Why so many people have moved to Florida – and into harm’s way

(The Conversation is an independent and not-for-profit source for news, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.)

(THE TALK) Hurricane Ian made landfall on Florida’s southwest coast on September 28, 2022 with winds up to 150 mph.

The storm’s high winds and torrential rain reduced entire communities to rubble and killed more than 120 people, including many who drowned in floodwaters that stemmed from the nearly 18-foot storm surge. Bridges connecting Sanibel, Captiva and other offshore islands to the mainland were flooded and destroyed, isolating those areas.

Estimates of the economic toll are still preliminary. But as a historian studying the cities and environment of South Florida, I’m certain the havoc Ian wreaked will make it the worst storms of all time, along with Harvey and Maria in 2017 and Katrina in 2005

And based on how Florida has responded to similar devastation in the past, I highly doubt that Ian will do much to slow the pace of the state’s rapid population growth in the near future.

Snowbirds change their routes

Over 22 million people currently live in Florida.

That’s about 37% more than the state’s 16 million population in 2000. Demographers project that the population will continue to grow to about 25 million over the next decade.

Florida is consistently the top travel destination for Americans relocating to another state.

But many Florida residents only spend the winter months there, returning when the climate warms home. In the weeks after the storm, analysts predicted that most of these short-term annual residents — dubbed snowbirds — would not forego their annual trip. Instead, many say they will simply change their migration course and end up elsewhere in Florida.

South Florida real estate agents are bracing for stronger than usual seasonal rental demand in Dade and Broward counties on Florida’s southeast coast, which has escaped Ian’s ire. The additional interest is fueling further spikes in the already overheated real estate markets in places like Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

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Today’s new and part-time workers in Florida are drawn to the same factors that have attracted settlers and snowbirds for a century: warm weather and waterfront views, along with lower taxes and fewer regulations than other parts of the country.

drainage of the marshland

Early developers were undeterred by harsh environments. In the decades following the Civil War, they turned the peninsula state’s mosquito-infested, alligator-infested swamplands into hotels, homesteads, and farmlands.

Florida promoters lured tourists and settlers alike with promises of wealth, land, and leisure, whether their selling points were citrus and sugar or sun and sand. Engineers used modern technology to complete the large-scale transformation, making way for unprecedented land speculation and development.

Drainage of the Everglades began in earnest in the 1880s when a wealthy Philadelphian named Hamilton Disston founded the Okeechobee Land Co. to develop a canal system that would facilitate “land reclamation.”

Disston bought over 4 million acres that the state had designated as uninhabitable swampland in exchange for $1 million and his promise to convert it. In 1881, The New York Times called it “the largest land purchase ever made by a single person in the world.”

His gambit sparked Florida’s first real estate boom.

Disston mailed pamphlets across the country and to people in countries as far afield as Scotland, Denmark, Germany and Italy, touting Florida’s “inexhaustibly bountiful lands” and a “just and glorious climate” where mere living is a pleasure Luxury previously only accessible to millionaires,” says Frank B. Sessa’s 1950 history of Greater Miami.

Disston and others began selling reclaimed land to railroads, agricultural interests, and land developers. In the early 20th century, inland drainage gave rise to the sugar, citrus, and winter vegetable industries.

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The drainage allowed railroad magnates Henry Flagler and Henry Plant to expand their railroads into southeast and southwest Florida, respectively. Train travel greatly expanded options for tourists and new residents by the late 19th century.

Stormy weather from the start

However, attempts to control the water on the ground have failed to stem weather-related hazards. In 1926, a hurricane swept through Miami, killing more than 390 and causing over $76 million in property damage.

A Western Union telegram from Jessie Wirth Munroe, a survivor, read like a text message from someone who survived Hurricane Ian: “We’re safe. Waterfront completely destroyed.”

Later storms wreaked greater havoc.

A 1928 hurricane killed over 2,500 people south of Lake Okeechobee, most of them black farm workers working in the new farming town of Belle Glade, which was washed away.

In 1935, a Labor Day storm hit Civilian Conservation Corps camps in the Florida Keys, where workers, many of them World War I veterans, were building a highway that would connect mainland Florida to Key West.

“People in the Keys clung to beds and used mattresses as overhead coverings and watched big rocks roll around like pebbles, buildings crumbled like houses of cards, water lifted houses and carried them away,” wrote Helen Muir, a journalist , which moved to Miami in 1934 and chronicled the city’s growth. “The hurricane came like a giant mowing machine and leveled everything to the ground.”

No holding the newcomers

But people kept coming, especially after World War II and the advent of widespread air conditioning.

Many of the nearly 3 million people who arrived between 1940 and 1960 were veterans who had been trained in South Florida during World War II.

In addition, millions more immigrated from the Caribbean and Latin America as transportation became easier and cheaper.

In particular, people fleeing political persecution and economic instability in places like Cuba, Haiti, and more recently Venezuela and Central America have settled in Florida.

remodeling and remodeling

Though each storm seemed to threaten the population boom, the newcomers tended to stick around. Without exception, civilian donors, business leaders and political decision-makers have promised reconstruction.

After Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm, hit South Florida in 1992, the state introduced stricter and more consistent building codes. Authorities invested in additional storm preparedness measures after the 2004 spate of hurricanes hit the state.

Could these patterns change after Hurricane Ian?

Storm insurance premiums rose beyond reach for many homeowners before they arrived. Analysts predict premiums will continue to rise, making it harder for residents to afford a stay in Florida and even harder for new homebuyers to get policies.

It remains to be seen whether the pro-growth mindset and belief in technological innovation that have shaped Florida’s history can forestall the challenges of climate change and the increasingly severe storms it will bring in the coming decades.

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/why-so-many-people-have-moved-to-florida-and-into-harms-way-191733.


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