I just finished reading Unruly Places and am feeling mighty inspired to explore the world of inscrutable geographies the same. Please enjoy the first in a series. 

Grid

In the 1950s, a plan emerged to build the Everglades Jetport in South West Florida. With 6 runways long enough to handle not-yet-realized thousand passenger jumbo jets, Everglades Jetport was to be the largest airport in the world.

The Jetport was never a reality. Environmental activists predicted the massive degradation to the Everglades the Jetport would cause, outweighing any of the positive benefits of the recently founded Everglades National Park. Environmentalism won, and along with the conservation of Rookery Bay, the Jetport was cancelled.

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The precarious nature of the Jetport proposal wasn’t enough to stop developers from speculating on the land surrounding it. As the Jetport was to support a new city of 1 million inhabitants, adjacent land values rose 4-fold.

One developer actually began to sell plots of land – inviting prospective buyers for free weekends in the area, he would take people on plane rides over the land and drop flour from the cockpit, declaring that wherever it landed could be theirs (Source: anecdote from Rookery Bay Reserve staff).

Beyond purchasing the land, the Deltona Development Corporation began to develop it, draining the Everglades and creating a vast grid just east of Naples. They called it Remuda Ranch.

Remuda Ranch went the way of the cancelled Jetport. It remains largely undeveloped (other than a homestead here and there), but the grid remains and can be seen starkly from Google satellite imagery (leading image). Deltona went on to develop Marco Island which has become 100% urbanized, and, based on the satellite imagery below, is over developed.

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We are also left with a legacy of a vast portion of the Everglades drained, leading to myriad problems including dry soil leading to dust storms, and panthers and other mammals unable to negotiate the fractured landscape. Further, the goldilocks combination of fresh and saltwater that makes the Everglades estuaries so productive became unbalanced. Fresh water, which drains via aquifers through the Everglades to the Gulf of Mexico, began to flow in concentrated streams through human built canals, toppling the fresh/salt water balance with its intensity,

Fortunately, the ecosystems of the Everglades have been able to adapt. The lack of fresh water along the coasts ended being good for the manatees and sharks that use the estuaries as their nurseries. Playing with the system more would spoil the balance that has been meticulously created in a healing process stretching over the last half century.

Moreover, recent efforts to “fill in” the canals have been futile. The canals were simply cut so deep that their porous subterranean structure has been pierced, and water flow has forever been altered.

It’s also notable that as it stands, only 70% of the Naples area can’t be developed. All future growth in Naples will be in 30% of its landmass. As the population of South West Florida swells, might we see truly urban intensification in these swampy parts? Might there be infill projects, transit, mid rise developement and connections made between neighbourhoods?

Looking to Remuda Ranch and Naple’s hidden grid, I accept this orthogonal imposition on the landscape. We are nature, and the grid is something we created; its pattern can be seen manifesting in other corners of existence. As I always like to point out, human activity is not “unnatural”. But this doesn’t mean we can’t help a bit. Accepting the grid, why not build bridges between them, to faciliate the movement of the panthers and other mammals? They’re doing it in Alberta, where wildlife corridors stretch along bridges over highways.

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Though the Jetport is an unrealized potentiality of the past, its reverberations have left a mark on the landscape. I’ve been researching hikes to take around my parents house near in Naples and one goes right to the edge of this largely abandoned grid. I’m told there’s a fence there. But that doesn’t stop my curiosity, my desire to wander through a city that is both there and not there: a city that never was.

Thank you to the knowledgable, helpful and passionate staff of the Rookery Bay Reserve for informing me of the history and geography of South West Florida. 

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