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Miami Beach celebrates 100 years, but climate cloud casts shadow


image source AFP / Diego Urdaneta A couple walk down Collins Avenue in the Art Déco district of Miami Beach, Florida

image source AFP / Diego Urdaneta<br />A couple walk down Collins Avenue in the Art Déco district of Miami Beach, Florida

White sands and azure waters will provide a stunning natural backdrop as Miami Beach marks its 100th birthday on Thursday — but will the beloved playground of the rich and famous still be going strong 100 years from now?

That is the question looming in the background as the glamorous Florida enclave launches 100 hours of festivities on Sunday to celebrate the centenary of the city’s incorporation in 1915.

Miami Beach is famed around the world for its miles of pristine sands, unrivaled nightlife, and a cityscape studded with exquisite examples of art deco architecture.

More than 14 million visitors flocked to the thin sandy strip of land wedged between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, lured to a vibrant paradise that also hosts world class cultural events such as the Art Basel fair.

“It is a city that the whole world wants to live in and wants to visit, it has a combination of the greatest climate in the world, the most beautiful beaches, the most unique historic architecture,” Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine told AFP ahead of the city’s centenary on March 26.

A glittering gala concert on Thursday will feature performances by the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan and Bee Gees star Barry Gibb.

– Bright lights dimmed? –

But the bright lights that will dazzle Miami Beach this week could soon be dimmed, according to the gloomiest environmental projections.

A day after the concert, Miami will host a gathering of experts who will discuss the threat posed by rising sea levels attributed to climate change, regarded as the biggest challenge to the city.

 AFP / Diego Urdaneta

A woman walks down Collins Avenue in the Art Déco district of Miami Beach, Florida on March 18, 2015

The waters around south Florida are rising fast.

The Florida coast has already seen 12 inches (30 centimeters) of sea rise since 1870, according to 2014 figures from the World Resources Institute.

Another nine to 24 inches are anticipated by 2060. Miami is located just four feet (1.2 meters) above sea level.

The situation in Miami Beach is “critical,” according to Henry Briceno of the University of Florida, because rising waters could affect key infrastructure in the city.

“In 30 or 40 years, we’re going to have to change things radically and permanently to adapt to these new city sea levels,” Briceno told AFP.

Miami Beach residents are commonly seen wading through knee-deep waters to get to their homes and businesses during high tides and floods.

Officials are investigating the use of tidal control valves and new water pumps to improve drainage, according to officials.

– 100 years of turmoil? –

Miami Beach historians meanwhile point to the fact that the city’s first 100 years has witnessed its fair share of turmoil.

People take advantage of the sun and surf on South Beach in Miami, Florida on January 27, 2015

The famed resort boomed during the roaring 20s before it was destroyed by a devastating hurricane in 1926 and then battered by the fiscal tornado of the Great Depression.

Miami Beach was used by the military as a training camp in World War II, slowly starting to regain its former glory at the end of the conflict when a steady influx of middle class tourists arrived.

Miami Beach became synonymous with drug violence during the early 1980s, in the era of the so-called “cocaine cowboys” immortalized by the classic 1983 crime drama “Scarface” starring Al Pacino.

Jeff Donnelly, a historian with the Miami Design Preservation League, says the rich architectural heritage of Miami Beach will ensure that adequate steps are taken to protect the city’s future.

“This place will adapt better than many other places, because there’s a value here that needs to be protected,” he said.

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