Friday, March 31, 2006

Sprawl, ecology, and the Everglades

   “The Swamp” is an entertaining new book about the century-long efforts to drain Florida’s Everglades and turn them into rich farmland and towns, followed by the more recent plan to restore some of the natural water flow and ecosystems.  Author Michael Grunwald skillfully moves from colorful tales of the allure of creating rich real estate to the modern struggles among environmentalists, sugar companies, and suburban developers.  Some predict that the Everglades Restoration Plan will prove to be the biggest civil engineering project in world history.
   In a radio interview on Tampa’s WUSF yesterday, Grunwald made some interesting comments about the Everglades.  In addition to the ecological concerns, the restoration plan – which involves limiting new development and even the taking of some houses – is being pushed by “quality of life” issues for those unhappy with “runaway sprawl,” he said.  These comments raise a disturbing feature of our land use debates:  Some efforts to curb sprawl and protect “green space” are driven in part by a desire of current residents to stop new nearby construction -- thus raising the value of existing homes – and limiting new migrants.  Such a NIMBY attitude is especially unfair to immigrants and others who have not had the chance to buy their homes in sunny Florida.  The challenge for land use law is to separate true environmental concerns from self-interest hiding behind the mask of the environment.

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