Mountains beyond mountains
October 1, 2010 7:12 AM   Subscribe

Earlier this week, Toxie, NPR's cutest toxic asset died. One of the mortgages bundled into this asset was an investment property in Bradenton, Florida, which, like many Florida homes, has never been occupied or served as anything other than a financial instrument. Boston.com's Big Picture recently took a look from above at the effects that this (and previous) housing bubbles have had on the development of Florida's cities and landscapes. How do you design a city that nobody plans to live in? (Previously)
posted by schmod (82 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting how many of the empty subdivisions were built in the 60s and then abandoned; our memory of past bubbles popped is short.
posted by googly at 7:18 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are some surprisingly pretty examples of sprawl there. But some of the really dense ones? Whew! What a mess!
posted by nevercalm at 7:19 AM on October 1, 2010


Burbclaves!
posted by The Whelk at 7:20 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


OH NO!
posted by ShawnString at 7:24 AM on October 1, 2010 [12 favorites]


The Big Picture images remind me of circuit boards. That association creates a pretty strong dissonance for me when I see words like 'neighborhood' or 'community' in the captions -- those are words for organic and emergent relationships that one can't see from the regularity and design seen from way up high.
posted by JohnFredra at 7:28 AM on October 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


also: seen from
posted by JohnFredra at 7:30 AM on October 1, 2010


Cul-de-suck.
posted by sourwookie at 7:31 AM on October 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


How can you have a community with no "third spaces?" It's like making an animal with a mouth but no ass.

These are chilling and beautiful and a good reminder of why I didn't like living in Florida, thanks!
posted by jtron at 7:31 AM on October 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Looking at the layout of these communities, the reason for Fark's "Florida" tag becomes abundantly clear.

A six-runway jetport for supersonic travel from the suburbs? Really?
posted by klanawa at 7:31 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you liked the Big Picture link, you might like Alex MacLean's aerial photography. His books are expensive but may be found at your local library.
posted by theodolite at 7:34 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Off topic-- I understand that water beautifies property, but why would you create a snaking lake and build houses around it in the subtropics? Living in soulless Little Boxes isn't enough, you want to force homeowners to deal with the region's water-borne parasites and dangerous reptiles?

The planned solution is probably to dump enough chemicals in the lake to re-animate Rachel Carson.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:34 AM on October 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


What strikes me is just how poorly-connected some of these neighborhoods are. Even huge, dense neighborhoods like #11 require you to walk/drive huge distances to travel just a few feet as the crow flies.

I meant to mention these in my original post, but Virginia (which is also home to some really bad urban planning) banned cul de sacs in new developments last year, in an attempt to break free from this pattern.

Earlier this week, Human Transit published an interesting article, detailing how sparsely-populated (but well-planned) cities can be walkable and have good transit options, while some densely populated areas like Vegas will never be transit-friendly. Arguments about density can often make or break transit funding projects, so it's interesting to see counterexamples to the commonly held beliefs.

Also, note the profound lack of commercial centers in the Florida photos. Nobody can walk to the store.
posted by schmod at 7:36 AM on October 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


disgusting but weirdly beautiful.
posted by xbonesgt at 7:36 AM on October 1, 2010


It's all right, Mayor. Anyone who would choose to live in Florida deserves parasites and reptiles.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:37 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


why would you create a snaking lake and build houses around it in the subtropics?

You get more for "lakefront property". Building canals like that ensures everyone owns lakefront property!

It is very sad to me to see communities that are designed around maximum profitability over maximum livability. You know why housing prices in Boston didn't really go down during the recession? Because we can walk to the grocery store.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:37 AM on October 1, 2010 [4 favorites]




What an affront to decency and common sense and every other thing that is good and true.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:38 AM on October 1, 2010


I'm torn between my enjoyment of the interesting patterns and white-knuckle, gut-curdling pedestrian terror. Living in Florida was not one of the high points of my life.
posted by enn at 7:39 AM on October 1, 2010


My girlfriend owns an empty lot in Port Charlotte, right about inbetween pictures 15 and 16. She inherited the parcel from her grandfather who bought a bunch of property them during the speculative boom in the 60's. Three years ago she was getting offers of $60,000, but I doubt she could sell it today for $6,000.
posted by peeedro at 7:42 AM on October 1, 2010


