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Region must work with South Florida to succeed

TCPalm - 3/17/2006 12:00:00 AM
by Jim Turner

STUART — Treasure Coast governments need to work with their South Florida counterparts — rather than concentrating on their self-interests in traffic, housing, commerce and education — if they want to ensure a positive economic and environmental future for the entire region, Florida Atlantic University research showed Thursday.

The Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions at FAU released a report Thursday that outlined four general scenarios that confront South Florida.

However, only under a single scenario will things work out well both economically and environmentally for all of South Florida, according to the researchers. And that requires balancing housing and jobs throughout the region, reducing social disparity by creating more high-paying jobs, and restoring Everglades habitat and water supply.

To do that, local governments must cooperate.

Lenore Alpert, assistant director of research and project manager for the center, said efforts such as the soon-to-be-completed study by the Committee for a Sustainable Treasure Coast and the business marketing effort called Florida Research Coast are steps in the right direction.

However, public and private sectors must continue to come together to decide how they collectively will handle water, education and transportation issues, she said.

"We're looking to the larger community to act on it, and I think the big thing is if we have one main message this region needs a vision, we need a vision about how to move forward together," Alpert said. "You can't chart your future if you don't know where you're going."

Aside from regional cooperation, the other scenarios are:

  • Paved Paradise: Results from a future in which urban growth is allowed to push farther west and north to maintain current forms of development, displacing wetlands and agriculture, defeating Everglades restoration, and worsening traffic congestion.
  • Economic Divide: Trades an improved physical environment for poor economic conditions by achieving environmental sustainability without a vision for how to handle population growth. Limits on land use could raise housing costs, widen social disparities and affect new businesses coming to the area.
  • Devastated Wasteland: Could result if current government fragmentation continues, as communities take go-it-alone stances on growth, education and the economy.

Wallis said that while lessons can be learned from Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the Treasure Coast and South Florida need to accept that historic Florida is a thing of the past due to changes in the age, education and racial demographics.

"We're planning the future of Florida as if it's my father's Florida or my grandfather's Florida," Wallis said. "It cannot continue to be that. So how do we get our eyes off the rear-view mirror and start looking ahead?"

The study, the center's third since 2001 covering population and environmental impacts, used local planners as consultants.
Daniella Levine, executive director of the Human Services Coalition who consulted on the study, noted that governments must create an organization specifically to avoid a "Balkanization" between the haves and have-nots in housing, education and civic investment.

Economically, the researchers and their consultants believe the future remains bright even though jobs continue to be skewed toward tourist services and retirees. The positive attitude is because Miami-Dade and Broward counties should continue to grow as a financial and business market through free-trade agreements with the Americas and Dominican Republic, and the Treasure Coast could become a bio-technology research hub.

Mike Jones, executive director of the Palm Beach County Economic Council, said the region can't expect The Scripps Research Institute's East Coast branch to be the lone economic engine.

As for housing, more options are needed for affordable rentals and ownership, he said. But officials must also balance growth to avoid a continuation of the "pattern of strips malls, sprawling subdivisions, and parochialism" that has marked most of South Florida for the past 20 years, said Michael Busha, executive director of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.