If you visit South Florida even now, long after the extreme risks for the region from climate change became known, there are still construction cranes everywhere. High-rise apartment buildings and low-rise condominium complexes are being built at breakneck pace.
For developers, the calculation is an easy one. Governments still allow them to build in flood-prone areas, eager for the property taxes. And with around a 5-year window from the start of a project to selling out all the units, developers and real estate interests will have their money long before climate change forces property values down as everyone assumes will happen eventually in South Florida.
The rich get their money and the taxpayers end up bailing out the people and businesses wiped out by super storms. It’s the privatization of profit and socialization of risk. Because even the most MAGA-nutty person screaming about socialism will have his hand out when he loses everything.
But in one southern coastal city, municipal leaders are starting to crack down on building in disaster prone areas.
To preserve their fiscal bottom lines, municipal officials now beg, plead, and cajole whole neighborhoods (particularly high-end, property-tax-bearing ones) out of floodplains and other high-risk areas. In particularly hard-hit locales, governments may not have to twist many arms: As storms grow in both frequency and intensity, more people will likely be willing to accept buyouts—as most Staten Island residents did in the Oakwood neighborhood after Hurricane Sandy.
The buyout picture is likely to remain especially fraught for many African American communities where homes were undervalued by design, according to A.R. Siders of the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center. In a number of those communities, properties were purposely situated in flood-prone areas that never enjoyed basic residential services and were redlined to keep property values down. Factor addressing inequities into the buyout calculus.
In Charleston, South Carolina, Dale Morris, the city’s chief resilience officer, believes that Americans need to reassess their relationship with water. The frequent recurrence of what Morris calls “storms of impact” that are more intense and longer-lasting has begun to influence the city’s decision-making in ways that even a historic storm like Hurricane Hugo in 1989 did not. Now home to 150,000 people, Charleston suffered extraordinary levels of inundation for several years beginning in 2015, a period that included Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Tropical Storm Irma in 2017.
Today, Charlestonians have a new appreciation of how rain, wind, and bodies of water interact. “People began asking questions like ‘What do we do about this new development that I think is causing flooding downstream? What do we do about larger land use policy, so we don’t make the mistakes that we made 50 years ago because things have changed?’” says Morris, who worked as a senior economist for the Netherlands Embassy for more than two decades and coordinator for Charleston’s Dutch Dialogues, an initiative sponsored in part by the Netherlands that helps local communities assess flooding issues.
With neighborhoods that regularly flood spread across a landmass that features a peninsula and the outflows of three rivers into the Atlantic Ocean, Charleston has taken an aggressive stance on managed retreat. The city has secured FEMA grant money for one neighborhood that already had nearly 50 homes purchased and demolished, and is regulating development in low-lying areas that in the past would be filled for development, such as the 100-acre Johns Island tract of land that would have sited 240 homes. Some city councilors were ready to ban fill outright, Morris says, but the city opted instead to regulate fill through stormwater regulations, so that it can be used “judiciously.”
These advances catapulted Charleston into the vanguard of proactive communities—for a reason. “Charleston has been so active because the risk is there, and they feel it,” says Morris.
You can read the rest of The American Prospect article by Gabrielle Gurley at this link.