Off topic-- I understand that water beautifies property, but why would you create a snaking lake and build houses around it in the subtropics? Living in soulless Little Boxes isn't enough, you want to force homeowners to deal with the region's water-borne parasites and dangerous reptiles

In addition to what was said about the value of lakefront property - a lot of the water features are there to deal with the insanely high water table in peninsular Florida. You have to have drainage ditches so they try to make them look less terrible (and usually fail)

Also half the stuff in that photo montage is built in a part of the state that historically should seasonally flood.
posted by JPD at 7:43 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


On Florida:
1. that state used to be for the elderly (South Florida)and the redneckish crowd scattered but centraland North Florida)...
2. then many younger folks began moving in for low costs and new jobsl.
3. public school very bad; colleges playgrounds but then began to get much better.
4. why the attraction? terrible pay scales but that meant low costs for those who could afford things....esp. attractive for national company employees who re-located at a set national fee that put them ahead of the game.
5. Now: after housing debacle, the odd thing is that construction continues at big pace while more and more placesare defaulted and on the market.
6. Why the attraction to move there? well, if you own a ranch house up north, you sell it (a few years ago), make some good money, move to very inexpensive condo and, with but not much more than what you earned on house sale plus social security and whatever else you have, you can live decently...and, in a gated community, which seems a must.Remember, you may like this or that, but the elderly seem to need warm climates for their bodies (an elderly person feels 15 degrees colder tha he would have when much younger at the same temp.).
posted by Postroad at 7:45 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Apparently no one wants a yard.
posted by drezdn at 7:46 AM on October 1, 2010


I really think that a lot of these homes were designed as vacation homes, which changes the analysis of their use significantly.

First of all, if you aren't living there more than a few weeks out of the year, whether or not you actually have anything resembling a community isn't nearly as important. The assumption is that you've got one at home, you're just coming here to relax for a bit. Not putting down roots or anything.*

Second, because you aren't living there long, the function of the development with respect to third spaces, grocery stores, etc. is basically moot. Having to drive fifteen minutes to the grocery store isn't that big of a deal if you only do it twice a year.

Third, because these are vacation houses, having lakefront property is more than just an aesthetic decision: it means you can have a dock for your boat/jet ski/kayak/whatever without having to have a trailer. This is kind of a big deal if you're having a vacation oriented around aquatic activities, which a lot of people vacationing in Florida do.

Ultimately, I think these developments look the way they do because it was not intended that anyone should actually live there. That, if true, would make a lot of the urban planning critiques pretty irrelevant.

Of course, this whole project was also predicated on the assumption that there were tons of middle class people making $50-70k a year who could easily take care of their expenses and family and still have plenty of cash left over for things like vacation homes. This may have been true in the 1960s and 1970s** but it isn't true anymore.

I think the upshot of all of this is... that if you ever wanted to buy a vacation home in Florida, now's a pretty decent time to do it.

*Whether or not this is a virtuous assumption is open to question, but I'm pretty sure it is the assumption being made.

**Exhibit A: The snowbird phenomenon. But, Exhibit B: Those developments from the 1960s that were never completed.
posted by valkyryn at 7:48 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yards are expensive to keep up, and the weather keeps you inside or in the screen porch anyways.

The artificial ponds and canals also provide a divider between neighbors, instead of having to put up fences in your backyard.
posted by smackfu at 7:49 AM on October 1, 2010


#7 "a densely built gated community..."

This is the neighbourhood I grew up in. I don't think the word 'densely' means what you think it means.
posted by dry white toast at 7:51 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


a lot of the water features are there to deal with the insanely high water table in peninsular Florida

Also this. A huge chunk of the real estate in Florida is or was basically swampland. Not necessarily Everglades-style "there's three feet of standing water" swamp, but certainly marshy to the point that you couldn't actually build anything without some major drainage projects.

There's a reason the Masonry tech is required before you can remove a marsh in Civilization V.
posted by valkyryn at 7:51 AM on October 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


From the comments:

"Why bother with a lake of fire? They've already got Florida."
posted by gimonca at 7:57 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I live in South-West Florida, next to a man-made lake that never floods. I ride my bike to the grocery store. I could ride my bike to work, but honestly it's just too hot most days. I have never contracted a water-borne parasite, nor been threatened by dangerous reptiles.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:59 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


The canals weirded me out too. I grew up in the rust belt. "Canals" there aren't euphemistically described culverts or ditches: the ones you hear about at all tend to be Superfund sites after years of sloppy coal and oil barge traffic. I'd be horrified if someone tried to tell me that location near a canal was a selling point.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:59 AM on October 1, 2010


I like the Arcade Fire reference.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:04 AM on October 1, 2010


I thought I'd seen this before.
posted by routergirl at 8:04 AM on October 1, 2010


How can you have a community with no "third spaces?"

