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'Razing Liberty Square' documentary explores Miami's battle for community against rising seas

Acclaimed Filmmaker Katja Esson delivers a gripping tale of displacement, systemic racism, and climate gentrification in Liberty City.

In the face of rising seas and the looming threat of climate gentrification, Liberty City, Miami, takes center stage in the eye-opening documentary "Razing Liberty Square." From the lens of Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Katja Esson, the film unravels the struggle of residents in this historically black neighborhood as they resist displacement and fight for the survival of their community.

Premiered on January 29, 2024, at night on INDEPENDENT LENS, this groundbreaking documentary sheds light on the urgent and interconnected issues of affordable housing, systemic racism, and climate change.

Unveiling the crisis - a neighborhood in flux

As Miami's beachfront faces the threat of rising seas, affluent property owners seek refuge inland, inadvertently creating a market in historically marginalized neighborhoods. The Liberty Square housing projects, the first segregated public housing project in the South, stand at the heart of Liberty City. Ignored by developers for generations, Liberty City, located 12 feet above sea level, has now become an attractive prospect.

The demolition of the original Liberty Square to pave the way for the construction of the ambitious 'New Liberty Square,' a mixed-income project worth $300 million, is depicted in the documentary 'Razing Liberty Square'. Director Katja Esson's lens unveils the dramatic changes unfolding in this community, exposing the complex interplay of racial injustice, climate gentrification, and the affordable housing crisis.

An African American boy looking out intently

The struggle and triumphs in Razing Liberty Square- a community's resilience

As the documentary unfolds, it becomes a character-driven journey through the redevelopment of Liberty City. The film portrays Liberty Square's deeply rooted historical significance, once a cultural hot-spot for black entertainers and public figures who were barred from whites-only establishments. Now, faced with climate gentrification, residents fight to retain their homes and cultural heritage.

Key figures emerge, including Principal Samantha Quarterman and Valencia Gunder – local climate justice activist, who navigate the challenges posed by a $300 million revitalization project initiated in 2015. The narrative follows Aaron McKinney, a lifelong Liberty City resident, hired as "community liaison" for the developer, torn between his belief in mixed-income development as an answer to generational poverty and the realization of his tenuous position.

Despite setbacks and broken promises, the community demonstrates resilience. Samantha Quarterman succeeds in building her own school, Valencia Gunder reclaims her grandparents' home, and Aaron McKinney resigns from the employer to accept a new role. The strides made by these individuals amidst adversity provide a beacon of hope during the climate crisis and gentrification.

"Razing Liberty Square" unravels a poignant narrative, mirroring the broader challenges faced by communities grappling with climate gentrification. As Liberty City becomes ground zero for this burgeoning trend, the documentary serves as a call to action, urging audiences to reflect on the interconnected issues of environmental justice, racial disparities, and the evolving landscape of affordable housing.

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