When people think of Miami's beach culture, they likely focus on the three miles of shoreline along the heart of Miami Beach. What they may not realize is that this culture is spreading north, to previously suburban areas like Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale. This new growth results from the same secret sauce that has bolstered South Florida at large. These once-mild coastal townships are allowing new people, crafting model public spaces, funding forward-thinking infrastructure, and most importantly, letting builders build. The result is a fast-spreading, vertical brand of urbanism that has become the region's trademark, and turned it into an ever-growing global destination.
Downtown Miami and South Beach
Of course, this beach culture still centers on Miami Beach, flailing out from there. Much of the growth--which throughout the region is often expressed via glassy luxury condos with teal and coral hues--lines the waterfront south of 5th street, complimenting SoBe's older art deco motif. Miami Beach's eastern shoreline, meanwhile, remains a night-and-day party on the sand.
But high-rise growth has more recently dominated the shoreline just across Biscayne Bay, in Miami proper. The highlight of the city's relaxed ethos towards urbanization is Brickell, a neighborhood just south of downtown. As I wrote last year for National Review, this area turned in just 20 years from a sleepy low-rise business district and single-family neighborhood to a high-rise megazone that accommodates international banks, foreign consulates, and luxury condo buyers. The city allowed this rapid growth by putting enhanced infrastructure underground and at street level, and then--in a wild diversion from the policies in other U.S. cities--letting developers build upwards, largely unfettered. This has turned Brickell, too, into a 24/7 urban neighborhood with a residential population of 32,000.
Skyscrapers have spread to other parts of Miami's shoreline, including downtown and Edgewater. It would be a stretch to call these areas beaches, since there’s little actual sand. But the city built parks and walkways along their shorelines that give the public waterfront access and full bay views.
To the North
But the real story is what's happening north of Miami Beach. Aside from a few areas dedicated to state parkland, there is now essentially a contiguous urban shoreline extending from the southern tip of Miami Beach up to Fort Lauderdale (and many parts beyond, leading to Boca Raton and Palm Beach). And an awful lot of this area is becoming vertical.
According to a recent New York Times report, there are 83 new residential towers along Broward County's 24-mile coastal strip. 44 of these are in Fort Lauderdale, which was long the more Americanized, suburban counterpart to Miami, yet is now growing upwards, with many longtime inland residents buying coastal waterfront condos as second homes. Adjacent to this is Hollywood, a once-seedy beach hub that has become a target for upscale Brazilian and Russian buyers. And other receiving areas include Sunny Isles and Hallandale Beach.
"The super-exclusive guys that want to pay top dollar normally want to stay in South Beach,” said Carlos Rosso, president of the condo division at The Related Group, the Jorge Perez-owned firm most responsible for building modern Miami. “And then there are pockets of buyers that are looking for value and are seeing that in a couple of years, areas like Hollywood and Hallandale are going to be at the same price.”
Rosso, speaking by phone, cited two leading factors for this growth. One is that land along the Miami-Dade County portion of the coast is limited and has already been built up, causing demand to move northward. The second is that greater Miami, having branded itself as an international destination, is seeing worldwide demand for living on this coastline, with its coral blue waters and global feel. This was reiterated by Edgardo Defortuna, the founder and CEO of Fortune International Group, another famed development firm that's been instrumental in Miami's growth. Defortuna said by phone that for his Jade Signature project--a 57-story residential tower in Sunny Isles Beach designed by Herzog & de Meuron--the 192 units were bought by clients from 23 different nations.
The Government's Role
Like in Brickell, the best thing that the governments along these coasts have done is let the growth happen. While some municipalities are more welcoming than others--Surfside, for example, has 120-foot height limits—there is a general appreciation for urban-style development, and an understanding that it is what pays the bills.
“One of the main ways of raising the tax base is by allowing development,” said Rosso of the different coastal towns and cities, some of which are populated only in the tens of thousands.
There's also an understanding between developers and officials that integrating these buildings with the beach--and integrating the beach with the larger public--is the best way to maximize assets all around. The reason, for example, that Miami Beach's coastline became a destination is because multiple nodes of intensity, including parks, bars and restaurants, were built along it to attract people. There is also, from the average pedestrian's standpoint, much connective tissue between Miami Beach's street grid and its beachfront sand. Now this concept is spreading--developers are increasing the critical mass of people who can live on the northern beaches; and cities like Fort Lauderdale are responding by restoring their beachfront parks and amenities.
The key beyond just place-making is whether local governments take the substantive measures needed to handle this growth. Defortuna mentioned that the fragmentation of the different municipalities has hurt public transit connectivity. And, of course, rising sea levels are always the elephant in the room when it comes to coastal development in Miami. But this, too, is an issue that is already inspiring resilience infrastructure. Miami Beach has begun work on a $400 million flood control system to go under its streets. Other South Florida coastal municipalities will need this too, since there is already development along their shores anyway. The more dense, luxury development they allow, the more tax revenue that they'll generate to fund such resilience efforts. And in the process, these areas will expand an already-strong beach culture that is further heading north.
Scott Beyer owns and manages The Market Urbanism Report. He is a roving cross-country journalist who writes regular columns for Forbes, Governing Magazine and HousingOnline.com.
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