MAYOR SEES MIAMI ON A GLOBAL STAGE AND LEADING ON CLIMATE RESILIENCE
Is climate change denialism necessarily a loyalty test for the Republican Party? Can you be in favor of aggressive measures to stop sea level rise, yet still be pro-growth? The Mayor of the City of Miami, Francis X. Suarez, is offering one answer: Republicans can pursue climate resilience strategies and at the same time court jobs and growth.
On September 20, the Georgetown Project on State and Local Government Policy and Law (SALPAL) and the Georgetown Global Cities Initiative hosted Mayor Suarez. The mayor presented his vision of Miami as a “global city,” leveraging its unique cultural sophistication and population diversity, beautiful beaches, and human capital to model city power on a global stage. Professor Sheila R. Foster, the Scott K. Ginsburg Professor of Urban Law and Policy and Professor of Public Policy led the discussion.
- Meryl Justin Chertoff, Executive Director, SALPAL (September 23, 2021)
Mayor Suarez described actions that the City of Miami is taking to address worsening storm surge, sunny day flooding, and hurricanes. In the November 2017 election, while Suarez was still on the Miami Council, the City of Miami voters endorsed the Miami Forever bond, a $400 million general obligation bond. Nearly half of the bond proceeds will be directed toward reducing flooding risks and sea level rise mitigation, with another quarter of the bond focused on improving affordable housing. The remaining funds will be split among enhancing public safety and improving parks, cultural facilities, streets, and infrastructure. The mayor explained how the flood mitigation projects will be prioritized through the Stormwater Master Plan process. Suarez offered his commitment to the work, noting that he served with UN General Assembly President Ban-Ki Moon on the Global Commission on Climate Adaptation, and that Miami is a signatory to the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact.
Miami has been hardening its infrastructure to climate-related weather events for years, Suarez explained:
Miami is probably the most wind resilient city already on the planet. In other words, every single building in our city has either impact windows or storm shutters. So we have the ability to deal with hurricanes that reach anywhere in the vicinity of 150 to 200 miles per hour.
That and other measures mean Miami has suffered less damage in recent hurricanes than New York City, New Jersey and other coastal areas did throughout Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Harvey, and other recent storms.
Can the work be done with equity? Suarez believes that the investments being made in affordable housing through the Miami Forever bond will help. He acknowledged the reality of climate gentrification as one issue that the city will soon need to confront. The mayor points to investments being made in Overtown, a historically Black neighborhood in Miami, that would increase affordable housing stock. A recently-opened supermarket will help allay its position as a former food desert. But he emphasizes his opinion that growth—both commercial and residential– is the most effective driver for prosperity, brushing off the notion that Miami would ever consider a measure like the one that just passed in California, preempting cities from allowing single-family dwelling zoning.
Even more, he believes that his city, and the other interlocking network of Miami-Dade local government subunits, have unique assets that make them collectively a global city. Known as “the Capitol of Latin America” Miami has proven to be a magnet for business with the Southern hemisphere, with many wealthy Latin Americans maintaining second homes in the area. While acknowledging that as a mayor, his powers of subnational diplomacy are limited, Suarez explained how he tries to cultivate direct relationships with Columbia, Brazil, and other nations.
The mayor offered three factors that explain Miami’s recent record economic growth: a zero-personal state income tax (thanks to the Florida state government); a favorable commercial real estate market; and climate-change related fires, high taxes, and rising real estate costs in Northern California. These factors have enabled the mayor to successfully pitch Silicon Valley powerhouses—like Blackstone Tech, the Bitcoin-trading platform FTX, and the Japan-based SoftBank—to expand their Miami footprint. Mayor Suarez contrasts his approach directly to that of New York City, where neighborhood activists’ demands for greater concessions caused Amazon to back out of basing its second center of operations in an economically depressed neighborhood of Queens, New York.
Suarez is experimenting in other ways, too. In September, Miami’s city commissioners voted to accept funds generated by a new cryptocurrency, MiamiCoin. Hard-coded into MiamiCoin’s protocol is the requirement that 30% of all coins mined are routed to a digital wallet designated for the city. Those funds will be earmarked for particular spending, such as projects to mitigate the risks of climate change, funding initiatives for underprivileged communities, and investing in crypto education for tech entrepreneurs. Since its start, Suarez estimates that the initiative has generated over $5 million for the city.
As the first Mayor of Miami who was born in the city, Suarez’s Miami roots run deep—even his father served as the Mayor of Miami. If re-elected this November, Suarez will be spending more time in Washington, D.C. as he assumes the presidency of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. In that role, Suarez will have an opportunity to prove a claim he he made at Georgetown Law on September 20: that in American politics, there are three political parties; Democrats, Republicans, and Mayors.