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Miami’s Little Haiti wasn’t a target for developers. Until the seas started to rise

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(CNN) —  In a city where “sunny day floods” increased 400% in a decade, rising seas are changing the old real estate mantra of “location, location, location.”

In Miami these days, it’s all about elevation, elevation, elevation.

And long before melted ice caps wash over Ocean Drive, one of America’s most vulnerable big cities is becoming a test case for the modern problem of climate gentrification.

While some scientific models predict enough polar ice melt to bring at least 10 feet of sea level rise to South Florida by 2100, just a modest 12 inches would make 15% of Miami uninhabitable, and much of that beachside property is among America’s most valuable.

READ: Millions of US homes at risk of chronic flooding this century, study says

Even now, as more frequent “king tides” bubble up through Florida’s porous limestone, pushing fish through sewers and onto streets, residents are becoming more aware that their city is built on the rippling shelves, ridges and canyons of a fossil seabed.

“Water is simply going back to the same places it flowed ages ago,” says Sam Purkis, Chair of the University of Miami’s Geosciences Department. “The irony is what happened 125,000 years ago is going to dictate what happens to your house now.”

The fickle undulations between city blocks could mean the difference between survival and retreat, and the rising cost of altitude is sparking a noticeable shift in community activism and municipal budgets.

In Pinecrest, artist Xavier Cortada installed murals showing how many feet above sea level intersections are.
PHOTO: CNN
In Pinecrest, artist Xavier Cortada installed murals showing how many feet above sea level intersections are.

 

Neighbors in Pinecrest formed America’s first Underwater Homeowners Association (complete with elevation yard signs) and named a marine scientist as president.

Miami Beach is spending millions elevating roads, upgrading pumps and changing building codes to allow residents to raise their mansions by five feet.

But in working-class, immigrant neighborhoods like Little Haiti, year-to-year sea level rise gets lost in the day-to-day struggle, and most had no idea that they live a lofty three feet higher than the wealthy folks on Miami Beach.

They found out when developers started calling, from everywhere.

“They were calling from China, from Venezuela. Coming here with cases of money!” says Marleine Bastien, a community organizer and longtime resident. “We used to think that the allure of Little Haiti was the fact that it’s close to downtown, close to both airports and close to the beach. Unbeknownst to us, it’s because we are positioned at a higher altitude.”

 

Pointing out a row of vacant shops, she ticks off the names of a dozen small business owners she says have been forced out by rising rents, and lists others who she says unwittingly took lowball offers with no understanding of Miami’s housing crisis.

“If you sell your home in Little Haiti, you think that you’re making a big deal, and it’s only after you sell, and then you realize, ‘Oh, I cannot buy anywhere else.’”

Marleine Bastien, center, protests with residents and activists against the Magic City plans.
PHOTO: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Marleine Bastien, center, protests with residents and activists against the Magic City plans.

 

After her community center and day school were priced out of three different buildings, she caught wind of plans to build the sprawling $1 billion Magic City development on the edge of Little Haiti, featuring a promenade, high-end retail stores, high rise apartments and imagined by a consortium of local investors, including the founder of Cirque du Soleil.

Magic City developers insist that they picked the site based on location, not elevation.

A view of downtown Miami and South Beach from a plane shows the oceanfront development of the past.
PHOTO: Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images
A view of downtown Miami and South Beach from a plane shows the oceanfront development of the past.

 

They promised to preserve the soul of Little Haiti and give $31 million to the community for affordable housing and other programs, but it wasn’t enough for Bastien. “This is a plan to actually erase Little Haiti,” she says. “Because this is the one place where immigration and climate gentrification collide.”

She fought the development with all the protesters and hand-lettered signs she could muster, but after a debate that went until 1 a.m., commissioners approved the permit with a 3-0 vote at the end of June.

“The area we took was all industrial,” says Max Sklar, VP with Plaza Equity Partners and a member of the development team. “There was no real thriving economy around these warehouses or vacant land. And so our goal is to create that economy.

“Can we appease everybody? Not 100%, that’s not feasible. It’s not realistic. But we’ve listened to them.”

He repeats a promise to deliver $6 million to a Little Haiti community trust before ground is even broken and, as a sign that he listened to at least one demand, acknowledges that the complex will now be called Magic City Little Haiti.

But while Bastien mourns the defeat, her neighbor and fellow organizer Leonie Hermantin welcomes the investment and hopes for the best. “Even if Magic City did not come today, the pace of gentrification is so rapid that our people will not be able to afford homes here anyways,” she says with a resigned head shake. “Magic City is not the government. Affordable housing policies have to come from the government.”

A woman uses an umbrella for shade as she walks on a hot day in Miami.
PHOTO: Bill Weir/CNN
A woman uses an umbrella for shade as she walks on a hot day in Miami.

 

“(Climate gentrification) is something that we are very closely monitoring,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez tells me. “But we haven’t seen any direct evidence of it yet.”

