Building for an Uncertain Future: Miami Residents Adapt to Climate Change

April 1, 2019 AT 7:35 AM

By Ian Stewart and Lulu Garcia-Navarro

Over the past few years, Miami native Trenise Bryant has seen her neighborhood, the African-American enclave of Liberty City, start to change. Bryant grew up in one of the area's oldest public housing projects, Liberty Square. Lately, rents have gone up, and Bryant has seen people priced out and forced to move away.

One factor driving this, Bryant says, is climate change.

Miami is projected to face anywhere from 1 to 3 feet of sea level rise by 2060, and as sea levels rise, higher ground inland has started to look more and more desirable. Much of that higher ground is in the city's poorest neighborhoods, like Liberty City and Little Haiti. As Bryant puts it, it has turned land in these communities into "caviar."

The shifting real estate landscape is just one example of how, in Miami, the effects of global warming are not hypothetical predictions but realities of everyday life, prompting action by government, businesses and individuals alike. Across the region, developers are changing how they build, wealthy homeowners are reinforcing their properties, and in communities that are farther from the coast — places like Liberty City — residents are working to make sure they don't have to leave their homes.

Experts say no single factor can account for rising property values. But as the risks of climate change have come into clearer view, researchers like Jesse Keenan of Harvard University have begun to take note of what is being called "climate gentrification."

In one study, Keenan and his colleagues found that from 1971 to 2017, real estate at higher elevations in Miami appreciated at higher rates than properties closer to sea level. Their findings held true in 24 of the 25 jurisdictions that they studied.

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