The Sun is Setting On South Beach Miami

In order to mitigate the effects of climate change, Miami-Dade County should encourage urban infill development and invest in inland infrastructure to incentivize its population to move from beach front areas to inland areas.

Party in the City Where the Heat is On?

What is now exclusive luxury beach front property, will soon become the centerpiece of an underwater city. In 50 years South Beach Miami could be fully submerged in the Atlantic Ocean. The glamorous photos that this generation shares on social media as they cruise Ocean Drive will at that point become timeless relics that capture the last years of prominence of this region. Is Miami’s current situation truly this dire? Given the ongoing debate surrounding global climate change and what its exact impacts will be, it is difficult to answer that question with certainty. However, Miami Dade County can take steps to avoid this situation altogether.

A Sinking City

Miami is at a particularly low elevation and has the largest number of people living less than four feet above sea level in the United States [1]. Furthermore, nearly forty billion dollars of real estate in Miami is located less than three feet above sea level [2]. Additionally, the current sea level in this region is rising (as detailed in the exhibit below) due to climate change [3].

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-11-55-50-pm

With sea levels expected to rise by at least two feet in the next forty-five years, Miami could soon be facing a crisis. In this scenario a simple fortification of existing coastline structures will not yield significant results. This is due to the fact that the land in Miami itself is composed of a large percentage of limestone which is porous in nature. Therefore, simply fortifying buildings along the coast with storm walls will not protect the building foundation’s structural integrity [4]. In short, without several fundamental changes to existing infrastructure and geographical living patterns of Miami residents, the city could easily become the lost city.

Remove Your Talents from South Beach?

Thus far, Miami-Dade County has identified these issues and attempted to patch the problem.  According to the Miami Dade County Climate Action Plan Miami is taking the generic route towards battling climate change. They plan to develop a more sustainable solid waste system, reuse wastewater, and make significant investments in the transportation infrastructure [5]. The majority of the county’s action plan is centered around reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Though this course of action is important for long term sustainability, it fails to protect the city against the immediate threats posed by rising sea levels.

Furthermore, Miami is still allowing real estate developments in riskier beach front areas. This will only exacerbate future problems. Miami allows such developments primarily because the tax income that such developments generate for the county are a substantial portion of the county’s overall revenue. Developers choose these risky areas because in theory they can command premium prices as these areas are still currently considered prime beach front areas [6]. If Miami-Dade County does not encourage an inland movement, and builds out infrastructure in areas where that are already at risk, Miami will essentially be investing and reinvesting in areas that are doomed to fail once ocean levels rise. To address this concern, Miami Dade County should target a longer term fix by fundamentally changing how the county incentivizes real estate developers in order to promote more sustainable and fortified cities.

Fill in The Gaps

In order to preserve its city Miami-Dade County should promote development in more inland areas of the city that are further from the coast. Furthermore, modern architectural theory posits that compact cities with well integrated transportation and infrastructure systems are the most environmentally friendly cities as well [7]. This is because compact cities reduce the need for cars and optimize the use of living spaces and thus improving living efficiency [8]. Miami may need to take more extreme measures and rezone inland areas and make heavy investments in inland infrastructure to develop a more robust compact city that is shielded from the immediate impacts of climate change. Miami can entice developers to build in currently less desirable inland locations by providing discounts on land or tax breaks when possible to incentivize the development of non-beach front property. By reducing investments in the South Beach areas, Miami Dade County can fund and subsidize developments in more inland areas. Urban infill developments such as these will maximize the land use of the inland areas of the city. While such an inland shift would mean fewer beachfront views, it would also reduce the amount of those luxury beach front condos that would become ornamentation for a modern day Atlantis.

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Citations

[1] Pyati, Archana. “A Call for Public/Private Partnerships to Help Win South Florida’s Battle with Rising Sea Levels”. Urban Land Institute. June 16, 2016.   http://urbanland.uli.org/sustainability/call-publicprivate-partnerships-help-win-south-floridas-battle-rising-sea-levels/

[2] Tompkins, Forbes and Deconcini, Christina. “Sea-Level Rise and its Impact on Miami-Dade County”. World Resources Institute. http://www.wri.org/sites/default/files/sealevelrise_miami_florida_factsheet_final.pdf

[3] Miami-Dade County. “Climate Change Action Plan”. Miami-Dade County http://www.miamidade.gov/greenprint/pdf/climate_action_plan.pdf, Accessed November 2016

[4] Bojnansky, Erik. “Miami Beach Property Values May Fall as Sea Levels Rise: Experts”. The Real Deal. http://therealdeal.com/miami/2016/04/07/miami-beach-property-values-may-fall-as-sea-levels-rise-experts/

[5] Miami-Dade County. “Climate Change Action Plan”.

