Selling Florida Swampland
This story by Michael Grunwald about the one of the rapidly-growing areas of Florida that is an ecological catastrophe is remarkable:
Raso Tate’s true-believing dad soon became a top salesman for Cape Coral’s developer, Gulf American, peddling paradise on layaway, promoting one of the most notorious land scams in Florida’s scammy history. Gulf American unloaded tens of thousands of low-lying Cape Coral lots on dreamseekers all over the world before the authorities cracked down on its frauds and deceptions. It passed off inaccessible mush as prime real estate, sold the same swampy lots to multiple buyers, and used listening devices to spy on its customers. Its hucksters spun a soggy floodplain between the Caloosahatchee River and the Gulf of Mexico as America’s middle-class boomtown of the future, and suckers bought it.
The thing is, the hucksters were right, and so were the suckers. Cape Coral is now the largest city in America’s fastest-growing metropolitan area. Its population has soared from fewer than 200 when the Rasos arrived to 180,000 today. Its low-lying swamps have been drained, thanks to an astonishing 400 miles of canals—the most of any city on earth—that serve not only as the city’s stormwater management system but also its defining real estate amenity. Those ditches were an ecological disaster, ravaging wetlands, estuaries and aquifers. Cape Coral was a planning disaster, too, designed without water or sewer pipes, shops or offices, or almost anything but pre-platted residential lots. But people flocked here anyway. The
title of a memoir by a Gulf American secretary captured the essence of Cape Coral: Lies That Came True.
“People say, ‘Are you crazy, living in Florida with all those hurricanes?’” Tattersall told me as we drifted through a slow-speed manatee zone. “Come on. Does this feel crazy?” He recalled a recent outing with his grandchildren where they saw dolphins and stingrays, then watched the thrashing as some jacks fed on a school of mullet. “That’s what life is about, right?” I asked him whether he thought Irma would scare away the next generation of newcomers, and he scoffed. “No way,” he said.
Then he reconsidered: “Look, if we get 15 feet of storm surge, holy shit, that would take out Cape Coral.”
Another pause. He sipped his Bud Light.
“Eh, even then, no way.”
Leaving aside the whole pending catastrophe thing, the appeal of these places in Florida is something I’ll never really fathom.