Officials in Miami-Dade County, where climate models predict two feet or more of sea-level rise by 2060, have released an upbeat strategy for living with more water, one that focused on elevating homes and roads, more dense construction farther inland and creating more open space for flooding in low-lying areas.
Climate experts, though, warned that the county’s plan downplayed the magnitude of the threat, saying it failed to warn residents and developers about the risk of continuing to build near the coast in a county whose economy depends heavily on waterfront real estate.
“I’m not sure if it’s really owning up to the problems that are in Miami’s future,” said Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He described the strategy as “just enough to reassure developers that Miami’s safe enough to build in, in the near term.”
As floods, wildfires and other hazards get worse, disaster experts have increasingly urged local officials to reduce their exposure by encouraging people to leave vulnerable areas. But cities and counties often resist that advice, worrying that retreat would hurt their economies and upset voters.
Among major U.S. metropolitan areas, Miami is perhaps the most exposed to sea-level rise, the result of its low, flat geography. And, with some of the most expensive coastal real estate in the world, it has an ample tax base to experiment with solutions — and also enormous economic incentive to dissuade buyers and investors from leaving.
By 2040, more than $3 billion worth of property could be lost to daily tidal flooding without action to reduce the threat, according to a report last fall by the Urban Land Institute.
By 2070, that figure is projected to increase to $23.5 billion. But Katherine Hagemann, who heads climate adaptation policy for Miami-Dade, said it didn’t make financial sense to respond to those threats by pulling back from the coast or paying large numbers of people to leave their homes. It made more sense, she said, to try to keep those areas livable.
The county’s strategy focuses on a series of actions, noting that each comes with drawbacks. Those include elevating homes on stilts, which lets water pass underneath during flooding. Another way to raise homes and roads is to repeatedly truck in dirt and rocks from elsewhere, using it to raise the level of the ground itself when building or rebuilding homes. The strategy also calls for building denser housing on higher land away from the ocean. But those areas — which until recently were in lower demand than coastal property, but are now attracting more interest — are home to many of the county’s low-income families and people of color, and the document warns that they could be pushed out of their homes by rising costs, a phenomenon some call “climate gentrification.”
Learn more by Christopher Flavelle and Patricia Mazzei here.