Manhattanization is a term we’ve become accustomed to in Miami. It‘s existed since at least the 1960s to describe cities from San Francisco to Santiago, but it became a prominent buzzword in the 2000s to describe the rapid transformation of downtown Miami and Brickell. Now that the building boom is back in full swing, so is the term. And along with it comes the debate about whether what we’re seeing unfold in Miami is actually a step towards a Manhattan-esque urban environment.
Whether downtown Miami is beginning to resemble Manhattan is debatable. Certainly, our skyline is growing. It may not be as tall, as dense, or as diverse as the Manhattan skyline, but it is taking shape as an expanse of skyscrapers that stretches for miles. Our love affair with the skyscraper has built a skyline that is far larger than those of cities twice our size and it has become a point of pride for us. We’re also seeing more amenities typical of other great urban metropolises: more restaurants and cafes, parks and shops, museums and galleries, etc. Granted, the differences between a Brickell streetscape and just about anywhere in Manhattan are still pretty stark, but the increased options and vibrancy are important steps towards a more urban Miami.
But there’s one area where Miami has unequivocally achieved Manhattanization: cost of living. It now costs as much to live in many parts of downtown Miami as it does to live in Manhattan. I’m not referring to Miami’s luxury condo market. In fact, that is one segment where we’re not yet like Manhattan – Miami condo prices can reach $10 million or more; it’s high, but it doesn’t begin to nip at the heels of New York’s $100 million market. Rather, downtown Miami is becoming as expensive as Manhattan is for the everyday citizen. Manhattan still has far higher housing costs than downtown Miami and Brickell, but that gap is closed when factoring in Miami’s much higher transportation costs.
This point is now more clearly made thanks to the new Location Affordability Index (LAI). The LAI, unveiled earlier this month, is the work of a joint venture between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Transportation. It’s a tool that allows the public to calculate what it costs to live where they live, and how they could possibly save money by moving or by changing their transportation habits. The LAI is based on the philosophy known as “Housing + Transportation” or “H+T.” H+T asserts that knowing just the cost of housing isn’t enough to get a full picture of cost of living. You also need to know how much it costs to get from your home to other places, like your workplace and your family and friends. In other words, you need to know the cost of transportation.
Cost of transportation is harder to calculate and harder to keep track of in our heads when we think about how much we spend. For most people, housing expenditures occur in one monthly payment, either a rent check or a mortgage payment. Those amounts may include a variety of costs, like loan principle, interest, taxes, insurance, etc., but it’s still just one payment, one amount. Transportation is different, particularly if you drive a car. There’s the purchase price of a car, which may occur in monthly payments or if you paid up front, would need to be prorated over the life of the car. Insurance is paid separately, either monthly, annually, or biannually. Gas and parking costs are paid sporadically. The result is that most people never think about the full cost of transportation, and when they do, they usually underestimate.
AAA estimated that the average cost of car ownership in the United States in 2012 was roughly $9,000 for all cars and as much as $11,000-$12,000 for larger cars and SUVs. But that’s the average for the entire country. Costs can be far greater in places like Miami where insurance rates and parking costs are higher. The difference between a couple owning two cars and a couple that commutes by train or bicycle can be over $20,000 per year. That’s an additional $1,500-$2,000 per month that can go towards rent or a mortgage. And that’s the reason why living in downtown Miami and Brickell can be as costly as living in Manhattan.
To demonstrate the point, I put some addresses into the LAI:
- A typical household living in West Brickell owns 1.2 cars (average), drives 11,000 miles, and takes 350 transit trips each year. They spend just shy of $23,000 annually on housing and transportation. That’s 47 percent of their total income. Housing costs account for $17,000 approximately; transportation costs amount to $7,000.
- Meanwhile, a typical household on the Upper West Side in Manhattan owns 0.3 cars, drives 2,000 miles, and takes 2,000 transit trips each year. They spend just over $27,000 annually on housing and transportation. That’s 43 percent of their total income (the LAI factors in average wage differences between metro areas. On average, wages in NYC are 30 percent higher than in Miami). Housing costs account for $23,000 approximately; transportation costs amount to less than $4,000.
- A typical household in the heart of downtown Miami owns 1.1 cars, drives 11,000 miles, and takes 250 transit trips each year. They spend $19,000 annually on housing and transportation. That’s 38 percent of their total income. Housing costs account for $12,000 approximately; transportation costs amount to $7,000.
- Meanwhile, a typical household in the East Village in Manhattan owns 0.5 cars, drives 3,500 miles, and takes 1,500 transit trips each year. They spend just shy of $20,000 annually on housing and transportation. That’s 31 percent of their income. Housing costs account for $16,000 approximately; transportation costs amount to $4,000.
New York City is the embodiment for unaffordable living, but that’s largely based on an incomplete picture. The extra amounts that New Yorkers spend on housing are made up for by cost savings from cheaper transportation options. Miami, on the other hand, has relatively cheaper housing, but getting from place to place means additional costs stemming from car ownership.
There are a lot of implications here. Most obvious is that we can decrease cost of living and improve quality of life for Miamians by investing in better transportation options. One cause for optimism is that housing costs and transportation costs are only indirectly linked. Decreasing transportation costs by building more transit and better bike lanes will not directly increase housing costs (although, countless studies show that such infrastructure increases property values because it makes neighborhoods more desirable), so we can make real reductions in the cost of living.
