Is Florida sinking under the weight of increased urban development?

JoAnn Ryan

When I first proposed this question to various people I know, many seemed not to believe it could be true. They thought it sounded crazy.

To me though, it made perfect sense. I truly didn't understand their disbelief.
City of MiamiPhoto byDylan SauerweinonUnsplash

The problem with coastal areas in Florida

It's no secret that water levels surrounding Florida are rising, which essentially is causing many coastal areas of Florida to sink under water.

At the rate the world is headed now, hundreds of millions of people living on coasts may watch their cities flood with waters rising two meters by 2100."

This was reported by Newsweek reporter Marie Dumoulin back in 2017, along with an expected prediction by the United Nations that Global temperatures are expected to rise 3 degrees Celsius within the next century.

A rise in temperature produces the result of melting glaciers and polar ice caps, causing the water level to rise. It also has the effect of producing stronger hurricanes.

Something Florida surely doesn't need any more of.

Places like Miami and The Keys directly on the coast are most vulnerable. But, what about the weight of all the buildings? Would this not just make things even worse? What about all the roads, houses and people moving around?
Storm in MiamiPhoto byMarcos RivasonUnsplash

Increasing population equates to increasing issues

I set out to do a little research to answer whether or not increased urban development is causing "The Swiss Cheese State" to fall below acceptable water levels in comparison to surrounding ocean waters at an even faster rate.

In a study authored by Tom Parsons, an earthquake seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, and reported in Bloomberg in 2021, it was found that cities along the coast, most notably those heavily urbanized like Miami, do indeed produce not only a shifting effect, but a sinking one as well:

"Where you build and what land you build on matters in the long run. Cities may want to reconsider plans to build heavily near the coast, or atop of reclaimed land, which is susceptible to subsidence."

It's not hard to fathom that the heavier the buildings and other structures, the worse it is for the ground underneath as the soil compresses and shifts. It's simple gravity.

So, why do so many people continue to disbelieve?

Important to note, this is just one of the many concerns with urban development along coastlines. Another is that such structures additionally affect naturally occurring drainage systems built into the Earth.

"The key is to think about all this ahead of time. Otherwise, “as cities get denser and denser, and build taller and taller, there could be some issues going forward.”"

Miami isn't the only hotspot

What about all the sinkholes? People in Miami and The Keys aren't the only ones in need of concern. Central Florida is well-known for being a hotbed of sinkhole activity, and the urban development affecting Miami effects Central Florida in similar ways, as this has been a rapidly growing area for many years now.

The more people and stuff, the worse the problem, right?


The real question is, what to do? Do we all leave the state? Seems rather drastic. Some might say no matter where a person moves to, they will have to deal with problems like tornados, intense snowstorms, earthquakes or other such potential calamities--especially as humanity seems intent on growing faster than the planet can reasonably handle.

One bright spot to note is that smart folks at smartie places like Yale and Harvard study these things constantly to bring about effective solutions.

However, if urban developers driven by financial gain continue to fight and win out over researchers and environmentalists who work to make things better, as was reported by Brian Hamacher and Chris Hush in this NBC Miami article, "Miami-Dade Commissioners Override Mayor's Veto of Urban Development Boundary Expansion," then perhaps we really do need to fear after all.

What's truly devastating is that while those with plenty of money at their disposal will always be able to cut their losses and move on, it tends to be those in the middle-to low-income brackets who end up suffering the most.

What is the solution for Florida?

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Orlando, FL

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