I think the drive towards larger suburban homes is partly an effort to eliminate the need for third space. Larger houses allow you to be more self contained. For example, if you have a huge den with a big screen TV, you don't need a corner bar to watch a football game.
posted by electroboy at 8:07 AM on October 1, 2010


Creepy, dry white toast. You just posted a picture of my current neighbourhood.
posted by dazed_one at 8:08 AM on October 1, 2010


The obsession with snaking man-made lakes just makes me think that whatever civil engineers put this together really wanted to be designing video games instead.

Startropics did it better!
posted by Theta States at 8:10 AM on October 1, 2010


If I remember correctly, a civil engineer once told me that retention ponds in Florida are required by law in something like a 2:1 ratio of pavement to pond. I can't find any cites for that though. Also, see this for more info on retention ponds.
posted by Durin's Bane at 8:12 AM on October 1, 2010


Apparently no one wants a yard.

If you had to put up with south Florida weather, you wouldn't either.
posted by oddman at 8:17 AM on October 1, 2010


I love pictures like these so much. I'm having an intense little internal "Squee!" moment here. I don't know what it is -- something about the geometrical beauty combined with the aura of emptiness and failure. Thank you so much for posting these, schmod.
posted by rusty at 8:23 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man, I hope the families in the two houses in the first photo get along, otherwise that's going to be one awkward block party...
posted by madajb at 8:24 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


How can people hate cold weather? Sheesh.
posted by Faze at 8:32 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


How can you have a community with no "third spaces?"

Community? In the suburbs? The whole point of suburbs is to be able to avoid seeing other people as much as possible. I lived in a townhouse in the burbs for half of the last decade and probably saw my next door neighbor four or five times. Everyone drives home from work right into the garage and closes the door behind them before then even open the car door. No human interaction is ever necessary.
posted by octothorpe at 8:39 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Arthritis.
posted by smackfu at 8:39 AM on October 1, 2010




I grew up in the east valley of Phoenix and these pictures look just like flying over my hometown (even down to the fake water features--that was a big trend for a while in THE FUCKING DESERT).

It was hard to remember exactly which beige-stucco-red-tile-roofed house my best friend lived in, much less find new addresses I'd never been to. There are still cute older neighborhoods in the area but the newer (post-70s) subdivisions are dense as hell and usually have only a couple different models, plus HOAs to ensure that everything looks exactly alike. Navigating those winding streets and culs-de-sac is absolute hell.

The Bay Area suburb we moved to when we had kids was not too bad, most of the area having developed before World War II, but the chilling memory of rows of identical houses was the prime factor in my insistence that when we left California for Minnesota, we live In The City. If I'm going to be able to reach out my window and touch my neighbor's house, there damn well better be a bus stop on the corner and a business district around the corner. And I can say "the brown one" and know that my house will be recognizable to visitors. Plus, it's an actual community where people live and work, and where people feel invested--not just that they've bought an investment.
posted by padraigin at 8:44 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the comments:

"So many homes, so little community."
posted by the painkiller at 8:45 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, there was an article in Harper's an issue or two ago about the long history of selling Florida swampland to people who don't know what they're getting into.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:46 AM on October 1, 2010


I have never contracted a water-borne parasite, nor been threatened by dangerous reptiles.

Mosquitoes are parasites that breed in water. If you don't deal with those in the subtropics, I'll bet that your recreational lakes have the dioxin levels of an old paper mill.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:47 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Creepy, dry white toast. You just posted a picture of my current neighbourhood.

Small world. It's a great place to be. I want to move back there one day.

Conversely, you couldn't pay to vacation or live in any of the places in this awesome photo set.
posted by dry white toast at 8:48 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Circuitry for the machine of society.
posted by Scientist at 8:49 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I heard them mention the realestate bubbles of Florida as told by the landscape on NPR and am glad someone gathered these together. Someone above mentioned that it was amazing how far you had to drive just to get a few feet as the crow flies. We have the same problem where I live. A number of through streets and bridge projects have been thwarted by NIMBY types who are afraid that they will bring more traffic to the neighborhood, with the result that traffic is concentrated on a few main arteries and you have to drive much further than you should in many instances. If all of the streets originally planned when the part of town I live in were built, traffic would be much better.

