Time-traveler from 2027 reports on how we solved our flooding issues (extended version)

Thoughts from a permaculture perspective, on how we solve our perennial flooding. This is a micro presentation i had planned on making during citizen comment time at a Daytona Beach City Commission meeting in mid-November but decided to hold off, as so many citizens were there needing to share their harrowing experiences from the flooding and start to discuss solutions.

I’m posting my comments here now in written form instead, to spark discussion about creative solutions and working with nature rather than against her. And about how we will come together to care for each other. Daytona Beach is one city!!! We stand together!! (This sentiment applies to Volusia County countywide too of course.)

Good evening, fellow citizens of the year 2022. This is future Jenny Nazak visiting you from the year 2027.

Please pardon my appearance; the holographic time-transmission technology is still a bit wonky. I must say I like that I turned out green though!

After the deadly storms and flooding of 2022, we as a city knew we had to figure out some real solutions.

As one element of the solutions, we finally faced the fact that the beachside is a barrier island of shifting sands, and needs to be as natural as possible.

We faced up to the science, that seawalls are not only extremely expensive and unable to protect oceanfront properties, but are actually worsening the erosion of our sandy beaches. We decided to build no more seawalls, and instead use living shoreline techniques, which are much more effective and much less expensive.

We also decided to have no more new building construction or new paved parking lots east of the A1A. (We were able to use federal grants to buy out those property owners and rewild the dunes.)

We built new housing on higher ground, and relocated residents out of the mainland’s flood-prone areas and away from the beachfront.

We have been able to add a considerable amount of infill housing on the beachside — just not on the oceanfront anymore.

But a lot of the housing didn’t need to be built, because it already existed, in the form of people’s vacation homes that sat empty most of the year. Thanks to an effort led by a grassroots coalition called Fill the Empty Houses, we were able to encourage the mostly-absentee owners of these houses to either move here permanently as year-round residents, or sell these properties, which were then freed up for purchase by year-round residents. City-initiated incentives have greatly helped residents go from being renters to being homeowners.

I myself still live on the beachside, at 501 Harvey Avenue. But my former single-family house on the corner of Harvey and Oleander, one block south of Main Street, has been built up into a 3-story multifamily residence, where several former residents of Midtown flood-prone areas now live with me and co-own along with me. I love it even more now.

The five households besides mine who live in my building are able to get by with just two shared cars, thanks to the creative transportation reforms of 2023.

Anyone is always welcome to come visit our vertical food gardens, shade trellises, native-plant rooftop, and rainwater cool-tubs at 501 Harvey, but then again our whole city is blanketed with those kinds of things now. The linear, rainwater-fed swimming pools and fishing ponds running along Nova Road, and along Lincoln Avenue by the university, are the most outstanding example.

Meanwhile, the formerly city-owned empty lot next to my building now has a new starter house on it, occupied by a young family who also relocated from a flood-prone area of Midtown.

The city sold off all the empty lots it had owned on the beachside at low prices to encourage people to build homes and small apartment buildings on them. The infill development on high-and-dry beachside lots has in turn encouraged many new businesses on Main Street, Seabreeze, and East ISB. The city no longer needs to spend any money marketing the beach to tourists. Residents create a vibrant year-round economy, and beach tourists are just icing on the cake. The money saved on expensive marketing has been channeled into the flood-proofing of Midtown.

Additionally, we stopped using high-maintenance nonnative landscaping on public land on the beachside, and instead allowed the natural dune vegetation to take over. We also finally realized that fallen leaves are best left on the ground to nourish the trees and make the ground more able to absorb stormwater.

Although the grasscutting contractors were worried about job security at first, they soon grew to love their new roles as cultivators and nurturers of trees and plants. They also enjoy their continuing education classes in permaculture and forestry.

Of course we still have some lawnmowing companies to maintain ballfields and such. But those types of grassy areas have been largely switched over to recycled artificial turf, since it saves so much money while reducing consumption of fossil fuels.

Although private property owners were not legally compelled to follow suit in the rewilding, many of them did when they saw the beauty of the natural dune landscape and how much money and maintenance they could save.

In addition to saving millions more dollars and untold hours of labor, and eliminating the use of irrigation and chemicals, this decision paid off by transforming our beachside into a uniquely beautiful landscape. It is visually obvious, as soon as you cross the bridge, “You are at the beach!”

