For better or for worse, the Sunshine state is known for its rapid and unfettered development. This style of growth has brought Florida a lot of economic prosperity, but also many later-realized external costs that have come in the form of environmental restoration. New houses on virgin soil may come cheap, but rehabbing an antiquated stormwater management system or wastewater treatment plant does not.
There is a lot of value in learning from the past, from not repeating the same mistakes. However, when it comes to development in Florida, I’m not convinced that is going to happen. Too many refer back to the development “boom” as a goal. But it can’t be a goal. That level and style of development was nothing other than an artificial bubble, perched precariously on the tip of a wand, ready to burst at the first strong breeze. We can’t go back to what wasn’t a reality in the first place. So much of the recession we’re recovering from came from the dependence on a false economy, of which that unchecked development was a part.
There are real and serious environmental concerns at stake in this next phase of Florida’s history, but a great deal of economic ones, as well. Let’s talk about that – the dollars and cents of it.
Florida is still swimming in a sea of foreclosed properties. Many unfortunate homeowners still find themselves underwater on their houses. If we kick start building in a vein similar to how we left off, what happens to all of those people? What happens to Florida’s economy when the consumer opts for the cheaper, newer home and the existing relics of the last decade of building sit empty or “unsellable”? I worry greatly about the economic consequence of flooding the market in this way.
And please don’t take this to be an opposition piece to the construction industry. I know folks in that line of work – talented and very smart individuals upon whom our society relies for way more than it knows. The question may be, “If we don’t start building structures again, what would come of this mainstay of our economy?”
Infrastructure. We need it so desperately. We are in great demand for an overhaul to aging infrastructure in this state and in our country. Why not redirect that skill set to something that would serve so well the citizens of this state? Proper infrastructure benefits everyone, individuals and businesses alike.
If we fail to take this approach, and instead start development off where we left it, we will be falling behind before we even begin. There are desires to literally pick up where we left off, to start building homes directly adjacent to the ones we had to stop building in 2009. In many cases, there wasn’t sufficient infrastructure there in the first place, and it isn’t there now. Why would we continue to overtax our stormwater systems, wastewater treatment plants, roadways, etc. when it is only going to cost us more in the long run?
Just look at numeric nutrient criteria. Parties both for and against have fought heated battles over this issue for years now. The predicted financial implications of the criteria set by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have ranged from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars. In reality, no one really knows how much it will cost to bring all necessary facilities and sources into compliance over years of implementation. It is a moving target. BUT, had we considered the environmental impacts of development – agriculture and industry, as well – before we broke ground and issued building permits, most can at least agree that it would have cost us all a whole lot less. Prevention is always cheaper.
Unfortunately, the foresight and long-term planning that can get us to a more sustainable place, where costs are predetermined and not externalized for some unknown future generation to pay, is not taking place.
This isn’t a dig on government – let’s make that clear right now. I know personally and have a lot of respect for individuals who are making the best of the tools and realities they have to protect and restore our environment, all the while making sure they do not impede economic growth.
Instead, it’s a dig at all of us. We do too much finger pointing and not enough solution making. This is a responsibility that lies with all of us – what do we want?
I consider myself an avid environmentalist – yes, I use cloth diapers on my baby. But you know what? I bought those cloth diapers at Target and on Amazon, not exactly your mom and pop establishments. Let me not cast the first stone…
We have to have an honest conversation with ourselves about the Florida we would like to see, and then have that same conversation with each other. I have my own opinion on things, but there are plenty of other people out there who would disagree. And that’s ok. They have the right to. That’s the point. We are sharing these resources and our future, but to do so effectively requires that we actually talk to and not past one another.
I don’t mean to make this sound easy. There are real difficulties such a property right issues, regulatory concerns, agreeable standards of living, all of which amount to verifiable obstacles. But they are only obstacles. They are not absolutes.
To make change, we’ll have to make compromises. Something’s got to give. But change is most painful at the start. It gets easier after that. We just need to come together to figure out where we want to head because as of yet, there is no clear destination.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post ran an interview with former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. In that interview, Gates spoke of “Congressional paralysis” that leads to “mindless” actions being taken. That sort of behavior isn’t limited to Congress – we’re all susceptible.
The best time for change is always “now.” Before central Florida runs out of its remaining six percent of groundwater and Florida’s suffering citrus groves get turned into more houses and strip malls, we need a NEW normal in Florida.
Follow me on Twitter at Patience Burke@TameTheGorilla.