Doral’s blind ambition could sour with time (includes video story)

As Doral continues its efforts to become one of the central hubs of South Florida, significant consequences may impact the city sooner rather than later.

A day in Doral can consist of many different activities and events. With nine parks scattered throughout the city for outdoor activities, Downtown Doral and CityPlace are epicenters for food and entertainment, and Dolphin and International Mall dominate the retail market, attracting people from around the globe; here, there are countless things that can entice both residents and tourists alike.

Doral has also become a hub for media companies such as Telemundo, Univision, and the Miami Herald. As a result of this lasting interest, the city continues to renovate and expand, with an abundance of housing and construction projects underway. 

Despite the city’s lofty ambitions, Doral is still one of the lowest elevated cities in South Florida — only three meters above sea level. With the average elevation in the state being about 30 meters above sea level.

Flooding is already causing problems within Miami Dade County as the rate of rain, thunderstorms, and hurricanes increases due to climate change. This puts Doral in an even more peculiar position, considering how prone to flooding it already is. 

Hugo Guzman, a Doctoral Ph.D. student at Florida International University studying Environmental Economics and Policy, speaks on how flooding can actually increase with additional infrastructure.

“When you develop, build more property, create more roads; What you are doing is you’re building more impermeable surfaces,” said Guzman,” Foundations, driveways, sidewalks, streets, sewer lines; that actually increases your flood risk. We are developing in an area that is already flood-prone and are making it more flood-prone by making it denser and having more impermeable surfaces.”

Construction in Downtown Doral building more homes within the neighborhood. (Photo by Fabio Lopez)

With a potential increase in flooding insurance by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) set to impact South Florida, homeowners and private businesses will likely see a significant rise in their flooding insurance within the next two decades. This will drive away people who may not have the means to afford a substantive increase in their insurance. 

Insurance rates potentially increasing will coincide with the cost of living in Doral. As more and more buildings, homes, and businesses are constructed within the municipality, the more apparent the gentrification becomes. 

Doral is one of the fastest-growing cities in Florida, with a population of 75,966, having increased 64% since the last census. The average household income is over $90,000, with a median rental cost just under $2,000. In addition to this, while an overwhelmingly Hispanic population lives within the city, 81.1% of Hispanics categorize themselves as white.

Many determining factors contribute to this, much of it is mentioned above. Still, one aspect that surprisingly does seem to contribute to the gentrification within the city is its ‘green’ initiatives.

There has been a gradual uptick in warm temperatures in South Florida, which has resulted in hotter and hotter summers and warmer winters. This year, without tracking the heat index, Doral peaked at about 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer

Doral noticed this trend a long time ago, dating back to 2008 when the city approved the green master plan, which sought to “guide operations and growth in an environmentally responsible manner.” This involved better and safer vehicle travel, installation of more environmentally friendly landscape and open space, inputting more energy-efficient standards, and a flurry of other proposals.

Such efforts were followed by the “Green Element,” the certification of the “Florida Green Building Coalition,” as the title of “Tree City USA” for the 13th consecutive year. The city has flourished as a result of these initiatives. Virtually every corner has a tree or at least some sort of vegetation surrounding it. 

These green initiatives help combat a phenomenon known as urban heat, which occurs when a city experiences much warmer temperatures than nearby rural areas because surfaces, typically concrete, can’t absorb as much heat as less-developed areas with more vegetation. 

According to CNN, Miami is ranked eighth in the country in terms of worst urban heat. Speaking to Meenakshi Jerath, coordinator of Research Programs at the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Program at the Extreme Events Institute at FIU, she discussed how added greenery contributes to gentrification within a location.

“It’s been observed that if you increase the greenery of a place, within a few years, from the mid to long term, that place becomes gentrified,” said Jerath, “That means the property values of that place increase and the lower-income people get pushed out of that place. So we have to make sure that we are creating solutions that do not do that.”

Unfortunately, Doral seems to be doing just that. The city is becoming increasingly unaffordable and gradually pushing out the lower and middle-class residents. Jerath believes that this is disproportionately applied throughout communities and believes that people should question why that is. 

“The problem is complex. If you go back to the city and its development, why is it that Coral Gables has a lot of greenery and Hialeah doesn’t? You have to question that,” said Jerath.

Doral is a constantly growing and evolving city that offers exciting opportunities for businesses and residents. Despite the progress on the surface, looking past the lush art designs, sprawling parks, and exciting nightlife, a much more worrisome and cynical picture will develop.

There is also the disappointment that the middle and lower classes will be left behind for the sake of profit and entrepreneurship… and then flooded. There is no sign of Doral slowing down anytime soon, so only time will tell what consequences are ahead. 

Fabio Lopez is an undergraduate student at Florida International University. He transferred from Miami-Dade College with an Associates Degree in Mass Communication. Currently, he is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Broadcasting. Lopez is an Assistant Director for the student-led newspaper PantherNOW Sports. He is also a communications intern for Inter Miami and a member of the FIU Honors College.