Suarez is the rare Republican who passionately argues for climate mitigation plans and helped champion the $400 million Miami Forever bond, approved by voters to fund action to protect the city from the ravages of higher seas and stronger storms.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez championed a plan to tackle the impact of the climate crisis.
PHOTO: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez championed a plan to tackle the impact of the climate crisis.
 

“We actually created in our first tranche of Miami Forever, a sustainability fund for people to renovate their homes so that they can stay in their properties rather than having to sell their properties,” he says.

But that fund is a relatively small $15 million, not enough to dent a housing crisis that grows with each heat wave and hurricane, in a city where over a quarter of residents live below the poverty level.

What’s happening in Little Haiti could be just one example of a “climate apartheid” that the United Nations warns is ahead, where there will be a gulf between the rich who can protect themselves from the impact of climate change and the poor who are left behind.

Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said there was already evidence of how the climate crisis affects the rich and poor differently.

And he pointed out that those hurt most were likely those least responsible. “Perversely, while people in poverty are responsible for just a fraction of global emissions, they will bear the brunt of climate change, and have the least capacity to protect themselves,” Alston wrote last month.

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Nigeria crashed aircraft was on rescue mission for kidnapped schoolchildren

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By Nimi Princewill, CNN
Updated 10:13 AM ET, Mon February 22, 2021

Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) — Nigeria’s airforce has said its plane, which crashed shortly after take-off from Abuja airport on Sunday morning — killing everyone on board — was on a mission to rescue the schoolchildren kidnapped last week.

A spokesman told CNN the aircraft was on surveillance operations in Niger State as part of efforts to rescue at least 42 schoolchildren and staff members taken by gunmen from the Government Science School Kagara last Wednesday. One student died during the attack.
Air Vice-Marshal Ibikunle Daramola told CNN on Monday afternoon that the air force had donated the military plane to a joint task force coordinating the rescue operation in Kagara.
“The rescue effort is being coordinated by a multi-agency team… the crashed aircraft was part of the air force’s contribution to the rescue mission,” he added.
    Daramola told CNN that the airforce would continue to support the rescue operation.
      He added that all families of the personnel have been informed, and an investigation launched.
      The ongoing rescue efforts followed a directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to the armed forces and police to ensure all captives are rescued.

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      Protests in Haiti as political standoff continues

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      By Caitlin Hu and Etant Dupain, CNN
      Updated 7:44 PM ET, Sun February 21, 2021

      (CNN) — Large crowds of Haitians took to the streets again on Sunday, as a standoff between President Jovenel Moise and the country’s opposition movement stretched into its third week.

      “Those of us fighting, who want another Haiti, a Haiti pearl of the Antilles, say no to the dictatorship,” one protester told Reuters in capital city Port-au-Prince, where Haitian opposition and civil society groups had called the demonstration. Another criticized the United States and international organizations for supporting the President.
      At the heart of protests is a dispute over the President’s term limit: Moise has served only four years of the usual five, and says his term ends in 2022 — a stance backed by the United States, United Nations and Organization of American States.
      Protesters, however, say he should have stepped down February 7, citing a constitutional provision that starts the clock once a president is elected, rather than when he takes office.
        “We want the international community (to) understand that the Haiti people won’t back down on their demands. Jovenel Moise must leave the national palace for a peaceful transition that can lead us to the elections,” opposition leader André Michel told CNN on Sunday.
        This month’s protests also reflect years of increasing bitterness in Haiti over the country’s economic pain and violent crime. Killings and a wave of hundreds of kidnappings in particular have driven public outrage, according to a recent United Nations report, which recorded a monthly average of 84 demonstrations in the second half of 2020.
        Moise has blamed his administration’s poor record in dealing with such fundamental issues on the country’s system of governance, and on complications and lack of clarity in the constitution itself. “Since the beginning of my term, the country has never known stability,” he acknowledged in a February 12 tweet.
        With an eye toward empowering the office of the president for the future, he has vowed to hold a referendum on changes to the constitution in April. This will be his legacy project, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, told CNN.
        However, critics are skeptical of the legitimacy of any constitutional changes made in the current political climate and without institutional checks and balances in place. General elections are expected to follow in the fall.
          In a speech last Sunday, amid celebrations for Carnival, which he celebrated with large crowds of supporters and revelers, Moise expressed his determination to see the country through another year.
          “Haiti is for me, for my kids, for the people here dancing. The people who don’t want me to do the people’s work will stop, or I will make them stop. I was elected to do a job, and I will do it,” he said.

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          Oil spill leads Israel to close beaches as it faces ‘severe ecological disaster’

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          By Sharif Paget
          Updated 1:41 PM ET, Mon February 22, 2021

          (CNN) — Israeli authorities are trying to locate the source of a suspected oil spill that has been described as one of the most severe ecological disasters to hit the country, threatening wildlife, forcing beaches to close and prompting a mass cleanup.

