Climate Gentrification, a crisis that is deepening inequality in many cities

What’s happening to all the low income families being left behind?

Little Haiti

Welcome to the age of Climate Gentrification

We all know that climate change is happening and it’s affecting us in a number of ways. We’re getting more extreme weather, rising sea levels, longer and more severe wildfires, further destructive hurricanes, more human health problems, and substantially more. That’s already a lot of problems with needed solutions, but what’s never on these lists, is Climate Gentrification. Definitely add it, because it’s continuously occurring all around us, but many of us don’t notice it. The only people who are, are the ones being severely impacted by it.

Have you ever, noticed a difference in a certain community? Have the communities citizens become more wealthy or not? Did the population demographics change? What about the type of buildings? Or what about the property markets?

I’ve seen many communities change, for the better or worse. However, never because of climate change. At least, I don’t think so?

Shutterstock Image Edited

If you pick up one of those big dictionaries off a shelf, and search for the term Climate Gentrification, use your finger and go through each page carefully, you won’t find it. Check for another hour. Nope. Double check. NOPE. If you searched through an online dictionary, the same would happen. This is because it’s a extremely new term.

It all began right after May 2018, when three Harvard environmental researchers (Jesse M Keenan, Thomas Hill, and Anurag Gumber) published a research paper called “Climate gentrification: From theory to empiricism in Miami-Dade County, Florida”. It explained that climate change could impact geographies and property markets. They utilized Miami-Dade County, Florida (MDC) as a case study. In the end, they concluded that properties at higher elevations have generally experienced rising values, while those at lower elevations have declined in value, and climate change is all behind it.

Google Maps (Miami-Dade County, Florida)

So, Climate Gentrification doesn’t have a set definition, however, there are brief descriptions.

As climate changes, weather in a given region will also change. This means some people might face the risk of more flooding, damaging storms, or even wildfires. Many people are seeking out new neighborhoods in order to mitigate the risk of all these natural disasters. Sometimes this can mean wealthier individuals moving into historically lower income areas, causing a whole new type of gentrification. Gentrification: When a neighborhood undergoes renovation as more affluent residents move into it.

The two words together (Climate & Gentrification), perfectly describe what it means. It’s gentrification but the cause is the changing climate. In spite of the fact that you can’t find the term in a dictionary (yet), you can take a guess and you might be correct.

If you’re wondering why the Harvard researchers chose to focus on the Coastal Florida area for there research, you’re completely not alone. When I was researching, I was really desperate to know why, and once I did, it completely made sense.

Miami Beach Sea Level Rise Animation

The sea level around Florida is up to 8 inches higher than it was in 1950. This increase is due to two main reasons, the melting ice, and the porous limestone that the entire state sits on. There are currently, about 12,000 properties at risk from frequent tidal flooding in Florida, and the number is on a constant rise. Florida is planning to spend over $4 billion in sea level rise solutions, which includes protecting sewage systems, raising roads, seawalls, and more. The solutions are costly and not simple.

Coastal Florida has seen an influx of residents moving inland to higher elevation. The areas seeing an influx of residents (wealthier) have historically been lower income. In the past, these areas have been less desirable due to the distance from the water, but climate change is totally altering that preferance.

Little Haiti & Liberty City (Examples)

Residents of the Miami districts Liberty City and Little Haiti, both traditionally African American and Hispanic areas, are seeing their neighborhoods being continuously transformed around them. The districts, sit roughly 15ft above sea level.

“We are already seeing low-income homes and businesses being evicted, the new developments are popping up everywhere,” said Valencia Gunder, a Liberty City resident who is an activist and grew up hearing warnings about gentrification. But now it’s really happening.

Liberty City Aerial View

In the year 2000, no one in Liberty City paid more than $1,000 a month for rent, now, roughly one in six do. Property prices have also risen sharply.

Mustafa Ali spent 25 years at the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of Environmental Justice, and this is what he had to say about the Climate Gentrification issue. “We need to make better decisions around resilience and vulnerable communities need to be brought into that conversation. A whole lot of folks are being left behind.”

