Miami’s ‘Vice’: Is Florida’s Largest Metropolitan Area a Metaphor for the United States?

With a burgeoning, highly international population of 5.5 million people and a purchasing power ranking of fifth in the world, Miami does not seem a likely candidate for experiencing doom, imminent or otherwise; the self-styled capital of Latin America is home to one of the planet’s great real estate markets, with construction projects attracting capital flows from across the world. Intercontinentally-syndicated television series – not least Crime Scene Investigation: Miami, which revolves around the work of fictional investigators under the aegis of the non-fictional the Miami-Dade Police Department –  use Miami as their backdrop.

Yet all of this and much more is at entirely needless risk. The excellent Simon Kuper‘s recent Financial Times column (Miami: the gathering storm, 2nd August 2013) points to the fact that rising sea levels and an increased number of intense hurricanes mean that Florida’s largest urban area faces being substantially wiped out at some point before 2100. As Kuper points out, the streets of Miami already flood knee-deep owing to inadequate drainage during times of heavy rain; the drinking water is not necessarily what it used to be. Precisely now, Miami is in need of high levels of infrastructural investment just to keep the rising tides at bay.

However, owing to both the reluctance of the tax base and the prevailing ideological climate, this is simply not going to happen anytime soon: recent attempts by Carlos A. Giménez, the Mayor of Miami-Dade County, to raise property taxes to save certain libraries and animal shelters from closure were abandoned, with Giménez  himself conceding: ‘People are not in favour of any increased taxes, in any way, shape or form.’ Procuring the kind of investment which is needed to secure Miami’s future – at least from local taxpayers – is a distant fantasy.

Of course, the irrationality of all this is almost sublime: through outright rejection of increased taxation, the propertied classes of Miami risk signing their own death warrant; at the very least, their prioritisation of private consumption over the most essential investment in public infrastructure will see much of their real estate sink into some as yet undetermined body of water. Anyone familiar with America will know that this pseudo-Faustian contract has been distorting that country for some time now: the United States has fallen decades behind infrastructural best practice in both Europe and Asia. The big question is whether sensibilities will change in time for catastrophe to be averted; presently, this is at best an open question.

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2 Comments

Filed under Environment, Political Science, Politics, Urban Life

2 responses to “Miami’s ‘Vice’: Is Florida’s Largest Metropolitan Area a Metaphor for the United States?

  1. This is very interesting. I think it shows the effects of demonising taxation, distrust of government, atomisation of society and perhaps just short-termist selfishness. The fact is though that future crises (rises in sea level, food shortages due to climate change) require a collective response and government is the only system we have to deliver that. When people are not willing to help government save their own locality then it seems we really are going to be in trouble.

    • Rowan Williams made an interesting point a year or two ago when he said that one way of conceptualising the state is simply as a shared community or something to that effect. With increasingly transient communities whose members have little interaction with each other, any kind of collective endeavour – even ones that are really, really needed to avoid catastrophe – becomes much harder to put into practice.

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