These decisions instantly freed up tens of millions of dollars and countless labor hours, which were then redirected to address the chronic flooding and other major issues affecting residents of Midtown, the historic and cultural heartbeat of our city.

Furthermore, the freed-up funds (together with EPA green infrastructure grants and other funding), were used to create WaterWorld Daytona, a comprehensive stormwater stewardship program that encompasses wetland parks, food forest gardens, networked rainwater cisterns, fishing ponds, several miles of linear swimming pools, and thousands of nature-based business opportunities in Midtown and citywide.

WaterWorld has created many jobs and a huge network of local restaurants, local food trucks, herbalists, and local growers and foragers of edible plants. Our hats, baskets, and artworks — woven by local residents from locally harvested grasses and palm fronds — have become a signature item. We even have a local cottage industry of furniture artisans. WaterWorld has spawned no small number of technology jobs as well, from software to robotics, computer graphics and irrigation control and an array of app development, to name a few.

Our city has become a hot destination for tourists and a cool paradise for residents. The mosaic of eco parks, kayak canals, and semitropical food gardens on the mainland are often showcased in travel magazines and TV shows.

Amazingly, not a single building in our city has flooded since the storms of 2022.

The rewilding of beachside has been good for redevelopment on the beachside too! Main Street now has every storefront filled with year-round businesses, with apartments on all the upper floors. There are some new buildings but a surprising amount of redevelopment was accomplished by repurposing old buildings.

We thought the new building restrictions would kill the beachside hotels and condos, but creative eco-friendly developers and renovation experts have risen to the occasion. And it turns out that tourists love the plain natural beach and will come here just to spend time enjoying the sea breeze and the sound of the waves.

Adding to the beauty was our switch to dark-sky-friendly amber lighting. The dark-sky-friendly lighting proved so popular on the beachside that it’s now citywide. We all love to see the stars at night.

As part of the flooding fixes, our transportation menu has evolved to be more sustainable too. We added a citywide car-sharing program, a beach trolley, pedicabs all over the beachside and mainland (each pedicabber is an independent operator who owns their vehicle thanks to various purchase assistance and incentive programs), and multiple small river-crossing boat operators. For thrill-seekers, there are even ziplines going across the river.

Of course it helps the cause of pedestrians and cyclists that after the deadly storms of 2022, we finally mustered the political will to prioritize trees and native plants. It keeps the streets a lot more cool and shady as well as quieter.

All of this has created numerous year-round jobs for people from teens to elders, while also getting more residents excited to be outdoors. Also, we were able to attract bicycle shops to every part of town, and bicycles are now an extremely popular form of transport.

Our population is so fit and happy, and our built environment is so integrated with nature, that anyone visiting Daytona Beach 2027 could be forgiven for thinking they’ve landed on the movie set of Avatar or Black Panther.

Midtown is now thriving with residents, businesses, and tourists year-round. Back in the old days some people thought businesses didn’t want to be in Midtown, but instead now it’s so popular we have had to take steps to prevent gentrification, so that not one single resident is pushed out.

And the elaborate flowering shade-trellises along Lincoln, MLK, and other wide streets have won national awards for urban heat-island mitigation, food production, and wildlife biodiversity. And we have restored our oak canopy on the beachside and the mainland alike.

We finally found the sweet spot where flood control and drought mitigation meets beautification.

Nature has become a prominent feature of our city even while the various core downtown areas have become more vibrant. From Seabreeze to Main St., to Beach St., Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Avenue to Martin Luther King, Ridgewood and ISB, all now have every storefront occupied year round, with shops on the first floor and apartments or hotels on the upper floors.

Another thing we did in our city was stop producing sewage. How? By switching from flush toilets to waterless toilets that convert human waste into dry compost. These toilets have been in widespread use by the RV-dwelling and boating population for a long time. After the colleges got together and did a pilot project, it was so successful that dry toilets soon came into widespread use. They are handled by the same companies that do septic tanks, portapotties and so on, so it was not a hard transition.

We also made innovations in governance: After the scandal-ridden and divisive elections of 2022, we came to realize we needed to find another way to choose our leaders and be in community together. Our new, unique system of governance was created by humbly studying the best practices from indigenous peoples around the world. It sidesteps the harshness and resource waste of competitive elections, and instead brings each and every person into their ideal role that really suits their heart and talents while maximizing each person’s contribution to the community. Our reforms helped us work more effectively as a team to address the flooding, as well as homelessness and other crises.

