Growth Management in Florida: Planning for Paradise/Lessons Learned? the History of Planning in Florida

By Silver, Christopher | The Town Planning Review, November 1, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Growth Management in Florida: Planning for Paradise/Lessons Learned? the History of Planning in Florida

Silver, Christopher, The Town Planning Review

Growth Management in Florida: Planning for Paradise, Timothy S. Chapin, Charles E. Connerly and Harrison T. Higgins (eds.), Aldershot, Ashgate, 2007, xviii + 315pp.

Lessons Learned? The History of Planning in Florida, Richard G. Rubino and Earl M. Starnes, Tallahassee, FL, Sentry Press, 2008, xi + 514pp.

One of the most celebrated cases of 'growth management' in the United States is the system implemented in the state of Florida. The 1985 Growth Management Act (GMA) fundamentally altered planning in Florida and in its approach represents a near perfect rendition of the planning profession's comprehensive planning model. But at the same time, its implementation went hand in hand with acceleration of processes of urban sprawl that characterised urbanisation in Florida. The Orlando to Tampa corridor running through central Florida, the nearly unbroken string of cities and towns stretching along the eastern seaboard from Jacksonville in north Florida to Miami far to the south, as well as many of the smaller places scattered throughout the rest of the state, represent the victims of low-density sprawl. Is this a failure to plan effectively, or does it suggest some inherent flaws in the growth management system itself ?

Answers to these querries are at the heart of a sweeping, data-rich assessment of growth management in Florida, Growth Management in Florida: Planning for Paradise. It is a compilation of sixteen separate essays by some of the most knowledgeable scholars and practitioners of the Florida system derived from a January 2005 symposium held at Florida State University. As the editors note in the introductory essay, the 1985 GMA was intended to protect critical natural resources and agricultural lands in a state with heavy dependence on agriculture 'from the spread of urbanization' in one of the most populous and still rapidly growing US states. Efraim Ben-Zadok, a public administration expert at Florida Atlantic University, notes that the conceptual basis of the Florida approach was intended to promote compact development and to encourage high densities and mixed land uses through 'consistency', which called for mandatory state, regional and local plans, and the requirement of 'concurrency', which meant that public facilities must be in place to support the desired development patterns. What appeared to undermine realisation of compact development and the failure of the growth management system to curb sprawl was a shift from state-mandated standards to substantially greater local discretion whereby developers were more effective in influencing the processes.

It was not just a shift in planning authority but also a reneging by the state on its commitment to finance the system. According to James Nicholas and Timothy Chapin, 'the initial state commitment to fund much of the infrastructure needed to implement growth management and to sustain concurrency was only partially provided. Increasingly the state shifted the fiscal burdens of the GMA to the local governments and to the private sector.' As they conclude, the Florida system was riddled from the start with 'a fiscal model that hampered implementation, promoted sprawl and created an entrepreneurial environment ... in which local governments pursue revenue streams that are politically feasible and acceptable to existing residents' (p. 66).

The spatial demographics of the state over the past 30 years suggest that Florida's growth management system exerted some impact. Tom Sanchez and Robert Mandle found that the pace of growth of low-density development (defined as that between 300 and 3,000 persons per square mile) slowed somewhat after enactment and implementation of the GMA. But when compared to non-Florida metropolitan areas, the pace of growth in these low-density developments was much higher in Florida. An examination of the spatial outcome of regional development in Florida from the 1980s through the late 1990s by John Caruthers, Marlon Boarnet and Ralph McLaughlin took an even tougher line.

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Growth Management in Florida: Planning for Paradise/Lessons Learned? the History of Planning in Florida


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