A classic article on suburban sprawl is Home From Nowhere, just as true now as when it was published in The Atlantic in 1996.
posted by TedW at 8:56 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


some densely populated areas like Vegas will never be transit-friendly

When you can't walk very far with very much additional weight for months of the year, everything is focused around car-scale transportation. I was visiting friends in Phoenix, and I thought I'd walk to the ATM to have some cash on hand. I got directions from friends, and headed off, but instead of turning left at the corner, I went right, and walked all the way around a mega-block, instead of just part of one side. I got back and I was dehydrated and sun-burnt on half of my body because I had spent so much time facing one way.

Either there need to be more frequent neighborhood shopping pockets and hope people will walk or bike to get small items, or give up and design on a large car-scale, assuming everyone will travel by car to anything they want.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:58 AM on October 1, 2010


See also: a tiny bit of (abandoned) China in Florida: Skateboarders in Splendid China (more background info). As of May 2005, the property has been purchased for redevelopment. But if you're looking to go exploring, watch out for helicopters and police patrols.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:01 AM on October 1, 2010


drezdn: Apparently no one wants a yard.

My jaw dropped when I clicked that link, because I thought (without reading the caption first) that it was my parents' neighborhood. It isn't, but -- same town, same developer, and same basic layout.

I'll tell you about the yard thing: yeah, basically if you're buying in a community like Verona Walk (or Island Walk, or Village Walk...they're all essentially clones of one another, the only thing that varies is the size of the ring), you're doing it because you don't want a yard. And I know that sounds crazy, but when you're 67 do you want to be pushing a mower around during the middle of the summer, or doing gardening, or keeping a sprinkler system working, when your knees and back are basically shot? Hell no! For my parents that was a selling point. Actually through their homeowners fees, a landscape company handles that for everybody, so you can just enjoy your nice tropical plants without ever having to bother with them personally.

Another thing about the communities is that they have this thing called "zero lot line." Which means, although there is space between the houses, one side of your lot is the outside wall of the house next door. However, being inside, you do not get the sensation that you are toe-to-toe with the neighbors. Everything is oriented either to the canal behind the house or to a nice view of perfectly sculpted shrubbery on the side, so rather than feeling claustrophobic you feel more like it's a nice little personal courtyard.

Yeah, for the most part communities like that are geared toward retirees, who just want to shop and golf and play bridge and not tend lawns or manage large parcels of property. While it may sound crazy to the average Mefite, they LOVE it and so must many other people, or there would not be literally thousands of houses just like this in Naples alone.
posted by contessa at 9:02 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


What an affront to decency and common sense and every other thing that is good and true.

Oh, so you've been to Florida.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:17 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Small world. It's a great place to be. I want to move back there one day.

Yes, I've pretty much also decided that the West End of Toronto is my platonic ideal of urban living. That or parts of Barcelona.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:21 AM on October 1, 2010


There's quite a bit of irony behind all of these car-dependent retirement communities.

Housing for the elderly should be walkable (to encourage good health!) and have access to good public transit (for when they are too old to drive safely). Instead, it offers the worst of both worlds.

Given that the burden of caring for the elderly falls on their children (and society at large via medicare and paratransit programs), we really need to be thinking about this more thoroughly, as the baby boomers begin to reach retirement age. The old paradigms are unsustainable, unhealthy, and expensive.
posted by schmod at 9:22 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


I hope the residents of the two houses in the first picture regularly use their neighborhood as a racecourse. It's not the most exciting layout for motorsport, but at least it has a couple of chicanes.
posted by The World Famous at 9:28 AM on October 1, 2010


Man, my neighborhood isn't perfect by any means, but it's a hell of a lot better than these nightmare burbs.
posted by kmz at 9:45 AM on October 1, 2010


I hope the residents of the two houses in the first picture regularly use their neighborhood as a racecourse.

Somehow, I imagine that the Bluth family live there....
posted by schmod at 10:00 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Mosquitoes are parasites that breed in water. If you don't deal with those in the subtropics, I'll bet that your recreational lakes have the dioxin levels of an old paper mill.

