In April, the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Jesse M. Keenan served as the lead author of the first published study to provide evidence of a climate-change signal in a real estate market. The study’s findings have stoked a national and international conversation concerning the extent to which climate change is impacting people’s lives and households.
Keenan positioned the implication of these findings within his broader theory of “climate gentrification.” As Keenan and co-authors write, climate gentrification is a descriptive theory proposing that, as climate change and its effects accelerate, certain geographies and property markets could become more or less attractive, based in part on levels of exposure to climate change-related effects and risks, as well as the contextual response to and capacity for addressing these impacts. For instance, rising seas may make traditionally sought-after coastal property less favorable, while inland higher-elevation properties suddenly become more desirable.
Keenan and his colleagues’ study, entitled “Climate Gentrification: From Theory to Empiricism in Miami-Dade County, Florida,” was published on April 23 by Environmental Research Letters (Volume 13, Number 5), and takes Miami-Dade County, Florida as a case study to explore the processes and market mechanisms wound up in the theory. Keenan and colleagues test two hypotheses: that price appreciation of single-family properties in Miami-Dade County is positively related to, and correlated with, incremental measures of higher elevation; and, that the rates of price appreciation in lower elevations, where flood risks are higher, have been outpaced by rates of appreciation of higher-elevation properties in recent years.
The researchers’ findings validated both hypotheses and suggest the potential existence of consumer preferences that are based, in part, on perceptions and observations of flood risk and sea-level rise.
The release of Keenan and his colleagues’ study was covered by two front-page stories at The Wall Street Journal. The study has since been covered by media from around the world in over a dozen languages. And, since the April release, Keenan has offered a series of elaborations on and discussions of his findings, including a two stories with Bloomberg News and a front-page feature in the Miami Herald.
Renowned author and journalist, Andrew Revkin cited the paper as a “rich new exploration.” While Professor Isabelle Anguelovski lauded the work as “a groundbreaking empirical paper.” Dr. Rachel Cleetus, Lead Economist and Policy Director for Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists noted that “Keenan’s research is innovative and ground-breaking. By bringing together empirical evidence of the effects of sea level rise on coastal property values, and subsequent impacts on economically vulnerable populations further inland who might be displaced by climate gentrification, his work shows how climate change is already altering our economy and society.”
Jesse M. Keenan is a member of the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he teaches courses and conducts research in the fields of urban development and climate adaptation. Keenan’s research in the built environment has been supported by or in partnership with a variety of global actors, including the American Institute of Architects, Audi, Carnegie Corporation, Goldman Sachs, Google, International Code Council, Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Knight Foundation, MoMA, Mori Foundation, Lennar Foundation, National Academy of Sciences, NASA, National Security Council, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Open Society Foundation, Regional Plan Association, Rockefeller Foundation, the White House, and the U.N.
Keenan was nominated by the U.S. State Department and appointed by the U.N. this spring to serve as member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Keenan is concurrently serving as Research Advisor for Climate Adaptation Finance for Governor Jerry Brown’s Office of Planning and Research for the State of California and as Visiting Scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.