As our world continues to warm, some seaside cities are starting to reckon with the consequences. Metropolitan Miami Florida is home to over six million people, a large percentage of whom may find themselves homeless in the coming decades.
Here’s a look at the regions within the city that are most likely to come out on top (literally) as the ocean starts to take over.
Sea Levels and Southern Florida
South Florida’s coastal cities are at an elevated risk of devastating consequences from climate change.
Miami’s sea levels have already risen a foot since the 1900s and show no signs of slowing down. Local governments are preparing for another 34 inches of rise by 2060 (predictions top six feet by 2100), with high tide flooding events occurring 150 times or more per year.
A few feet may not seem like much, but over 10 percent of Florida will be underwater if the ocean rises just two feet. And, not only will increased flooding lead to an estimated $135 billion in property damage, but it could displace around 800,000 residents within the city while rendering large portions of Miami completely uninhabitable.
Six Miami Neighborhoods Least Impacted by Climate Change
While the situation is bleak for the whole city, some regions will suffer more than others. Elevation changes of even a foot or two may determine whether a Miami neighborhood will sink or survive this sea rise.
These six neighborhoods are poised to resist much of the predicted future flooding.
#1. Coconut Grove
Elevation: 13 feet
This historic hamlet is Miami’s most historic neighborhood and a favorite bayside destination. Home to verdant parks and unique boutiques, Coconut Grove dates back to the 1870s and has strong Bahamian roots. Walk the banyan tree-covered streets to take in the bohemian flair that makes it a favorite destination for both visitors and locals.
Elevation: 13 feet
Located north of downtown Miami, Wynwood was once little more than the site of industrial warehouses. Today, it’s home to an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars, and shops and some of the best contemporary art in the world. The neighborhood is most famous for its vibrant outdoor murals that are repainted by international artists every year during Art Basel Miami Beach.
#3. Liberty City
Elevation: 10 feet
Located in northwest Miami, Liberty City is a historically Black area with a rich history. First settled in 1937, the neighborhood was the setting for many of Martin Luther King Jr’s civil rights meetings and a performance center for top entertainers like Nat King Cole. Today, Liberty City is on the verge of economic revival and has seen many of its long-term residents priced out due to rising rents.
Elevation: 10 feet
Named for the Seminole phrase for alligator, the Allapattah neighborhood is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Miami. It has long been home to industrial warehouses and immigrants from Latin America—roughly a quarter of whom are undocumented. Scroll the streets, and you’ll enjoy its distinct Latin flavor, as well as the Rubell Museum—home to one of the most extensive private contemporary art collections in North America.
#5. Coral Gables
Elevation: 10 feet
With a population of 50,000, this small town is adjacent to Miami and renowned for tree-lined boulevards and historic homes covered in ivy. It’s a Mediterranean-themed planned community and home to the University of Miami. Visitors today can enjoy the 1920s era Biltmore Hotel and Venetian Pool, as well as the “Miricle Mile” of shopping and dining opportunities.
#6. Little Haiti
Elevation: 7 feet
Reminiscent of the island nation that shares its name, the Little Haiti neighborhood is known for its Victorian architecture and Caribbean Marketplace with authentic Haitian cuisine. You’ll find local businesses and bookstores that cater to English, Spanish, and Creole speakers, as well as a replica of the Iron Market in Port-au-Prince. Little Haiti is also home to a thriving Caribbean arts scene and hosts numerous galleries and theaters for folk dancing and other musical performance.
Should You Move to Miami? A Guide To Determining Your Risk
If you’re considering relocating to Miami, the decision requires more than choosing the right neighborhood. No space in this city is at a uniform elevation, and a heavy storm may cause the homes across the street to flood while yours stays fine.
One important step is to assess the flooding risk for individual properties. Perplexingly, sellers don’t need to legally disclose whether a property flooded in the past, so you may be left in the dark about its history.
However, a FEMA flood map can give you a basic idea of whether you’re in the danger zone. These maps determine who needs to pay for flood insurance, so there’s an incentive to keep them up to date. Just keep in mind that they don’t take rainfall or tidal flooding into account, so they won’t tell you the whole story about your risk.
Other tools, such as FloodFactor.com, offer a more comprehensive view of your real risk today and for decades in the future. You should also pay attention to how high your first floor is off from ground level and how it compares to nearby homes. Too low, and your risk increases exponentially.
How soon will elevation impact the Miami real estate market? It might be years before housing costs reflect the unfolding ecological disaster. Still, early indicators will be higher flood insurance rates and a reluctance from banks to offer mortgages in flood-prone areas.
One thing is sure—once the market starts to react, change will be rapid. Those left holding onto now-flooded coastal land will lose a real-world game of musical chairs.
The Dark Side of Climate Gentrification
You may notice that Miami’s higher elevation neighborhoods often have one thing in common—they are home to historically marginalized populations.
Throughout the city’s history, African Americans and other minorities were pushed away from the coastline and into “less desirable” regions at higher elevations. Now, as the city continues to crowd and climate change threatens the low-lying areas, property developers are starting to encroach on these neighborhoods—pushing up the rents in the process.
A 2018 Harvard Study of Miami real estate transactions coined the phrase “climate gentrification” to refer to the rising property values of higher-elevation neighborhoods. This poses serious problems to the residents that call them home.
Miami’s tourist industry separates the city into the billionaire elite and those barely surviving off hospitality wages. Up to 40 percent of households within Miami-Dade County are classified as working poor, with one-fifth living below the poverty line. Half of all renters within the city pay at least half of their income for housing, and gentrification continues to squeeze out the affordable rent options that remain.
It’s not uncommon for property owners in these increasingly desirable areas to be approached multiple times a week by developers looking to invest in “climate-safe” building spaces. This exacerbates the city’s housing crisis and disproportionately affects minority populations that don’t have the money to move elsewhere within Miami.
Looking Forward: The Future of Miami
As Miami starts to reckon with the ways climate change will affect it in the coming decades, it’s increasingly clear that there will be winners and losers for The Magic City.
Local governments are faced with tough choices about permitting revenue-generating new construction projects on increasingly flood-prone land that might not last a generation. Meanwhile, money for high-rise condos on precarious beachfront land continues to pour in from billionaire investors eager for a bit of tropical paradise.
There’s also no easy answer for assisting the increasingly marginalized people who have called Miami home for generations that are now being displaced as their rental property soars in value. The answer may lie in rezoning higher elevation portions of the city for denser urban centers. To date, the city is investing hundreds of millions in climate-stable affordable housing for those at risk.
What is clear is that the changes wrought by rising seas are coming whether we are ready for them or not. The Miami of tomorrow may have little in common with the one we see today, and it’s up to us to determine how to face that.
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