          Blobs of sticky tar started washing up on the country’s Mediterranean shores last week. Images posted on official government accounts showed sea birds and turtles covered in tar and sticky oil.
          “The enormous amounts of tar emitted in recent days to the shores of Israel from south to north caused one of the most severe ecological disasters to hit Israel,” the country’s Nature and Parks Authority said Sunday.
          The extent of the pollution is so bad, Israel’s Ministry of Interior issued an advisory Sunday urging people to stay away from the country’s beaches.
            A massive cleanup is underway but the Nature and Parks Authority said it would take a long time to make the marine area safe again. It has established a registration and information center for volunteers who wish to help.
            “I was very impressed by the exemplary voluntarism of the citizens who came to clean up the beaches. We must maintain our beaches, our country and the environment,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office.
            “I have just spoken with the Egyptian Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister who has come to us, and we proposed that every ship that you see here be powered by natural gas instead of polluting fuel, as happened here,” he continued.
            Gamliel said it was their “moral obligation to the public is to locate those responsible for the event,” according to the statement.
              “We have the possibility of suing the insurance company of the ship that is responsible for the pollution and we will do everything to locate it,” she said.
              In a separate statement posted to her Twitter account, Gamliel said, “We are making every effort to find those responsible for the disaster, and we will bring to the government’s approval tomorrow a proposal for resolutions to rehabilitate the environment.”

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              Seven dead in Nigerian military plane crash

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              Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) Seven people were killed when a Nigerian military plane crashed on approach to Abuja airport on Sunday, a spokesman for Nigeria’s Air Force said.

              “All 7 personnel on board died in the crash,” Air Vice Marshal Ibikunle Daramola said on Twitter.
              He added that the Chief of the Air Staff has ordered an immediate investigation into the incident.
              “A military aircraft King Air 350 has just crashed short of our Abuja runway after reporting engine failure enroute [to] Minna. It appears to be fatal,” said the country’s aviation minister, Hadi Sirika, confirming the incident in a statement.
               

              AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT

              This is to confirm that a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Beechcraft KingAir B350i aircraft crashed while returning to the Abuja Airport after reporting engine failure enroute Minna. First responders are at the scene. Sadly, all 7 personnel on board died in the crash

              — Air Vice Marshal Ibikunle Daramola (@KunleDaramola3) February 21, 2021

               
              In a follow-up communication Sunday afternoon, a spokesman at the Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu, said the “aircraft reported engine failure at time 10:39 and crashed landed on the final approach path of Abuja Runway 22 at time 10:48UTC.”
              Odaudu said fire fighters have been deployed to the scene to put out a raging blaze that had engulfed the airplane.
              An aviation worker who asked not to be named — citing lack of official clearance to talk to the press — told CNN that he witnessed the crash.
              “The crash occurred not very far from the runway. The pilot had tried returning to the runway after taking off,” he said.
              The worker said the pilot swerved the plane to its crash site which is in a desolate area. He said the aircraft narrowly avoided warehouses and makeshift settlements around the Nnamdi Azikwe International airport.

               

               
               
               
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              Why Britain’s anti-immigration politicians are opening the doors to thousands of Hong Kongers

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              By Tara John, CNN
              Updated 7:29 PM ET, Sat February 20, 2021

              (CNN) — Eighteen months ago, Malcolm was at the vanguard of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

              Full of bravado and often clad in black, the 21-year-old oversaw a group of 60 combative front-liners who embraced confrontational tactics against the police while demanding greater democracy in the former British colony.
              Today, he is applying for asylum in the United Kingdom, and separated from his family in Hong Kong where he feels he can longer visit. Malcom believes if he returns to the Chinese city he could be arrested under a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong last June, which scaled up penalties against dissent to include punishments as severe as life imprisonment.
              Since then, nearly 100 activists have been arrested under the new law. When Hong Kong police apprehended a protester friend of Malcolm’s in October, he booked a red-eye flight to London. Malcolm asked CNN not to use his real name, for fear that his family — who remain in Hong Kong — could face repercussions.
                The British government has called the security law a clear violation of the “one country, two systems” policy meant to ensure Hong Kong’s autonomy from Beijing until 2047. In its wake, the UK has opened a six-year pathway to British citizenship for holders of British National (Overseas) passports (BN(O)), a special visa category created for Hong Kong nationals before the 1997 transfer of power.
                Sze has settled into London life: She already has strong opinions on the snail’s pace of London buses and is counting the days to when lockdown ends and she can go shopping on Oxford Street.
                While it can be hard to find the authentic Cantonese cuisine she grew up eating in Hong Kong, Sze marvels at how much cheaper food is at British supermarkets.
                “The food quality is better, the price is cheaper and the rent is cheaper,” she told CNN.
                Sze cannot get a job until her BN(O) visa is approved, but she is optimistic that the UK’s coronavirus-induced economic slump will not get in the way of her finding work. “I am open to any [job] option — it really depends on how much savings I have,” she said.
                  But her biggest concern is the fate of fellow dissidents going through the asylum process, and whether her compatriots who move to the UK will give up the fight for independence back home.
                  “Hong Kongers should never give up, no matter if they’ve left Hong Kong or not,” she said.

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