Look at Miami and see our collective future?


Photo by Max Sulik on Unsplash

Half-asleep, I heard them say on the radio that a 12-storey building had partially collapsed and thought it might be in Dhaka or Delhi. Miami didn’t immediately come to mind. Nor did the possibility that it was an oceanfront condo tower, occupied by the well-connected of the western hemisphere, not least relatives of the first lady of Paraguay.

By the time I got out of bed and knew it was Miami, not Delhi or Dhaka, I pondered why my reflexive reaction to such news veered towards South Asia.

Well, mostly because such tragedies happen there. Time after time, it’s shoddy construction; lack of attention to building codes; sometimes even the lack of building codes. Developers erect too-tall towers; politicians and bureaucratic paper-pushers wink and look away. Some years later, it all comes tumbling down. Lives are lost; orphaned children are left to weep.

In 2017, according to data from India’s National Crime Records Bureau, more than 1,200 people were killed in 1,161 building collapses across the country.

So, it was not odd at all that my initial thoughts were of India or Bangladesh when Miami made the news.

That said, why did it happen in Miami?

The Washington Post quoted Peter Dyga, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors Florida East Coast Chapter. He suggested that there could have been any number of said contributory factors – design or material flaws, environmental impacts, poor craftsmanship.

Another inescapable thought: the sea taking back what is its own. Shimon Wdowinski, a professor at Florida International University’s department of earth and environment, published a paper in April 2020 that said the building has been sinking for decades and that subsidence in the Miami Beach area had contributed to rising sea levels and increased flooding hazards. A local official, Eliana Salzhauer, took up that idea: “I think this is all tied to sea level rise and our overdevelopment. And Mother Earth comes back, and the ocean comes back, and takes it”.

And then there was the comment by one Bradley Lozano, whose family has owned a unit on the side of the building that collapsed since the mid-2000s. When he heard about the catastrophic collapse, he switched on the television news, saw the heaps of concrete and metal and said, “It’s surreal. You just don’t see that in our country, really”.

Ah but you do – now. That’s the tragic reality. The question to ask is why.