“Climate Gentrification” a.k.a. Miami Vice

The sea is coming for Miami, and the rats — protesting that they don’t believe it — are making deals. Is “Miami Vice” redundant?

It’s hard to imagine that the plug-ugliness of the American climate-change denier could be made more loathsome, but it has been. The Masters of the Universe and their wholly-owned-and-operated politicians have plumbed new depths in their ability to make money while aiding and abetting the increasing misery of their fellow human beings.

Their latest refinement has been detected in Miami, which is fitting, because few places on earth rival Miami’s wretched excess in the heedless pursuit of megabucks. Fitting, too, because Miami may well be the first large American city to be submerged by seas rising in response to climate change. The prospect is of course hotly denied or coldly ignored by Miami’s politicians and uglygarchs, who insist there is nothing to see there, even while the rising waters — especially in South Miami, Coral Gables and Miami Beach — are quite literally, with increasing and dismaying frequency, lapping at their ankles.

Now it appears that Miami real estate developers are actively working to profit from the thing they deny is happening — the rising of the warming sea. Their schemes have been illuminated in, of all places, the website of the venerable science magazine Scientific American.

Ever since the 1920s, when they started transforming south Florida from a mosquito-infested swamp to a Mecca for rich old capitalists, the highest and best form of real estate has been “waterfront.” “Water (or beach) access” was a distant second, and landlocked land was for the little people. For many decades, custom — and, under Jim Crow, zoning laws — restricted the habitats of the poor and the persons of color of Miami to the city’s urban core. The same thing happened in many if not most other American cities.

Such urban cores can and do remain slums forever unless someone decides to build a freeway, or the rich and famous run out of living room and begin the process known as gentrification, which involves displacing the poor and racially disadvantaged to an even less visible and hospitable location. So the fact that gentrification is beginning to happen to urban MIami would not seem to be a surprise, or interest for a science magazine.

Here’s why it is. There is another attribute to the urban core of Miami that is drawing the attention of speculators and developers. It occupies the highest ground in South Florida. And studies are starting to show that land more than nine feet above sea level (in South Florida, 15 feet is described as “mountaintop”) is becoming the prime target for gentrification, and for developers accumulating parcels for high-density development.

On the one hand, it is hard to get your head around the venality of people who would, while denying the reality of sea-level rise in order to protect the value of their sea-level properties — which they are building as fast as they can as we speak — at the same time hedge their many bets by quietly buying up higher ground to have available for sale when the little people realize they’re drowning.

On the other hand it is impossible to measure the stupidity of people who believe that all the ocean is going to do is redraw a few maps. Whatever chalets they build on the 15-foot mountains, assuming they survive their first hurricane, will eventually be surrounded by a sea of garbage and sewage, and will not received from their drowned city any of the services they require, such as champagne and caviar deliveries.

One of the people who has been scrutinizing the behavior of the uglygarchs is Jesse Keenan, a lawyer and Florida native who teaches climate-change adaptation at Harvard. He has noticed that the lower classes of Miami are becoming similarly motivated:

“Everybody I know that is a small owner of real estate that isn’t within the billionaire class — average middle-class, upper-middle-class Miamians who have real estate on the beach — is in the process of selling their properties and moving to the mainland.”   

Unable to invest in the future misery of their fellow property owners, these folks are simply getting out of Dodge. Their numbers. like the numbers of speculators investing in mountaintop Miami, are small, but growing fast. And the day they become visible to more than the curious scientists who write for Scientific American, and to websites more mainstream than The Daily Impact, is the day the crash  starts for real.

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9 Responses to “Climate Gentrification” a.k.a. Miami Vice

  1. Rob Rhodes says:

    Very interesting story Mr. Lewis, I had not heard this part of the Miami story anywhere. As Jared Diamond said about the elite of the Greenland Norse, they are buying the privilege of being the last to die, or in this case, flood.

  2. Liz says:

    I think you meant, “Is Miami Vice redundant?”

  3. Davebee says:

    I suppose one could say…”It couldn’t happen to a nicer gang of cut throats and pirates”
    Let’s hope these 21st century buccaneers are also soon going to be hit by a combination of civil war in Saudi Arabia and a general collapse of the entire monetary system before Christmas of 2017.
    Tick Tock, Tick Tock.

  4. Tom says:

    Your essay, Mr. Lewis points out what’s been going on for a good while now, in a specific location. Here’s the broader picture.

    Saturday, 6 May 2017
    Climate change: The greatest shame is the absence of a sense of tragedy

    The great climate silence: we are on the edge of the abyss but we ignore it

    We continue to plan for the future as if climate scientists don’t exist. The greatest shame is the absence of a sense of tragedy

    Clive Hamilton


    Our best scientists tell us insistently that a calamity is unfolding, that the life-support systems of the Earth are being damaged in ways that threaten our survival. Yet in the face of these facts we carry on as usual. [more]

  5. Susan the Reluctant Floridian says:

    Maybe just a wee bit hard on Miami. The city governments have been much more proactive about climate change than the feds. E.g., Miami Beach recently spent $400M on pumps, $30M to raise roads. I wouldn’t say they are ignoring it. This isn’t to glorify or justify the futile spending, but to call the leaders in Florida’s coastal cities “deniers” just isn’t right. They are well aware of the problem at every special high tide event.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      I am well aware of, and have written about, the efforts being made by the folks whose feet are in the water — it’s the state and federal reps who are the deniers. It must be said, however, that pumps and raised roads are not answers, just activities.

      • Kate says:

        Their so_called mitigations are costly, wasteful and futile. Wheel-spinning at its worst. More manifestation of our inability to admit “defeat” and walk away, defeat in this case meaning clear-eyed acceptance of reality. Sooner or later we will have to abandon Miami, but not before a Hindenburg’s volume of hot air has been expended on vows to fight, to “beat this thing,” and on speeches about the indomitable human spirit. The cameras love to roll in for that classic quote from flood survivors: “We’re going to put everything back together right here,” as they survey the ruins scattered over a flood plain. And they’ll probably get insurance and disaster relief money to help them do it. Ref. responses to Sandy…

  6. In my own twisted mind I’ve been anticipating the “inward migration” of those with shoreline properties. If I didn’t prefer to do my gambling in the stock market I might start scoping out some “next higher elevation” real estate. Stands to reason that Miami would kick off the march, as seawater is literally coming back up from the storm drains, and not even during severe weather.