Photo credit: Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose https://goo.gl/XQ8xic
Photo credit: Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose https://goo.gl/XQ8xic

Background Information

The City of Opa-locka is a small city of 16,500 people on 4.2 square miles in Miami-Dade County, halfway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The city is famous for its unique architecture, boasting the largest collection of Moorish Revival buildings in the Western Hemisphere. Opa-locka is challenged by high unemployment; approximately 16% of the population is unemployed—98% of whom are African-American or Hispanic—and 32% of families are below the poverty line. Opa-locka is also beset with high crime rates and conflicts between residents and law enforcement.

Like many of the urban areas in Southeast Florida, Opa-locka is very flat and lies only a few feet above sea level. Opa-locka houses several miles of the region’s extensive network of man-made canals and retention ponds. The canals, many of which are navigable, provide important drainage, flood control, and water storage services. Only a few miles of very flat terrain separate Opa-locka from the coast, so the city is vulnerable to threats from sea level rise. Because the canals are fed by groundwater seepage and connect directly to Biscayne Bay, they become increasingly susceptible to flooding as the sea level and water table rise due to climate change and during heavy rainfall events. Should the sea level rise by six more inches, the canals would no longer have enough relative elevation to drain storm runoff into the ocean, rendering them ineffective for flood control.

Team Summary

The team is active in planning and implementing resilience strategies, which include growth management, conservation, infrastructure, affordable housing, and environmental policies. Most recently, the team collaborated to implement the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Community Challenge grant, which funded a multi-year effort to rewrite the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning codes to promote new businesses, job growth, improve housing quality and quantity, and revitalize the downtown core. Previously, the team worked together in a variety of capacities on issues related to transportation, brownfields, land use development, community engagement, and wellness strategies.

Promising Practices

  • The team has worked on many strategies and documents to implement its resilience goals. They have completed and implemented a new comprehensive land use strategy; an infrastructure plan, a public space and public art plan; and a wellness, education, and community engagement strategy. Recently, they have implemented these strategies on many fronts: opening a free children’s wellness center, implementing the oasis comprehensive plan, building three community parks, and establishing an annual health fair with monthly health strategy meetings.

Key Challenges

  • Developing a centralized process for collecting and managing data. The team has formed a collaborative group of five to seven organizations to assess their capacity for collecting and managing data, and is exploring how this may help support civic engagement and advocacy work.
  • Access to efficient public transportation for residents who are affected by the current cost of housing and the location of job centers.
  • High energy costs, plus a lack of solar and wind power systems, which affect the wellness of the community and offers untapped potential for growth and development.
  • Environmental pollution from the local industrial centers.