I don't spend too much time outside, but I've never been bothered much by mosquitoes here. I assume that's because the lakes have frogs, lizards, fish, and birds that eat them and/or their larva. These aren't recreational lakes, they're purely aesthetic, but they seem to harbor a fair amount of suburban wildlife. Cranes and ducks are common features, and the frogs at night are deafening.

The only insects you really have to watch out for are the fire ants. They're vile little stinging machines filled with hate and formic acid, and they cannot be reasoned with.
posted by dephlogisticated at 10:04 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Community? In the suburbs? The whole point of suburbs is to be able to avoid seeing other people as much as possible.

Community is really this idealized thing that exists whenever we conveniently want it to. I live in a city and have so almost all my life. Most of my neighbors are low-income Latinos and the rest are random Eastern Europeans with a mix of condo-dwelling yuppies. Not only do we not ever talk to each other but we have to contend with gang violence and all sorts of petty crimes. Sure, I don't live in some dehumanizing sprawl, but city-life can be equally dehumanizing.

I find the whole city vs suburb thing completely contrived. You can be outrageously social and have a working sense of community in the suburbs and you can be a sad loner in the city. This depends a lot more on people than their environments.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:09 AM on October 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I bet there's good hunting in those abandoned neighborhoods.
posted by chillmost at 10:17 AM on October 1, 2010


The canals in the developments serve several purposes, the most important of which is the fill that raises the land level of the houses to several microns above the terminal flood line which would make getting insurance on the property impossible. All the rain (and it comes in buckets every day during the rainy season) runs off into the canals to be taken away, and this is critical because Florida is made of limestone, clay and perhaps at most a foot of topsoil so the native soil doesn't drain at all. In fact, everything south of about Orlando basically has no drainage at all other than what humans have dug out; the original hydrodynamic of the region was: rain falls, sits there, and slowly flows southwest in the slough, towards the southern tip thus forming what's called the Everglades. Several hundred feet below the limestone is a really awesome aquifer that is exposed in a few springs (such as Silver Spring) and is where So Fla gets a lot of its drinking water.

I lived in South Florida for 25 years in quite a few different regions with many different build-out types, but never once in a planned development. Most people living in those developments aren't really in Florida for Florida's sake... they're hiding from what makes Florida unique. It's a place a lot of people aren't interested in loving, but if you can tolerate its hardships I found it wonderful in its own way.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:31 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


When you can't walk very far with very much additional weight for months of the year, everything is focused around car-scale transportation. I was visiting friends in Phoenix, and I thought I'd walk to the ATM to have some cash on hand. I got directions from friends, and headed off, but instead of turning left at the corner, I went right, and walked all the way around a mega-block, instead of just part of one side. I got back and I was dehydrated and sun-burnt on half of my body because I had spent so much time facing one way.

These communities aren't focused around car-scale transportation for your convenience; they are focused around car-scale transportation because it makes for cheap and lazy design. It's pretty obvious that staying inside of a tonne of steel equipped with air conditioning is not the optimal design solution for desert living. Here are some tips for life under the sun:

-Wear light-coloured clothing, and a hat.
-Carry water with you at all times.
-Don't expect to do anything outdoors between the hours of 11 and 3.
-"Mega-blocks" are particularly good to avoid, because the concrete functions as a giant frying pan. These areas are 5-10 degrees Celsius hotter thanks to their low albedo.
posted by mek at 10:38 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Housing for the elderly should be walkable (to encourage good health!) and have access to good public transit (for when they are too old to drive safely). Instead, it offers the worst of both worlds.

My parent's neighborhood is walkable, with miles and miles of paved paths and bridges to explore. That's the preferred method of getting around inside the neighborhood, whether you're visiting neighbors or picking up the mail or going to the gym or the tennis court or whatever. The caveat of course is that it's walkable from within (you need to understand how large these communities are...they dwarf most of what you might be relating it to "up north.") Outside is a different story, but that's more up to how the surrounding community (city or county) and their land use codes zone things. Developers, while they have a TREMENDOUS amount of clout in Florida, are really only trying to sell what's inside their gates. And land development codes being what they are in Florida (ie, completely fucked, and appear to be drafted by half wits), we have what we have today because people with exactly zero vision, creativity or foresight wrote it all down in stone in the 60s and 70s, and that's why you have to spend 15 minutes in your car to go three miles down the road, because there's a damned golf course in the middle of everything.

