LESS THAN 100 YEARS AGO, the introduction of air conditioning made Miami one of the most desirable tourist destinations in America. Today, with a metro area population of nearly 3 million, it’s an even bigger cosmopolitan hot spot, with residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds vying for land in a sea of traffic and, to some degree, rising tides.
Like most of America’s urban centers, Miami is facing widespread gentrification. Plagued by limited public transportation and a desire to work and play in artsy urban districts, increasing numbers of affluent and middle-class residents have been moving inland, pushing immigrants, minorities, and the working class far into the suburbs or beyond county lines.
Climate change, according to some community activists, is exacerbating this phenomenon. In fact, it could soon make Miami a major U.S. focal point for climate justice.
Historically, being on the teal-colored ocean or bay was a priority for the privileged, so the poor were relegated to the interior—with black people specifically being subject to redlining and segregation—removed from much of what gave Miami the nickname “Magic City.” But on average, Miami is only about six and a half feet above sea level, so as the climate warms and tides rise, some investors and renters are moving inland, searching for higher ground in historically black neighborhoods such as Overtown, Liberty City, and Little Haiti. It’s a phenomenon local activist Valencia Gunder refers to as “climate gentrification.”
Gunder, 33, grew up in Liberty City, popularized by the Oscar-winning 2016 film Moonlight, which speaks to the juxtaposed joys and struggles of black Miami. This northwest neighborhood was built in the 1930s to alleviate population density in downtown Miami’s Overtown, one of the only neighborhoods for people of color during segregation. It accommodated middle-class African Americans with modest single-family homes and yards. Over the years, endemic poverty and racism would take its toll, as would South Florida’s tumultuous drug wars of the 1980s and 1990s. But Gunder says Liberty City still had a lot of perks.