[6] Meyer, Robert. “How Climate Change Is Fueling the Miami Real Estate Boom”. BloombergBusinessweek. October 20, 2014.  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-10-20/how-climate-change-is-fueling-the-miami-real-estate-boom, accessed November 2016

[7] Phillps, Mike. “Dense, More Compact Cities Help Combat Climate Change, Inequality”. Urban Land Institute. February 8, 2016. http://urbanland.uli.org/planning-design/dense-compact-cities-help-combat-climate-change-inequality/

[8] Miami-Dade County. “Climate Change Action Plan”.

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4 thoughts on “The Sun is Setting On South Beach Miami

  1. Thanks for the article, JBF. It’s going to be very interesting to see how Miami responds once rising sea levels threaten South Beach. Once sea levels rise, I wonder if Miami will still continue to be a world-class city. Much of it’s appeal is due to its glitzy, festive South Beach lifestyle that attracts tourists and if this is destroyed by rising seas, I fear Miami may become a ghost-town (a la Detroit).

    In addition to the threat of rising sea levels, Miami may also have to deal with an increased threat of catastrophic hurricanes [1]. In this case, even inland development may end up devastated by a storm surge, even if inland real estate is a few feet higher than oceanfront property.

    I believe that inland real estate development would just be a temporary solution that will allow Miami to survive for a few more decades. Eventually, much of South Florida will be underwater, and the entire county will be at risk.

    Robin McKie, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/11/miami-drowning-climate-change-deniers-sea-levels-rising, The Guardian, July 11, 2014

  2. Very interesting post about a problem that more than one touristic destination around the world is facing but with different approaches to a solution given the specific considerations of each destination.

    For Miami in specific, an important consideration for the proposed solution of focusing on inland areas is the impact that this action may have as well. As the inland communities grow, acres of rural and natural land are converted into urban space and with them, acres of wildlife are lost. It is important to notice that Miami has other current problems that could be worsened with a more concentrated population in defined areas like the supply of drinking water or concentration of mass transit.(1)

    There isn’t a clear solution to this imminent problem that the city will face, however, blogs like this one start the conversation on which are the levers that need to be put into consideration to define a well-rounded approach to the problem.

    (1) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/02/threats-to-south-florida-environment_n_1732845.html

  3. Your post brings up a really interesting dilemma for government leaders in the Miami area. Realtors continue to build and sell premium-priced beachfront property that, as you point out, might be underwater in the near future. At the same time, these properties are contributing hotel and real estate taxes that, theoretically, can be used to help pay for environmental initiatives within the city. Restricting investment in the South Beach area may not only hurt the local economy but also reduce overall investment in finding ways to combat or reverse the effects of climate change.

    An interesting area to research might be how architects and developers can adapt as they continue to build along the coast. According to a recent interview with Allan Shulman, one of South Florida’s most famous architects, some in his industry view sea-level rise “as a design opportunity to be exploited.” They are seeking lifted restrictions on building heights, and mapping out innovative ground floor indoor/outdoor spaces that can handle exposure to the elements. Though this may be successful in some areas, retro-fitting the city as a whole would require much more drastic (and expensive) measures, as you mentioned above. As many are deeply attached to the city and the culture that it embodies, it will be fascinating to see how the community proceeds over the next decade and beyond. Will they invest heavily in adaptation with the construction of canals, reinforcement and redesign of buildings, and the removal of others? Or will the focus move to developing a new city inland?

    Kamp, David, “Can Miami Beach Survive Global Warming?” http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2015/11/miami-beach-global-warming, December 2015.

  4. Fascinating article on the future of South Beach. As I read through your possible solutions to incentivize more inland building, I wondered how these incentives for builders would translate to incentives for residents. While changing the tax structure may influence the direction that a business chooses to take, I question whether a financial incentive would actually influence a resident to not want to live in these currently desirable beachfront locations, even given what we currently know about the potential future impact of global warming on these locations. As these prime beachfront locations currently command a significant premium to the rest of the market, I view these residents as relatively price insensitive; therefore, I don’t know if simply increasing taxes in these locations (or decreasing them elsewhere) would significantly alter their decision. Alternatively, the tax increase on beachfront properties could simply incentivize builders to move to other beachfront areas not located in Florida, rather than to the inland areas in Florida. This could have an adverse impact on the county’s tax revenues at the same time that they plan to significantly increase infrastructure spending to mitigate the impact of global warming (1). Therefore, I worry that politicians encouraging an “if you build it, they will come” mentality to inland locations without taking a more holistic view of the market will ultimately result in a supply-demand imbalance that could exacerbate the negative impact of global warming within the Miami community.

    Gillis, Justin, “Flooding of Coast, Caused by Global Warming,Has Already Begun”, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/04/science/flooding-of-coast-caused-by-global-warming-has-already-begun.html?_r=0, September 2016.

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