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The case for preventing climate gentrification

Rebuilding after a disaster isn't just about bricks and mortar. It's about lives and communities.

Urban resilience focuses on addressing both long-term stresses as well as sudden shocks to citizens and infrastructure. As creators of the urban landscape, planners, architects, engineers and real estate developers must address problems associated with growing urban density by leveraging improved design to mitigate the shocks and stresses from climate change and increased population density.

The big question is whether they can do it equitably and inclusively.

In the wake of hurricanes and other calamities, cities such as Miami, where I live, need to recognize the potential of gentrification to displace marginalized citizens when designing developments. We call this "climate gentrification."

In my capacity as emerging professionals chair of U.S. Green Building Council Miami and a member of the South Florida Board of Directors, I’ve witnessed firsthand how this happens. For example, I’ve attended several community meetings where city officials present new development projects and resilience plans, and they are almost always met with two reactions: fear and anger. Fear that new developments will create a future where rising costs of living force them to leave their homes; and anger at developers for designs foreign to their community, at their elected officials for allowing such development to proceed and at city officials who don’t take into account their needs.

In the wake of hurricanes and other calamities, cities such as Miami need to recognize the potential of gentrification to displace marginalized citizens when designing developments.
With all this in mind, I've been working with my colleagues Dave Capelli and Carla Mays on solving this issue by providing sustainability accreditation training. Our #SmartMiami Cohort trains minority and women-owned businesses in sustainable and resilient building accreditation. Our program combines three top sustainability accreditations to ensure our members will have proper tools to work on any environmentally conscious development project: EcoDistricts, LEED Green Associate (GA) and LEED Neighborhood Development (ND).

Having more accredited local practitioners increases sustainable development, helping communities become more resilient and resistant to climate change while developing a pipeline of minority and female subcontractors who can help stem gentrification displacement while creating jobs and economic output.

Traditionally, these accreditations require thousands of dollars in materials, instruction and testing costs as well as months of preparation and study. The barriers created by these costs reduces diversity within LEED and unwittingly cause gentrification and widening of social gaps within cities. By underwriting the total cost of accreditation, we eliminate that barrier and provide training to qualified professionals from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds who otherwise would have been unable to become accredited.

After accreditation, our cohort members receive workshop assistance in obtaining all government business licenses, including SBA 8a certification to help small, disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace; certification for women- and minority-owned businesses; and other certifications and on-ramping to government vending portals that enable them to compete as sub-primes on projects. Our goal is to equip residents of marginalized communities with the technical skills and business certifications they need to work on the next generation of equitable, sustainable and resilient development.

Pricing out the poor

Thus far, our efforts have been fruitful. Through bootstrapping and the aid of our fiscal sponsor, the Center for Social Change, we completed Florida’s first EcoDistricts accreditation program, taught by Eric Corey Freed. Our cohort had a 100 percent pass rate and South Florida now has 14 new EcoDistrict Accredited Professionals. These accredited professionals have created three new EcoDistricts projects with one, the Little Haiti EcoDistrict, already in the certification process, having received a $10,000 grant from EcoDistricts.

SmartMiami was well on its way to completion when Hurricane Irma hit and devastated the Florida Keys and Miami. Our program took on a new urgency. While Miami continues to recover, we are reaching out to the sustainability community to work together and find the best ways to address this new reality.

Since Irma, our timeframe and goals necessarily shifted.
Irma exemplifies the kind of event that kicks off the new wave of development that prices poorer residents out of their communities — indeed, out of their very homes. The effects of Hurricane Irma dramatically have increased the potential for climate gentrification in Miami's communities.

Since Irma, our timeframe and goals necessarily shifted. Our focus is now on providing EcoDistricts training to Miami’s public-sector officials, allowing them to leverage the framework in pre-disaster planning and post-disaster recovery through resilient and equitable design. We are creating an environment where local governments and developers will work hand in hand, preventing climate gentrification by ensuring that local community developers are getting the needed resources to rebuild communities, ideally shutting out speculators who want to use this disaster to displace citizens, as we saw after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

The next two years represent a major inflection point in Miami’s future. We have the chance to mold the city into a model of resilience, sustainability and equity. Of course, we can’t do that without the funds needed to underwrite LEED GA and LEED ND materials, instruction and examinations, the EcoDistricts training for the public sector and to build capacity to prepare of cohort members to work on new development projects. We are also seeking partnerships with developers that can mentor cohort businesses and develop a contractor-subcontractor pipeline.

Our largest corporate partner to date has been my employer, FedEx, both the corporate office in Memphis and the Latin America and Caribbean office in Miami. Our program aligns with its CSR goals, and its desire to fund projects that enable equitable and resilient smart city development. Local government and the philanthropic center must also provide funding , however, to make this a sustainable model.

The time to do this is now. Miami needs an influx of local sustainability talent to ensure it comes back stronger than ever while protecting the diverse communities that make a city such as Miami unlike any other in the world.

History has shown time and again that Miami is capable of recovering from natural disasters. We must work fervently to ensure this hurricane — and, no doubt, others to follow — doesn’t give rise to a more innocuous existential threat to members of my community: the loss of their homes through gentrification.

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