Public transportation is not pervasive in Florida. Sure, in the larger cities (Tampa, Orlando, Miami, etc) they have public transit networks that are alright, but pretty far from exemplary. Naples has only had a public bus system for perhaps 10 or so years...maybe not even that long. And it sucks ass. Not enough buses, and the routes are really strangely laid out, so getting anywhere at all takes an hour or more. There's just very little incentive to use it at all unless you don't have a car or can't drive. It's not for nothing that there are huge traffic problems here.
posted by contessa at 10:43 AM on October 1, 2010


How can you have a community with no "third spaces?"

That's a mighty fine one-line summary of the system error in the whole car-centred suburban development equation right there. Which is rebutted thusly . . .

I find the whole city vs suburb thing completely contrived. You can be outrageously social and have a working sense of community in the suburbs and you can be a sad loner in the city. This depends a lot more on people than their environments.

To which I answer: Yes, absolutely. You can build community anywhere, and people do, despite whatever barriers you throw in their path, because it is an absolute bedrock human need to be connected to the people around you and feel part of something greater than yourself. There is community - even vibrant community - in some of the most disease-ridden hellhole slums on earth. There's community in refugee camps. This does not make them successful human habitats.

This is what's so fundamentally flawed in the suburban model: it traded the community that grows in great public spaces for the amenities and creature comforts of private spaces. It's not that one is better than the other, necessarily, but that a functional living space, particularly one built at great expense in one of the richest nations on earth, ought to be able to strike a balance between both.

There is absolutely no reason other than developer myopia that a development of single-family homes on good-sized lots with yards can't coexist alongside - or woven among - multiuse, multipurpose, walkable urban spaces. There is no reason other than developer greed not to require new housing developments to include great public spaces. A plaza, a park that's on its way from something to something, streets with functional sidewalks - not only is this shit not rocket science, it's literally the only way human beings intentionally built their homes until the car came along.

If I started in on a link dump I'd maybe never stop. Here's one from The Atlantic, "The Next Slum," about the sea changes in demographics, energy prices and priorities which will bring about the demise of the postwar suburban model whether you want it to last or not. (Among other things, that article notes that the US is on track to have an excess supply of as many as 22 million large-lot single-family homes by 2025.)

Beyond this: Google Jan Gehl. Google Peter Calthorpe. Google Belmar in Lakewood, Colorado. Google Prenzlauer Berg (Berlin), since it's my favourite example of the extraordinary durability and versatility of the classic European urban model, and ask yourself if even the most exquisite suburban gated community would be ready for an enviably livable retrofit to digital-age modernity after 20 years of Hitler and 50 years of police-state communism.

This was not just the bursting of a financial bubble. This was the collapse of a system. Good riddance, frankly.

And on preview, contessa, when planners say "walkable," they don't mean just that it has footpaths leading to a handful of private amenities. A walkable community is one in which you can satisfy most of your daily needs - shopping, food, socialization and entertainment, drycleaning and a haircut, etc., etc. - within reasonable walking distance. If you have to get in a car to buy basic groceries, the community you're in is not walkable.
posted by gompa at 10:51 AM on October 1, 2010 [26 favorites]


This is how I design cities in SimCity usually! Except in SimCity if I build a lot of roads and fuck up and go bankrupt I can just start a new one.
posted by NoraReed at 11:09 AM on October 1, 2010


I was happy to leave Florida but some of you really take the snobbery obnoxiously far.

As far as this supposed great threat from mosquitoes and "dangerous reptiles" in those man-made lakes, please. The major breeding ground threat for mosquitoes isn't in larger bodies of fresh water with living wildlife, it's from stagnant smaller bodies. While lakes can be mosquito breeding grounds it's far more likely the or their eggs will be eaten by other critters living there.

Those supposed dangerous reptiles aren't dangerous till morons decide to treat them like pets and cause them to lose their fear of people. Even with the not small quantity of said morons the number of incidents are tiny.
posted by phearlez at 11:11 AM on October 1, 2010


valkyryn writes "I think the upshot of all of this is... that if you ever wanted to buy a vacation home in Florida, now's a pretty decent time to do it."

I wonder how long services will continue to exist in places like picture 13. That's a lot of paved road, sewer and water line to service three houses.

The World Famous writes "I hope the residents of the two houses in the first picture regularly use their neighborhood as a racecourse. It's not the most exciting layout for motorsport, but at least it has a couple of chicanes."

