The cost of coastal capitalism: How greedy developers left Miami ripe for destruction

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tags: capitalism, Weather, hurricanes, natural disasters



Andrew W. Kahrl is associate professor of history and African American studies at the University of Virginia and author of “The Land Was Ours: How Black Beaches Became White Wealth in the Coastal South.”

As Hurricane Irma bore down on South Florida, hundreds of thousands of people in Miami evacuated, fleeing a storm that, had it struck the city squarely, would have devastated what is now the fourth-largest urban area in America. Even though the storm slipped to the Gulf Coast side of the state, the hurricane flooded streets, shattered windows and sent giant cranes crashing into half-built high-rises.

Those cranes, a permanent feature of the rapidly expanding skyline, are symbols of the city’s ability to bounce back. But their skeletal fragments following the storm also serve as a warning: The longtime predatory practices of developers (and their partners in local government) in coastal communities like Miami have fueled racial discrimination and environmental destruction, as well as exacerbated the devastation wrought by storms like Irma and last month’s Hurricane Harvey.

Coastal communities should have heeded this warning a century ago.

When a Category 4 storm struck South Florida in 1926, it seemed to deliver a deathblow to Miami’s frenzied real estate market. “Gaping structures, tragically uncompleted, are mute reminders of ambitious schemes for apartments, casinos, country clubs,” one reporter later suggested, surveying the wreckage. All of the symbols of frenetic development had “vanished like a soap bubble.”

Not for long. No sooner had the rains stopped and floodwaters receded, than coastal capitalists ripped a page from their pre-storm playbook to rebuild South Florida’s economy. Before the storm white “land grabbers” had terrorized African Americans into selling or abandoning their properties. After the storm, the capitalists sent armed National Guardsmen into Miami’s “Colored Town” to conscript, at the barrel of a gun, black laborers in clearing debris from the choice properties along Miami Beach, where blacks were barred from living. ...




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