While the economic slump has had a negative effect on almost every aspect of life in South Florida, it has given our natural world a breather. State and local leaders should take advantage of the hiatus in development to protect more of Florida's wild places and make Floridians' lives greener.
So far, they have gnashed their teeth over the lost property tax revenue from the tanked housing market and shown absolutely no inspiration in securing more undeveloped land to preserve for future generations. Instead, they should be making lemonade out of recessionary lemons.
For example, when the residential and commercial real-estate markets crashed, the push to move Miami-Dade County's Urban Development Boundary lost all credibility. Not that it had much to begin with, since the county's own planning staff found there's plenty of developable land east of the boundary. The Miami-Dade County Commission, however, stubbornly insists on encouraging proponents of UDB expansion to try yet again.
While new development is stalled, the Miami-Dade Commission -- and other local governments -- should stop bemoaning the drop in revenue and think more creatively. They can begin with a reexamination of their land use plans -- the blueprints for future growth. They should consider changes to the plans to promote sustainable development -- by conserving water, building up -- instead of out -- where practical, rewarding green projects and encouraging high-density redevelopment along transit corridors. These include the anticipated bullet train from Orlando to Miami and a proposed commuter train through coastal cities in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
The downturn also lowered the price of real estate, creating a big opportunity for state and local land conservation acquisition programs to buy tracts at fire-sale prices. The only problem is that the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist diverted the trust funds that pay for these programs in order to cover part of the state budget shortfall. State land purchases will come to a screeching halt in 2010 if these programs aren't refunded.
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