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Climate gentrification: why we need to consider social justice in climate change planning

As the impacts of climate change become increasingly apparent, it has also become clear that those who are most disadvantaged will be some of the most affected. One concern is “climate gentrification” — a growing concept in which some properties become more valuable than others due to their ability to better accommodate settlement and infrastructure in the face of climate change. Climate gentrification has some of the same negative impacts as gentrification, where lower-income people may be pushed out of their neighborhoods by rising rents and pressure from developers who seek to build property on desirable land.

The term climate gentrification was coined by Harvard University researchers Jesse Keenan, Thomas Hill, and Anurag Gumber, who studied how elevation in neighborhoods in Miami was affecting property values due to sea level rise and flooding. The 2018 study found that the value of higher elevation property rose from 1971 to 2017 while that of lower elevation property declined.

Flooding in Miami, which is being exacerbated by climate change, has been making low elevation property less valuable and higher elevation property more valuable. (Source: Flickr, miamibrickell)
Flooding in Miami, which is being exacerbated by climate change, has been making low elevation property less valuable and higher elevation property more valuable. (Source: Flickr, miamibrickell)

In Miami, this is particularly concerning. Minorities have historically lived in these higher elevation areas, as redlining practices kept black people out of the traditionally more valuable waterfront areas. Miami has found that climate gentrification has contributed to an affordable housing problem in Little Haiti and Liberty City. Renters have been struggling as landlords increase rent, while some homeowners have been approached by developers offering buyouts or help relocating. Residents have reported feeling pressured to move or be moved by developers and investors, which only adds to the stress of making ends meet.

As climate-related demographic shifts manifest in other areas of the country, such as in Phoenix, Arizona where affluent residents are escaping the extreme heat by moving into the cooler suburbs, more consideration needs to be placed on low-income communities who do not have as many resources at their disposal. Resilience efforts to prepare for a changing climate should not just stop at infrastructure, because adding resilient infrastructure may also cause gentrification as the more advantaged move in to less risky areas and force residents out.

In order to address the growing concern of local minority communities, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez signed a resolution last November to research gentrification in areas further inland and methods for stabilizing property tax rates in these areas. A seat for social and climate justice has also been added to Miami’s Sea Level Rise Committee.

Whether they are forced out of their higher elevation homes or left behind to face the sweltering heat, low-income people will be the ones most impacted by climate change. By taking actions to address social justice in climate change planning, Miami becomes an example for other cities facing climate displacement and migration. As Michael Burger, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, said, “Miami is ahead of the curve in identifying the problem and seeking to analyze how to protect vulnerable populations.”

Further Readings and Sources

‘Climate Gentrification’ Will Deepen Urban Inequality – CityLab

Climate Gentrification Is Creating An Affordable Housing Crisis in Miami – Cleantechnica

What Miami taught me about climate gentrification – Columbia Journalism Review

Climate gentrification: the rich can afford to move – what about the poor? – The Guardian

Miami Aims to Protect Lower Income Residents from Climate Displacement – Climate Liability News

Miami residents welcome historic gentrification resolution – Think Progress