There are also implications here for the brain drain and the future of our economy. When Miami competes with Manhattan for talent, it cannot make the argument that downtown Miami has a lower cost of living than New York. Lower cost of living has traditionally been the truest arrow in the quiver of cities seeking to steal talent from New York, but when we consider H+T, we see that for many cities, including Miami, that’s actually not the case. There isn’t much money to be saved, if any at all, by choosing downtown Miami over Manhattan. And for those who decide to look outside of New York because Manhattan is just too expensive, they’ll likely find that downtown Miami and Brickell are too expensive as well. Rather, they may end up in cities that offer a true lower cost of living with similar urban amenities, like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. That talent is now revitalizing those cities the way it revitalized Manhattan in the 1990s when lower cost of living – from cheaper housing AND cheaper transportation – allowed thousands of educated young professionals to flood the city.
But all of this changes if we take the automobile out of the equation. If you can manage a car-free life, suddenly Miami becomes really affordable. The difference is that Manhattan is expensive because it has to be (although zoning changes under Bloomberg may help mitigate these high costs by generating more supply). But Miami is expensive because we’ve made it that way. The takeaway should be this: We can fix it and we know how to fix it. The average Miamian need not cough up half of her income on housing and transportation. As housing costs continue to rise, we must make extra efforts to reduce transportation costs by offering better options. We must give Miamians the same options that New Yorkers have: to own a car if we want one, but to live comfortably and with dignity without one.
For more reading, check out this article from last year on Streetsblog, which reviewed data from the Center for Neighborhood Technology and determined Miami to be the least affordable metropolitan area for moderate-income renters and homeowners. The most affordable? Washington, DC.
Subscribe via Email
Find us on Facebook
- Mike Moskos on Event: Donald Shoup-The Godfather of Eliminating Required Parking
- Matthew Toro on ‘Mixed’ Land-Use in Miami-Dade
- Adam Old on ‘Mixed’ Land-Use in Miami-Dade
- Mike arias on County Announces New Vision for Pedestrians and Cyclists: Vision Zero 305
- Matthew Toro on Commercial Land-Use in Miami-Dade
- ivo on County Announces New Vision for Pedestrians and Cyclists: Vision Zero 305
CategoriesAccident Architecture bicycles bike lanes Bike Miami Days biking Biscayne Boulevard Brickell bus Climate Change Coconut Grove complete streets Downtown Miami FDOT High Speed Rail Metrorail Miami Miami-Dade County Miami-Dade Transit Miami 21 Miami Beach Museum Park News Parking Parks Pedestrian Pedestrians Pic o' the Day Planning Real Estate Development Rickenbacker Causeway Sprawl Streetcar Traffic Transit Transitography Transit Oriented Development Transportation Tri-Rail Uncategorized Urban Design Urban Development Boundary Urban Growth Urban Planning Walkability
- Coming this Summer: Airbnb Will Collect Taxes in San Francisco, New York State April 15, 2014The ongoing saga of the tax and regulatory standing of Airbnb, the popular room rental app and poster child for the sharing economy, is evolving in San Francisco, Portland and the state of New York.
- The History of GPS—Back to the First Century April 15, 2014A new book details the primitive origins of the GPS tracking technologies that are so pervasive in today’s mobile-phone-enabled world.
- Flood Concerns Raised Over Trinity Toll Road Proposal in Dallas April 15, 2014Details are emerging about the proposed Trinity Toll Road in Dallas. The route’s proximity to the Trinity River has provided more fuel for the project’s opponents.
- Making Multifamily Truly Urban April 15, 2014The multifamily industry is building more in walkable locations, but developers still need instruction on the manners of placemaking. Here are some hints.
- Examining the Surprising Segregation of New York City April 15, 2014The common perception of New York City is as of a well-integrated city, full of multi-ethnic neighborhoods. But a recent article peeks behind the curtain of the city’s surprising boundaries of racial segregation.
- Real-Time Multi-Modal Way-Finding—Displayed in the Public Realm April 15, 2014The TransitScreen service has been around since 2012, but it’s latest product, real-time displays of all modes of transportation, can display in the public realm, providing a whole new level of interaction with the city.
- Unprecedented Demographic Trends Define the 'Next America' April 15, 2014The Paul Taylor and the Pew Research Center have released a new book called The Next America, which describes a country in the “throes of a demographic overhaul.”
- 3 Reasons We Should Pay Attention to Medellín April 15, 2014Medellín has been called the most innovative city in the world, and recently hosted the World Urban Forum WUF7 to huge acclaim. It has taken back the city's public realm, found simple solutions to complex problems, and emphasized a "City for Life."
- More Bikes Lanes On Less Congested Roads April 15, 2014Comparison of before and after counts of vehicular volume-to-capacity ratio shows replacing car lanes with bike lanes may not adversely impact vehicle traffic when bike lanes are constructed on less congested streets.
- Time Running Out for Climate Change Action, Warns IPCC April 15, 2014In its second major report since 2007, the U.N. panel's report was not all bad news. It noted that while nations may be slow to agree to climate treaties, city and state governments have written their own climate plans along with the private sector.
- Coming this Summer: Airbnb Will Collect Taxes in San Francisco, New York State April 15, 2014