Does Sunshine Plus Leverage Equal Sunset?

Thu, 24 Jul 2008 18:20:07 +0000

In a recent essay in Time, Michael Grunwald asks, "Is Florida the Sunset State?" I picked it up on my recent trip and read it on the airplane. The question hits home for me, as I grew up in South Florida. The amount of growth there over the three decades since my family moved to town is shocking. It is now far too crowded for me to ever want to live there. I'll take the cold over the crowds any day.

As I witnessed the growth, both prior to leaving for college in 1986 and even more in the dozens of trips back since, I often wondered what was fueling it and, more importantly, why local officials were so intent on promoting it. Grunwald takes an unsympathetic view of growth for growth's sake, at least in hindsight:

But now the financial and environmental bill for a century of runaway growth and exploitation is coming due. The housing bust has exposed a human pyramid scheme--an economy that relied on a thousand newcomers a day, too many of them construction workers, mortgage bankers, real estate agents and others whose livelihoods depended on importing a thousand more newcomers the next day. And the elaborate water-management scheme that made southern Florida habitable has been stretched beyond capacity, yo-yoing between brutal droughts and floods, converting the Everglades into a tinderbox and a sewer, ravaging the beaches, bays, lakes and reefs that made the region so alluring in the first place. "The dream is fading," says University of South Florida historian Gary Mormino. "People think Florida is too crowded, too spoiled, too expensive, too crazy, too many immigrants--name your malady."

Florida may have been ground zero for the leveraged excesses of the past few decades. And it's not just financial leverage--environmental resources, public schools, and necessary public and private protections against hurricanes are all in need of repair.

As a former Floridian, I'm rooting for the state to get its act together. As a taxpayer living in New England, I'm hoping that they only time I'm asked to help pay for that cleanup is through sales taxes when I visit.