All the young people want to remain here after graduating from our universities, trade schools, and other educational institutions because we offer such a beautiful healthy environment and so many creative opportunities.

Historically in our city, water has often divided us and sometimes destroyed lives. Now, our beautiful world of water connects us and brings us new life.

Dear friends, Mother Nature is NOT our enemy. She has been trying for a long time to send us humans a wakeup call to change our ways of violence against her, but we humans kept on abusing her, fighting her, disrespecting her — until her natural reactions grew more and more intense. I’m so glad we finally saw that and started mending our ways.

The time-travel technology only allows me to visit you for three minutes. But I’ll be back to check on you. And of course 2022 Jenny Nazak will be here to keep pestering you to tap into the power of nature, and work with nature rather than fighting her.

Further Exploration:

This page from The Nature of Cities makes a wonderful “backup” to substantiate my musings about natural flood control. A few excerpts: “In the 1970s, the Austrian artist Hundertwasser began to promote the idea of forested roofs. He teamed up with the architect Krawina in 1979 determined to make his progressive ideas a reality, however he was disappointed by the architect’s initial insistence on level floors and straight lines (Hundertwasser liked neither level floors nor straight lines). By 1984 however, the Hundertwasser House was built, with undulating floors and 250 trees and bushes upon it. It has 53 apartments, 4 offices, 16 private terraces, 3 communal terraces and a café. Other vegetated buildings by Hundertwasser followed, including housing complexes, an incineration plant and finally, a toilet in New Zealand. His 12-storey Walspirale in Germany is topped by a beech, lime and maple forest. These projects are of special interest because the vegetation is often more akin to a lightly-managed natural forest than a conventional roof garden. Despite the success of some of these pioneering projects, the rise in popularity of lightweight green roofs in Europe and North America and the podium gardens of the high-rise cities of the Far East, the practice of establishing trees on taller buildings remains a curiosity and is still unusual. But that may be changing. The Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) of Milan, Italy is causing a stir in architectural circles and more and more property developers are asking if they can have trees on their buildings too. Bosco Verticale consists of two residential towers in the former industrial district of Porta Nuova, designed by Stefano Boeri with support from the horticulturalist Laura Gatti. One tower is 26 storeys high and the other 18, and between them they support more than 900 trees. The buildings were opened in 2014 and in 2015 and before long the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat selected the project as the overall Best Tall Building Worldwide. … What is remarkable about these buildings is that they are festooned with trees and shrubs. These are not buildings with conventional lightweight green roofs or green walls, but structures with substantial vegetation fully integrated into the building fabric. They have been designed with vegetation in mind from the beginning. Planting that was often said to be impossible or impractical a few years ago is now working. It is a delight for those fortunate enough to live in these leafy towers, with high-rise bird song and some extra relief from the summer heat, however it will be more important as a signpost to others, now free to imagine, plan, design and build other sylvan buildings. The real urban jungle is much more of a possibility. … Rainwater intercepted by the growing medium of green roofs or rainwater harvested for irrigation does not go into the downspouts to flood streets or overwhelm drains. The Sponge City is the concept whereby water is held in the built environment. This reduces the likelihood of flooding and provides water for plants and evaporative cooling. Vegetating buildings, including tall buildings, has to be part of the whole for the Sponge City to work.” (From “Vegetating Tall Buildings,” by Gary Grant, London, 2019.)

Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) of Milan: Pretty pictures!! “The Vertical Forest is the prototype building for a new format of architectural biodiversity which focuses not only on human beings but also on the relationship between humans and other living species. The first example, built in Milan in the Porta Nuova area, consists of two towers that are respectively 80 and 112 metres high, housing a total of 800 trees (480 first and second stage trees, 300 smaller ones, 15,000 perennials and/or ground covering plants and 5,000 shrubs, providing an amount of vegetation equivalent to 30,000 square metres of woodland and undergrowth, concentrated on 3,000 square metres of urban surface.The project is also a device for limiting the sprawl of cities brought about through a quest for greenery (each tower is equivalent to about 50,000 square metres of single-family houses).”