The piercing emerald-green waters of the Gulf coast of Florida and the wilder expanse of shimmering waves on the Atlantic coast, especially near Miami, attract immense amounts of development on an essentially flat limestone sponge — a porous sandy terrain. Even without climate change, the tropics are a throw of the dice when hurricane season comes along. With climate change and sea level rise, coastal developments make no sense — and yet, day by day, month by month, large coastal luxury buildings shoot sky high, with almost no sidewalk to spare on one side and sand that will soon be underwater on the other. No wall can hold back that water — it will just leak through underneath.
That water can even come up through the wastewater drainage pipes, a nice way to be flooded (wink, wink). Experts foresee all those coastal causeways will be underwater, becoming the beginning of modern-day Atlantis.
As storm surges get worse and worse each year, what is going on with this constant construction? Are the developers partying away in denial and distraction with the tourists who come to get away from it all? Or are they just expecting to take the money and run back north or west or …?
With what seems like 6 to 7 highrises shooting up near the water — on every street in Miami and many other Florida towns — developers continue to spend a lot of money (and ruin the skyscape). So, come the next massive storm surge, will the state and country spend a lot of money bailing everyone out? Probably, and that means taxpayers. But for how long? What is the purpose of this mind-boggling house of cards on sand?
Unfortunately, the resort culture of Florida does not support constructive conversation about the problem. Life goes on as if nothing but getting away from it all matters — until…
… the coastal property bubble crashes
The bubble will crash, and there may not be a bouncing back next time. As Admiral David Titley, Former Chief Engineer for the US Navy, describes, “the ice did not get the memo to stop melting in the year 2100.”
“Relative sea levels in South Florida are roughly four inches higher now than in 1992,” Bloomberg reports. “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts sea levels will rise as much as three feet in Miami by 2060. By the end of the century, according to projections by Zillow, some 934,000 existing Florida properties, worth more than $400 billion, are at risk of being submerged.”
“Nobody thinks it’s coming as fast as it is,” says Dan Kipnis, the chairman of Miami Beach’s Marine and Waterfront Protection Authority, who has been trying to find a buyer for his home in Miami Beach for almost a year, and has already lowered his asking price twice.”
Going on, the South Florida real estate story gets even more interesting. “Some South Florida homeowners, stuck in a twist on the prisoner’s dilemma, are deciding to sell now—not necessarily because they want to move, but because they’re worried their neighbors will sell first.”
It is quite a surreal atmosphere at times, watching a rise that is sure to fall. After spending three decades in Southwest Florida, I’ve seen the cycle before, but the story is approaching an extreme juncture, an existential crisis for the region.
Perhaps investors in Orlando will have waterfront property before they die.
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