As a solo course it would be pretty decent. You can work up direction changes in the circles and the loop backs. Take out the traffic calming circle at the bottom and you'd have a good size straight. Zoom out on the google map and you can see that is just one of several very sparsely built developments with grading for more.
posted by Mitheral at 11:16 AM on October 1, 2010


The Spanish Housing Bubble has also left similar landscapes behind.
posted by Skeptic at 11:16 AM on October 1, 2010


My re-reading of Snow Crash makes me think any kind of movie adaption would Hiro living in one of these rotting Never-Developes or Emptyhoods.

and of course would rewrite the middle and end completely and totally
posted by The Whelk at 11:23 AM on October 1, 2010


I was happy to leave Florida but some of you really take the snobbery obnoxiously far.

Seconded.

Regarding mosquitoes, I've seen maybe...two?...in thirteen years.

Of course that's all thanks to regular napalming by the Mosquito Control Board during the rainy season.
posted by contessa at 11:24 AM on October 1, 2010


These half built neighborhoods would be awesome places to be a 10 year old kid! Miles of empty roads for biking, woods, lakes, abandoned half built houses, broken down construction equipment! Heaven!
posted by monotreme at 12:09 PM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


My parents recently bought a house near #15, and I've had quite a time exploring the area. Some of the undeveloped roads have been reclaimed by the city of Port Charlotte, like this area, which was declared a conservation (environmental mitigation) area.

But there's other sections, like this one, that are also closed off, but I don't think they are parks. It looks like the city just closed up the roads and put up no tresspassing signs which say the area is patrolled by the police. These roads have been even further barricaded since the street view images were taken, and now there are giant earthen mounds blocking access to the roads. I tried finding out why these streets are closed off, but I couldn't find anything on the internet. Does anyone know why the city would do this? Every time I'm there, I really want to go in and explore the closed off streets, but I'm a bit of a chicken and I wouldn't want to get arrested or anything.

It's weird, because sometimes there are hidden things in the maze of barely paved streets, like these two large churches that are surrounded by jungle and nothingness, neighbored only by some sort of municipal works building.

I bet there's good hunting in those abandoned neighborhoods.

There's a ton of wild boar and feral pigs in the area... I see them across the canal all the time. I wouldn't be surprised if some Floridians hunt in the area.
posted by kaudio at 12:12 PM on October 1, 2010


I went to college in Ft. Myers and spent a lot of time driving on the streets and through the suburbs in these pictures. It's really not all bad, it was my home for three years of my life; I made many fond memories and left a lot of good friends there. The snakes and alligators were rarely a problem. I never encountered any parasites, personally. The mosquitos and summer heat/humidity were admittedly pretty terrible. Worst of all was the annual batch of hurricane scares, but even dealing with those becomes routine for the locals. Of course, the storms can be a real danger (see Andrew, Katrina, et. al) but usually they didn't do much besides rain hard, throw palm fronds around, and disrupt everybody's schedules for a day or two. Life in southwest Florida is different, but you get used to it.

Traffic sucks. Mostly because of the seasonal snowbird mob, an increase in both congestion and average driver age. The large number of waterways means a reliance on bridges, which of course means bottlenecks and delays. Not really any way around that, but it really bites when the odd monster hurricane does come through and all the coastal dwellers attempt a last-minute evacuation.

These old '60s sardine-style developments are everywhere, with the pre-planned but never-quite-finished towns of Rotunda and Cape Coral as two of the most notorious examples. Some "neighborhoods" are like ghost towns of the modern era, with miles and miles of deserted, overgrown paved roads. Incidentally, that was a great place for 16-year-old me to learn how to drive, but I digress. The weirdest thing might be the utter flatness of it all (the highest point in the whole state is only 345ft., and that's way up in the top of the panhandle, in what might as well be part of Alabama).

Southwest Florida's natural ecosystems are wetlands and aggressive scrub forests. Developers wiped them out and replaced them with... well, grass lawns and out-of-place palm trees, and that's about it. The result is a green barrenness that pairs awkwardly with the flat terrain. Because the flora is so anxious to reclaim its territory, you have to keep everything trimmed and manicured or it'll turn back into a jungle. The landscaping industry is huge there. Everyone has a nice lawn, a similar house, and a few palm trees: flatness, barrenness, and sameness. Some try to inject personality into things by painting their homes "tropical" pastel colors. It doesn't work, it just makes the place more surreal. It's hard to describe the feeling of such a place, but Edward Scissorhands captures it fairly well. I wouldn't call southwest Florida "dull," but it's a sobering reminder of an earlier generation's failed ambitions. Utopia, it is not. Even so, it's carved out a place for itself in the world, and the people who live there are mostly happy.

