City in a Garden
Growing South Florida’s plant life so Miami’s iconic emblem is a city in a garden
Learn how reintegrating nature into neighborhoods and urban centers can tackle extreme heat and turn Miami into a city in a garden in our interview with Fairchild’s Nannette Zapata.
And meet Harlem Capital’s Henri Pierre-Jacques tomorrow at Beacon for a conversation on changing the face of entrepreneurship. Register here.
This past summer was the hottest on record in Miami. It served as a reminder that extreme heat sits alongside sea level rise among the important challenges for Miami’s future. But Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, the globally acclaimed garden in Coral Gables covering 83 acres, has an idea to help address it.
It’s called City in a Garden.
Think of buildings clad with greed facades, roof-top gardens, the base of structures ringed with indigenous plant life, and open spaces and streets shaded under dense tree canopies.
“The idea is to take all of this unique plant life and distribute it,” said Nannette Zapata, Fairchild’s Chief Operating Officer. “Grow it throughout South Florida, so that Miami’s iconic emblem is a city in a garden. We want to marry the urban with the natural.”
Zapata joined us for our latest Opportunity Miami interview to discuss how the effort is getting started, the great opportunity it presents for Miami, and the challenges.
Singapore has already launched such an effort - and received global attention for it - to grapple with its sweltering heat. For Greater Miami, it would further beautify neighborhoods across the metropolitan area and, importantly, take steps forward to bring temperatures down too.
THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD
If there is any institution equipped to lead such an effort it’s Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. The Coral Gables nonprofit ranks among the leading botanic gardens in the world. In each of the last three years, Fairchild was named the best botanical garden in North America by USA Today.
Meanwhile, Miami-Dade County has been ahead of the curve in addressing extreme heat. In 2021 Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava named the first Chief Heat Officer in the world, appointing Jane Gilbert. Cities around the world have followed the Miami-Dade County government’s lead - including Los Angeles, Santiago, Melbourne, and Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Since taking the helm, Gilbert launched the Miami-Dade Extreme Heat Action Plan with a three-fold focus: inform, prepare, and protect residents from the dangers of extreme heat; cool homes, buildings, and emergency facilities; and cool neighborhoods.
Fairchild’s effort would build on this work. At the outset, its approach is focused on setting guidelines and providing know-how while seeking partnerships with developers, building owners, homeowner associations, and governments. It wants to demystify the process by making it both accessible and affordable.
“The rubber meets the road, for now, in a willingness” to participate, said Zapata.
Fairchild can attest to the impact that can be delivered. It has found that some parts of its garden are cooler - in one case, as much as 15 degrees cooler - due to abundant plant life that can provide shade and absorb heat, said Zapata.
THE SINGAPORE MODEL
Singapore is, perhaps, the global model. A half-century ago it faced widespread pollution but led an effort - which would later be dubbed “city in a garden” - focused on reintegrating nature throughout the city-state. As it’s faced rising temperatures and extreme heat, it’s redoubling efforts to cool.
Its approach is powered by significant government funding. It’s also incentivizing action by offering financial rewards for property owners who install rooftop gardens and vertical facades of vines, plants, and greenery of all kinds that combine the built environment with the natural environment. By doing this, it helps to cool buildings - which can radiate heat – and their surroundings.
“There is an inspiration by which we are following their model,” said Zapata. “Singapore wanted to transform itself. They knew that in order to do that they needed to do a holistic conversion. The driver for that - their why - was to improve the human spirit. Because green improves the human spirit, plants improve the human spirit.”
The result, Zapata continued, is that “Singapore is considered one of the best places in the world to live.”
To be sure, Greater Miami has neighborhoods with lush plant life and trees. But many neighborhoods don’t.
A holistic transformation is key, Zapata said. Namely, it must include all parts of the community. For instance, a 2021 report found that Coral Gables and Pinecrest had tree canopies of 44 percent and 40 percent. In contrast, Opa-Locka was 8 percent, and Hialeah 7.4 percent.
“Imagine a quilt throughout all of South Florida where nothing is being left out,” Zapata said.
Fairchild educational programs have educated more than two million students in the past two decades, Zapata said. “Now we’re finding that these kids, these students, are saying to us, ‘We want to grow up in a different Miami, we want to grow up in a tropical oasis, we want to grow up with everything green,’” she said.
In doing so, it can add another layer to Miami’s ever-evolving profile so that in the future, said Zapata, “when you think of Miami, you think of a city in a garden.”
JOIN US TOMORROW WITH HENRI PIERRE-JACQUES
We hope you’ll join us tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 26 for a conversation about building a truly diverse ecosystem of entrepreneurs in Miami and across the country with Harlem Capital’s co-founder Henri Pierre-Jacques. Harlem Capital ranks among the leading Black-owned venture capital firms and its mission is “changing the face of entrepreneurship.”
We will meet from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm. You can register here.
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