This blog is full of me shouting down a hole about how badly South Florida sucks.
But why’d this come to be? What happened to this beautiful tropical oasis?
Here are some theories.
Failure to adapt.
I first really saw the downward spiral hit in the mid to late 1990s. Prior to this, there was a fairly thriving economy in South Florida. We had a nice mix of large and small businesses and a housing market that was growing, though within reason. Suddenly, a lot of the large companies started shifting their facilities around and began mothballing their operations. IBM left Boca Raton, RCA said goodbye to Palm Beach, Motorola began winding down their once massive operations in Sunrise, the Bell Labs / Lucent Fiberoptic lab (where exactly was this?? does anyone know?) was canned, and Racal/Datacom went poof.
Logically, this could be solved by encouraging growth of new businesses and inviting others to set up operations in the area.
What followed was essentially the equivalent of a sea cucumber ejecting its internal organs as a line of defense.
Suddenly, the area simply stopped even trying to attract businesses. What’s great about South Florida? It’s a… kind of, sort of, tourist destination still, and a nice place to live (for then it was at least). So, logically, what makes the most sense? Buy out everything and drop housing and retail on it! Sure, that’ll sustain itself just fine!
Inequality and Isolation
Well, it turns out South Florida had some little nagging problems. For one thing, Miami had a reputation for explosive outbreaks of violence. Palm Beach had been pretty much turned over entirely to the street gangs once RCA moved out. Broward just plain didn’t know what to do. Going farther up the coast, Martin County and St. Lucie County were trying to attract both retirees and those trying to find nice family oriented communities, but neither really had any plans for growth – they fell instead to the spray and pray model.
What developers thought everyone wanted, thusly, were isolated, gated communities where the residents could live without fear of the dangers of the outside world, and they wanted them as far from anything else as possible.
But it went beyond that. What developers wanted to cater to was no longer people wanting a home. They wanted to cater to people wanting… a palace… and they tacked on a price tag to match.
For a while this just kept rolling farther and farther west towards the Everglades until development slammed into boundary lines with a screeching halt. With nowhere farther to sprawl, the focus instead shifted to dividing, conquering, and gentrifying the areas of the city where people had been living for decades— people which did not fit into this plutocratic vision of utopia.
Now there is a push to close roads, to keep the poor people and the working class out, build walls where there were once open communities, and slowly squeeze them right out.
The “express lane” is thrown at every possible roadway that’s left after the surface streets are cut off, ensuring that only those who can pay $10+ a day in tolls will be able to continue travelling without facing undue artificially created delays due to the free lanes being degraded.
Suddenly, one can barely afford to live in the area if they have work in the area. All the good jobs were with companies that were pushed out. Inexpensive housing has evaporated, the victim of foreign investors buying out land in the area and forcing prices up by flipping it mercilessly. The Brazilian investors are the only people still putting money into the area, but they don’t invest in businesses.
Meanwhile, the retail and service sectors, the only traces left of a once thriving economy, melt down. Retail took a big hit as online shopping gave people an alternative to wading through box stores and their seas of asphalt, and the area just stopped attracting tourists because the resorts and other attractions have been paved over to build as many flippable condos as possible.
What’s left? Nothing but a giant traffic jam that’s intentionally kept in a state of constant degradation to keep a bit more money being squeezed out of the commuters into local governments and a few shitty businesses like fast food franchises.
And now you’re trafFUCKED!
I would absolutely love to find some information on a study that was commissioned by Miami-Dade County around approximately 2004-2005. It was kind of a skunkworks project for which the study was commissioned under a misleading name – I seem to recall the phrase “Transportation Evolution Plan”. To further insulate this from public record, it was mostly farmed out to the remains of a division of the FIU engineering school that was in the process of being shut down, and staffed by student interns.
Aside from personal recollections by a few of its former staff members, this entire project has been wiped from record.
This study was based on a number of simulations of levels of traffic congestion and what they would do to the local economy, and at what point intentionally blocking up traffic would lead to greater sales tax revenue from things like commuters no longer being able to get home to have dinner with the family and instead just having to settle for fast food while sitting in rush hour.
The student interns on the project were not made aware of the horror they were actually working on – the supposed goal was to use it to plead a case for greater federal funding for transportation improvements. Alas, very soon after this project was complete… the traffic signals suddenly enforced an average traffic speed of 6 miles per hour across the city instead of 11, scores of roads were closed or “calmed”, and the final slow meltdown by 24 hour gridlock was placed under way.
A misguided Bush era directive to distribute some emergency transportation improvement funding further destroyed the infrastructure, as it was to be based on a simple ranking of the top few cities in average length of commutes to and from work nationwide. Suddenly, 6 miles per hour became 2 for a couple of years until the grant program paid off. In the end, Miami-Dade County never made the top of the rankings, because there just weren’t enough employees!
Lately, the massive, complex, barely planned infrastructure has just begun to disintegrate. The expressways and surface streets have giant holes in them, drainage has all but completely failed, and there are even areas where the electricity and water supply have become unreliable. Either the money or the drive to fix these problems, or maybe both, are absent, so it’s just getting worse.
Also, there’s that little problem where our waterways explode into giant toxic chunky blooms of green cyanobacteria and rotting marine life in mid summer. Almost forgot about that one.
Is there any hope?
Probably not. Seriously, I cannot see any possible improvement – the resources, infrastructure, and community just aren’t there anymore. It’s possible there may be small areas that recover, but as a whole, stick a fork in it – in my opinion, South Florida is done and will never see a return to a functional economy. This is why I’m calling this a postmortem analysis, you see.