It's worth mentioning that "southwest Florida" (the Gulf Coast areas from, say, Sarasota southward) is a unique region from the rest of the state. It's wholly different from "south Florida" (Miami/Ft. Lauderdale), the "bay area" (Tampa Bay, mind you), "central Florida" (the only part of the state that really counts as The South), "Disney World" (a.k.a. Orlando/Kissimmee), the Conch Republic (the keys), or the panhandle. Each of these regions has its own feel and culture and shouldn't be confused with any of the others. This oft-forwarded map sums it up pretty well. For better or worse, there's nowhere else on earth quite like Florida. Part of me will always be connected to that place, and not just because I have family there.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:18 PM on October 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


kaudio writes "I tried finding out why these streets are closed off, but I couldn't find anything on the internet. Does anyone know why the city would do this? Every time I'm there, I really want to go in and explore the closed off streets, but I'm a bit of a chicken and I wouldn't want to get arrested or anything."

Deterrence to street racers and illegal dumpers.
posted by Mitheral at 12:31 PM on October 1, 2010


"I think the upshot of all of this is... that if you ever wanted to buy a vacation home in Florida, now's a pretty decent time to do it."

I'd strongly advise against it.

Florida lacks an income tax which means all governmental revenue comes from sales and property taxes. One of the things you discover as a resident is just how negatively this impacts the state's ability to offer services when tourism takes a hit and sales tax revenues decline.

Sometimes that's localized to Florida, like post-hurricane Andrew in the early 90s. Sometimes it's a function of a larger economic downturn. Sometimes, like now, you have a one-two punch with declining tourism because of a nation-wide downturn and declining property values.

None of that would be a killer for buying property from out of state EXCEPT that Florida has its own flavor of capping property tax increases that California pioneered. Folks with a homestead exemption can only have their taxes raised 3% a year or the inflation rate, whichever is lesser. THAT might not be a killer except that Florida, like many states, started spending like money was going out of style during the boom - leaving them with a bill that they're now having issues paying.

So folks with a homestead exemption are locked into a valuation that is unbelievably out of whack with reality - checking the numbers sloppily from this Florida website compounds to an increase in 15 years of about 50%, nowhere near what the actual change has been since 95. This means there's a tax base of established folks who aren't going to be paying anywhere near what you will as a new resident - leaving you to bear more of the costs.

This doesn't even address condos & home-owners associations where huge foreclosure/vacancy rates are causing the few non-default owners to have to pick up the tab for everything. A shrinking tax base within a mini-government inside a larger government with a shrinking tax base. Take note, Inception fans.

Even that aside, the Florida plunge - IMNSHO - isn't done. As one of the 4 states with the largest number of esoteric loans they're going to continue to have homes falling into default. The modern bank strategy seems to be to try to postpone the foreclosures as long as possible so as to minimize the (already huge) quantity of unsold inventory. I'd bet on the drain continuing to swirl in Florida for another few years if not a decade.
posted by phearlez at 2:12 PM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Deterrence to street racers and illegal dumpers.

This post re-kindled my interest in the mysteries of the area... so I did some more digging. Turns out, Charlotte County used the Florida Community Redevelopment Act to declare the area "blighted" and use eminent domain to take possession of several properties on the site for redevelopment. I don't think it's going very well.
posted by kaudio at 2:20 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Doh, phearlez, I was actually aware of the Florida property tax madness but it slipped my mind during that earlier comment.

So the upshot is actually: Why in the hell would you want to buy property in Florida? No one else did.
posted by valkyryn at 4:32 PM on October 1, 2010


It can be cheap and it's a lot warmer than say Minnesota in January.
posted by Mitheral at 11:02 AM on October 2, 2010


Arizona seems like a much better candidate for snowbirding, as I'm not aware of any similar tax headaches. Plus living in the Phoenix area is almost like civilization, which is to say, greatly unlike Florida.
posted by mek at 11:28 PM on October 4, 2010


East coast people just don't retire to Arizona. Too far.
posted by smackfu at 6:49 AM on October 5, 2010


Recession Hits The Suburbs Hardest

(Ties in nicely with Goompa's link.)
posted by entropicamericana at 8:53 AM on October 7, 2010


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