Unbridled growth tests the balance of sustainability and quality of life

With sea levels predicted to rise in South Florida, Miami officials are working with developers to address the demands for urban development while protecting the city’s future from rising sea levels.

Earlier this year, city of Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez and other city officials created the Sea Level Rise Committee, a program to address the danger of saltwater intrusion.

As part of the program, a $10 million stormwater pump station project will expand existing infrastructure to address excessive flooding caused by changes to precipitation patterns and saltwater intrusion.

Saltwater intrusion occurs as sea levels rise. By 2060, South Florida’s sea levels could potentially rise 2 to 4 feet.

“Ultimately, it is something that we have to spend a good amount of money on an annual basis just to keep up with the demands that our environment is placing on our city,” Suarez said.

Development from Trevor Green on Vimeo.

The challenge city officials face is finding ways to fund infrastructure improvements like the pump station project. Because Florida does not collect income taxes, Miami relies on property taxes for almost half of its revenue.

Fortunately, the demand for property in Miami is high. The Miami Downtown Development Authority predicts that by 2019 downtown Miami’s population will rise to 92,519, up from 80,750 today. Miami’s total city population is about 418,000 and nearly 3 million people live in Miami-Dade County.

Much of the demand for residential properties comes from people buying second or third homes in Miami.

RE/MAX real estate agent Wanda Bee said buyers from Central and South America are also investing in real estate because of the currency instability in their home countries.

To meet the demand, developers are making colossal investments.

In the heart of downtown Miami, the largest project currently under development is Brickell City Center. The $1.05 billion mixed-use development features innovative climate control technology and below sea level parking garages.

City officials support this type of development because it reduces the effect of issues commonly associated with growth like water consumption and traffic. Moreover, the development projects are generating revenue for the city.

Last year, the city of Miami collected $239 million in property tax dollars, an increase from $226 million in 2013 and $216 million in 2012.

With the city of Miami budget at $583 million this year, officials will continue to pursue development opportunities to generate more property taxes.

But with all the development in Miami, space is becoming scarce.

As a result, various developers have attempted to extend the Urban Development Boundary west toward Everglades National Park. The Urban Development Boundary is a comprehensive map that illustrates where developers are able to develop property.

“We are fairly close to that space limit,” said Mahadev Bhat, a professor of natural resource economics at Florida International University. “The fact that the developers are asking for pushing the Urban Development Boundary westward is an indication that we are running out of space.”

Although most of the city of Miami is developed, Bhat said the infrastructure could be expanded to fit the demands of pro-growth policies. Property and transportation infrastructure can be redesigned to sustain a higher density of growth in areas already developed.

While Miami’s growth may seem contradictory to environmental efforts, the city’s Sea Level Rise Committee represents a different approach.