Welcome to Miami: speculation, gentrification and inundation

Welcome to Miami: speculation, gentrification and inundation
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Geographically situated between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, Florida has long been subject to extreme weather events that violently strike its coasts, like the recent Hurricane Ian, which killed 125 people in September 2022. In recent years, these threats have been further compounded by rising sea levels, which have resulted in flooding, marine submersion and coastal erosion. Local authorities have been trying to combat this erosion for several years by dumping tons of sand on the beaches, among other preventive measures.

Despite these threats, Florida continues to experience population growth, largely driven by the arrival of retirees attracted by sunshine and quality of life, as well as low taxes (Florida has a 7 per cent VAT and no income tax).

Due to their proximity to transport, green spaces and above all to a geographical position that protects them from the effects of climate change, Miami’s historically working-class neighbourhoods have become increasingly attractive to investors. Faced with a wave of gentrification and rising costs of living, the residents of neighbourhoods like Liberty City and Overtown are being forced to leave their homes.

Between 2018 and 2021, French photojournalist Antoine Martin documented the economic and social fallout of climate-driven gentrification in the ‘Magic City’.


Thanks to its location high above sea level and its proximity to the airport, Allapattah is one of several working-class neighbourhoods that have become highly sought after by investors. Pictured here, one of the many lots for sale in Allapattah, Miami, 2021.

Photo: Antoine Martin

Miami’s culture is unique mixture, heavily influenced by the countries of the Caribbean and South America (69.96 per cent of the city’s residents are Hispanic, one third of whom are Cuban). A “country within the country,” the city’s residents feel a very strong sense of be-longing to their diverse city. Nearly five million people live in the Miami metropolitan area, which is heavily concentrated on the Gold Coast at an average height of only 10 metres. The city should not be confused with Miami Beach, which is a separate municipality with its own mayor.


A homeless man poses in front of a building under construction in the neighbourhood of Allapattah, Miami, 2021.

Photo: Antoine Martin

According to Valencia Gunder, activist and founder of the association Make The Homeless Smile, the gentrification occurring in Miami’s low-income neighbourhoods would never have happened without climate change. Few people cared about this part of Miami before rising seas began threatening the homes of the wealthy coastal dwellers.

For several years, real estate investors have been pushing to acquire and develop land in neighbourhoods protected from flooding by the Miami Rock Ridge, a limestone outcrop running through South Florida that raises the land about four metres above sea level. They often pay several thousand dollars in cash up front to entice homeowners to sell quickly.

While this is not a lot of money for a house, families who are in need tend to accept the offer. Staying high and dry will be an increasingly expensive luxury in the coming years.


Michael Clarkson, a member of the Black Panther movement, speaks at a demonstration against gentrification and a law that forbids homeless people from setting up their tents in the street. Overtown, Miami, 2021.

Photo: Antoine Martin

In addition to the gentrification-related problems it faces, Overtown, one of Miami’s oldest predominantly Black neighbourhoods, is also a food desert. Many low-income residents cannot obtain fresh produce within a radius of several kilometres from their homes. Associations such as the Green Haven Project plant community gardens to introduce young people in the neighbourhood to gardening and teach them to grow their own vegetables.

The neighbourhood of Little Haiti, once known as ‘Lemon City’ for its many lemon trees and citrus groves, is now home to the largest Haitian population outside of Haiti. According to local activists, gentrification has deprived them of their traditional livelihood of growing lemons. The Magic City Innovation District project aimed at creating a district dedicated to art, innovation and entertainment has also forced many Haitians out of the neighbourhood. Some have moved to North Miami, others to Texas and Georgia, while some have even returned to Haiti.


The homes on the right were bought up and demolished to make room for new ones. The homes on the left await demolition. Liberty City, 2021.

Photo: Antoine Martin

Liberty City gets its name from the Liberty Square public housing complex. Built in the 1930s, Liberty Square was one of the first public housing complexes for Black residents in the southern United States. Though it remains one of Miami’s poorest and most crime-affected neighbourhoods, Liberty City is currently experiencing rapid gentrification, starting with a US$300 million housing development. Built on the Rock Ridge, it is one of Miami’s highest elevation neighbourhoods, leaving it protected from rising sea levels.


A resident of Liberty Square facing eviction. Liberty City, 2021.

Photo: Antoine Martin

This woman has lived in her Liberty Square home for over 30 years. In 2021, she was one of the housing complex’s last remaining residents. When the photographer met her, she still didn’t know if the public authorities would be able to relocate her.

The photographer asked residents if they liked the neighbourhood better 20 years ago or today. While crime rates were much higher in the past, older people like the woman pictured above tended to prefer the neighbourhood 20 years ago, while younger people prefer it now.


Street scene in front of a small flower shop in the predominantly Cuban neighbourhood of Allapattah. Miami, 2019

Photo: Antoine Martin

Since the beginning of this photographic series in 2018, many small local businesses and homes have been razed to the ground to make way for a profusion of new buildings and lots for sale. Along with Los Angeles and New York, Miami has become one of the most expensive real estate markets in the United States.


This article has been translated from French.