Could Miami's Condo Boom Actually Help City Battle Effects of Climate Change?

Could Miami's Condo Boom Actually Help City Battle Effects of Climate Change?
Photo by Kyle Munzenrieder

Seemingly every discussion of Miami's recent development boom includes someone sneering, "Yeah, and all those condo lobbies will be underwater in 100 years."

And every discussion of the potentially devastating effects of global warming on South Florida comes with someone quipping, "And yet they keep building towers down there."

But a University of Pennsylvania professor Robert Meyer is now making the counterintuitive argument in Bloomberg Businessweek that Miami's condo boom may actually help the area prepare for the effects of climate change.

Meyer's argument, one that some city leaders seem in part to share, is that investing in infrastructure projects to preserve Miami as a livable area in the face of rising sea levels is going to cost a lot of money. It's at worst unlikely or at best unsure that federal assistance is going to account for a big dent in paying down that bill. (Especially with so many other areas in the U.S. facing similar long-term problems, including New York City.)

But each new condo unit in each new tower also represents a brand new property tax bill. Which means, theoretically, that local governments will have more money in their coffers now and in the near future to invest in infrastructure projects. (Theoretically, anyway. Miami Beach has started to invest a lot to deal with flooding, but we're not sure how say $9 million to develop an observation tower is going to help).

At the moment, both developers and the often foreign investors and buyers that are snapping up Miami condo units aren't particularly concerned with the long-term effect of global warming on those investments. Not yet anyway.

"No one is saying that real estate isn't risky in Miami, or that sea level rise is fiction," writes Meyer. "What they are saying is that all investment carries risk, and development there is a bet they're prepared to take."

Essentially Meyer is arguing that once the effects of rising sea levels take hold or potential buyers start acknowledging those threats, Miami's tax base may start to crumble. So, in his thinking, it's better to go all in now and invest that property tax windfall.

Of course, Meyer doesn't address other problems poised by rampant development: gentrification, rising inequality, higher rents, and a bigger strain on existing infrastructure (including roads and transportation).

Nor is there any 100 percent guarantee that all that extra property tax income will be spent in the smartest, most ethical way.

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