These days in Miami, it’s all about elevation, elevation, elevation.
While some scientific models predict sufficient melting of the polar ice caps to raise sea levels in South Florida by at least 10 feet by 2100, just a modest 12 inches would make 15% of Miami uninhabitable, and much of that coastal property is one of the most valuable in America.
Even now, as more frequent “royal tides” rage through Florida’s porous limestone, pushing fish out of the sewers into the streets, residents are increasingly aware that their city is built on undulating shelves, mountain ranges, and canyons of fossil seafloor.
“Water just returns to the same places where it flowed centuries ago,” says Sam Purkis, chair of the Department of Geosciences at the University of Miami. “The irony is that what happened 125,000 years ago will dictate what happens to your home now.”
Fluctuating bumps between city blocks can mean the difference between survival and retreat, and the rising cost of height is causing a marked shift in community activism and municipal budgets.
Neighbors in Pinecrest formed America’s first underwater homeowners association (along with sea level markers) and named a marine scientist president.
Miami Beach is spending millions to raise roads, upgrade pumps and change building codes to allow residents to raise their mansions five feet.
But in working-class immigrant neighborhoods like Little Haiti, the annual rise in sea levels is lost in the daily struggle, and most had no idea they were living three feet taller than rich people in Miami. Beach.
They found out when developers started calling from everywhere.
“They called from China, from Venezuela. They’re coming here with boxes of money!” says Marlene Bastien, social activist and longtime resident. “We used to think that the attraction of Little Haiti was that it was close to the city center, close to both airports and close to the beach. Unbeknownst to us, it is because we are at a higher altitude.”
Pointing to a row of empty stores, she notes the names of a dozen small business owners she says were forced out by rent increases and lists others she says unwittingly accepted cheap deals without understanding Miami’s housing crisis. .
“If you’re selling your home in Little Haiti, you think you’re making a big deal, and it’s only after you sell that you realize, ‘Oh, I can’t buy anywhere else.'”
After her community center and day school were seen as three different buildings, she became aware of plans to build a sprawling $1 billion Magic City complex on the outskirts of Little Haiti with a waterfront, high-end retail stores, high-rise apartments and conceived by a consortium of local investors, in including the founder of Cirque du Soleil.
Magic City’s developers insist that they chose the location based on location, not altitude.
They promised to save the soul of Little Haiti and give the community $31 million for affordable housing and other programs, but that wasn’t enough for Bastien. “This is a plan to actually destroy Little Haiti,” she says. “Because it’s the only place where immigration and climate gentrification collide.”
She fought the development with all the protesters and handwritten signs she could muster, but after a debate that lasted until 1:00 a.m., commissioners approved the permit by a 3-0 vote in late June.
“The area we took on was completely industrial,” says Max Sklyar, vice president of Plaza Equity Partners and member of the development team. “There was no real prosperous economy around these warehouses or vacant lands. And so our goal is to create this economy.
“Can we please everyone? Not 100%, it’s impossible. It’s unrealistic. But we listened to them.”
He reiterates his pledge to donate $6 million to the Little Haiti Community Foundation before the land is even laid, and in a sign that he has heeded at least one demand, he acknowledges that the complex will now be called Magic City Little Haiti.
But while Bastien mourns the defeat, her neighbor and fellow organizer Léonie Hermantin welcomes the investment and hopes for the best. “Even if Magic City didn’t come into existence today, the pace of gentrification is so fast that our people still wouldn’t be able to afford housing here,” she says, shaking her head resignedly. “Magic City is not a government. Affordable housing policy should come from the government.”
“(Climate gentrification) is something we are following very closely,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez tells me. “But we haven’t seen any direct evidence of that yet.”
Suarez is a rare Republican who passionately advocates for climate change mitigation plans and helped defend a $400 million Miami Forever bond approved by voters to fund actions to protect the city from the damaging effects of higher waves and stronger storms.
“What we actually created as part of our first Miami Forever tranche was a sustainable development fund so that people can renovate their homes so they can stay in their property instead of selling it,” he says.
But that fund is a relatively small $15 million, not enough to deal with a housing crisis that escalates with every heat wave and hurricane in a city where more than a quarter of residents live below the poverty line.
Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, said there is already evidence that the climate crisis affects the rich and the poor differently.
And he pointed out that those who suffered the most were probably the least responsible. “Oddly enough, while people living in poverty are responsible for only a small fraction of global emissions, they bear the brunt of climate change and have the least ability to protect themselves,” Alston wrote last month.