In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019 photo, a yard sign stating that the area is eight feet above sea level is shown in front of artist Xavier Cortada’s studio in Pinecrest, Fla.

Rising seas force ‘underwater homeowners’ to mobilize

PINECREST, Fla. — The “Underwater Homeowners Association” sounds like a sad joke about the future of real estate in flood-prone Miami.

It’s actually an earnest effort to turn neighbors into climate-change advocates, block-by-block.

Starting in his affluent suburb of Pinecrest, artist Xavier Cortada hopes his concept will spread, helping people nationwide understand that melting polar ice is no abstract threat.

Cortada repurposes “for sale” signs, painting partially-submerged numbers that announce exactly how many feet above sea level each property is, for people to plant in their front yards. A growing number of members have signed on at since Cortada launched the idea in December.

Cortada’s signs show his home is on relatively high ground: 6 feet (2 meters) above sea level. His studio is at 8 feet (2.5 meters).

Rising seas will spare no one concerned about quality of life in Pinecrest, a village of 19,000 not far from Biscayne Bay. Like the rest of South Florida, it’s trapped between the ocean and the swampy Everglades, which act as a western coastline. Water also rises through Florida’s porous bedrock, making seawalls and levees less effective.

“If your neighbor sees a number 6 in front of your house, your neighbor knows that you, too, are a number 6,” Cortada said. “So you are no longer a Democrat or a Republican, or an anti-science or pro-science person. You’re both literally standing at the same elevation.”

Cortada’s signs feature his swirling paintings of melting Antarctic glaciers. Other neighbors have made their own. Students also painted the elevations of four intersections — 6, 7, 9, 11 feet (2, 2.1, 2.75, 3 meters) — along the city’s two-lane main road, which Cortada dubs “Elevation Drive.” It runs along what constitutes high ground in South Florida — a narrow coral ridge that appears to stay dry when models of sea level rise show much of the region inundated.

Some residents aren’t happy about these art installations, warning on a community newspaper’s website that the painted signs and pavement could devastate property values.

“Does anyone seriously want this in front of the expensive homes in Pinecrest? Maybe they won’t be so expensive once they convince the world they will be underwater in a few years,” one wrote.

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