“Those who are left behind will erode the overall community’s health. Investors and developers who want to create healthy communities have to be aware of climate justice issues.”- Linda Cheung, Founder of Before It’s Too Late. I really admire what Linda said because its very honest and intelligent. I love what she does. Her and her team use the power of visual arts and storytelling to evoke emotion and create social change.

The population of Little Haiti is 29,760 (2010) and Liberty City is 19,725 (2010). So the combined population of both communities is roughly 50,000. That’s a rather large amount of people, and nearly all of them are being negatively impacted. They’ve built a community together to be able to survive. Most of them are very poor, so it will be a real challenge for them to leave and start a new life somewhere else by themselves. At least, this is what I think.

What are Real Estate agents saying about all this?

Real estate agent Danny Hertzberg, the listing agent on a $25 million property on the Miami coasts, said he doesn’t fully buy the climate gentrification thesis, although he admitted his clients are more alert of the rising water. Danny said “I don’t think people are going to give up the beauty of living on the water, having their boat out front. I mean, people come here from all over the world to live on the water.” In my opinion, I disagree with what he said. It’s nice to live close to the water and lot’s of tourists come for the beauty, but gradually, less and less people will want to buy the homes (rising sea levels). I think real estate agents in the Miami beach area shouldn’t continue to build more homes because it’s basically a complete waste (the homes are going to get destroyed in a very short time). It’s not really a good investment.

A beautiful luxury home on Miami Beach

A little history talk

In Miami, the wealthy have long preferred the coasts. But as the risk of climate change grows, this will likely change, with the wealthy moving more towards inland.

Jim Crow laws and racist housing practices like redlining, prohibited black Miami residents from living near the beach in the past. So they moved to higher ground and developed there own communities.

Jim Crow Redlining in Miami

Development is good & bad

What’s the difference between Climate gentrification & Development?

You don’t want a community where you don’t have stores and some sort of infrastructure going on. However there’s an evident difference between development and climate gentrification.

What Climate Gentrification is doing, is mostly bringing large corporations into communities (e.g. Little Haiti), buying up large quantities of land and displacing many individuals.

Now, how is development good & bad?

Pros

  • Higher standard of living
  • More available jobs and opportunities for citizens
  • Generally improved health of citizens (In terms of food)

For more than two decades, numerous researchers have been gathering evidence to determine whether there are connections between access to healthy food and decreased obesity rates and other diet-related diseases.

In general, research shows that when communities have access to affordable, healthy foods, residents purchase and consume healthier foods over time.

Cons

  • Poverty

Intensive urban growth can lead to greater poverty, with local governments unable to provide services for everyone

  • Environmental Degradation
Flash Flooding in Iowa State
  • Magnify the risk of environmental hazards

An example is flash flooding

  • Poor Health (Specifically diseases)

Many diseases are caused by overcrowding. Lung diseases and breathing problems are caused by dirty air from things like automobiles. All of the health problems become even more severe when people don’t have access to reliable and low-cost health care.

By now, you might be asking “Well, they aren’t forcing them out, so why are they leaving?”

There are a few causes. Firstly, it’s from driving up rent and property taxes, so the low-income residents must leave without a choice. Another reason is that most people in Little Haiti and Liberty City, are not homeowners. So they don’t necessarily really have any control/rights.

I hope that by the end of this article, you get a sense of what Climate Gentrification is. Many of us around the world, aren’t aware of this issue, so let’s tell them. If you live with someone, tell them, if you go to work, tell your buddies. Whatever it is, just educate the people you know about this. The more people that are aware of this social issue, the more of a chance that something will be done about it. Maybe one person that you tell, will really be captivated by it, and make a movie, video, write a book, make a website, create art, start an advocacy organisation, start a protest, create an organisation that goes to schools to educate young students about this issue, I mean anything!

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller

Various Links

Teens in Miami Demand Action on Climate Change

States at Risk: Florida

Florida is drowning. Condos are still being built. Can’t humans see the writing on the wall?

Climate and Gentrification

Valenica Gunder

Sea level rise in Florida

High school student 📍 Toronto, Canada. Passionate about STEM 🧪, social and environmental justice 🌎, politics, and much more! LinkedIn ➡ bit.ly/3bb3USb

Get the Medium app