubbling up from beneath it. Architect Isaac Stern has given some thought to how to deal with the rising tides, including letting the streets flood and moving towards more water-based forms of transportation. And here’s another not-so-crazy idea from Bruce Mowry, Miami Beach’s city engineer:

Mowry said he was intrigued by the possibility of finding some kind of resin that could be injected into the limestone. The resin would fill the holes, then set to form a seal. Or, he suggested, perhaps one day the city would require that builders, before constructing a house, lay a waterproof shield underneath it, the way a camper spreads a tarp under a tent. Or maybe some sort of clay could be pumped into the ground that would ooze out and fill the interstices.

Or they could just move the entirety of Miami Beach. Either option sounds expensive. And scary.

[Read the whole story at the New Yorker]

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky