Looking back at the last hundred and fifty years or so in Florida, history shows that unbridled growth at any cost has caused great damage to the Sunshine State. A good source for reviewing this past is The Swamp: The Everglades , Florida, and the Politics of Paradise, written by Michael Grunwald, a writer residing in Miami. A former writer for the New York Times and Time, Grunwald's book tells the real story of the boom and bust cycles of rapid development in South Florida and the impact that poor planning and unbridled greed had on that vast, swampy area. He writes about the land booms of selling marshland as prime waterfront property, the destruction of the wetlands, the impact of the Corps of Engineers and how that body made things so much worse in so many ways and how even after all of that, the Everglades is trying to come back.
Most of the names that are associated with greatness in Florida, be it politics or business, are found in this book but not in a particularly positive light. Names such as Flagler, Levy, Gilchrist, Bolles and so many more who pushed for development without proper consideration of what that meant in an area subject to drought and then flood are included. And he even brings up the name of the first Republican Governor in modern times, Claude Kirk, a man who wasn't a particular lover of the environment but went along with many environmental issues because he just didn't like the big boys very much. He was an interesting political animal to say the least.
The overcrowding, environmental disasters, even the death by flooding from misguided projects in South Florida are all there to be reviewed. An example was the 1928 hurricane which slammed into Lake Okeechobee, the resulting dike breaching on the south side of the lake resulting in 2500 deaths by drowning of a mostly black work force residing adjacent to the low sugar fields.
Finishing the book with the hope that it holds despite that hope being anything but a sure thing for South Florida with the continued push for development, we can see the future of North Central and North Florida as facing a similar plight if we, the people lower our guard. Wherever development and money is found, the impact on any square inch of ground, regardless of elevation, condition or environmental impact is at risk. There is always a slick talking salesman and an overconfident engineer ready to guarantee something that they know deep down inside is never a guarantee. The only guarantee we have is that God's nature will continue to do whatever it is intended to do and there is nothing mankind can do to overcome its. We might think so but, as we've seen in the history of Florida's past development, the shortfalls have been both costly and deadly.
When development wins everything they want and nature is disregarded, we all lose, except for the developers and their supporters who gain millions and then move on. But nature gets the last word and it is unfortunately something that many who had nothing to do with the project suffer from. Even the local politicians who filled their campaign coffers by their votes in support of the developers are usually retired and gone when the real problems surface. And it seems that we just never learn the lessons from history which always repeat themselves.
Development? Yes, but not unbridled development. We must learn from our past and apply the lessons learned in the future. When we try to get more out of the land than it is willing to give, we are indeed in serious trouble. Develop where it makes sense, but not in areas that are really not fit, just inexpensive. The make up cost later will be unbearable.
Keep up the vigil, folks. Our land is special and our water is precious. If we don't stand for what is fair and right for all, not just the few, Florida, including right here in Alachua County and her surroundings, will die an untimely death. Let's stay the course. Stand by our land.