Archives for posts with tag: naples

Here

As you may know by now, I’m spending some time in Naples, Florida.

A lot of other Torontonians are here too, escaping the North-East cold for the sunshine and warmth of Florida’s coasts.

I’ve noticed that, when a group of Torontonians gather in Florida & refer to Toronto, they say “here”. But “here” is Naples, Florida. Toronto is, by most measures, “there”.

This geographic conversational blip has further convinced me that “here” is a state of mind. “Here” exists in the psycho-geographic space between us. Perhaps it’s a little geognative dissonance. But it’s enough to prove that “here” may be there. It may be everywhere.

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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. 

Naples

Taken off the back of a golf-cart/tram at Clam Shell beach, Naples Florida

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I finally made it to my parents’ second home in Naples, Florida.

I was reluctant to go since my last visit in 2004. Their house is located in Fiddler’s Creek, a suburban gated community surrounded by a golf course. Its cookie cutter houses are gussied up with overly marketed street names such as ‘Mahogany Bend’, ‘Hawk’s Nest’ and ‘Isla Del Sol’.

My last visit left me with the impression of a development on the frontier of the ever-diminishing Everglades. I remembered a gated community sandwiched between highways leading from one super-suburban strip mall to another. I remembered epic social stratification and no public realm, with wealthy neighbourhoods isolated behind gates, wholly separate from the nearby shabbier neighbourhoods where service workers live. My lasting impression was of gas-guzzling car dependency everywhere.

Of course, reality is much more complicated than my simplified judgement of Naples when I was 13. I understand that Fiddler’s Creek is a beautiful place, and enjoyed my time there with my parents under the perfect sun. While my impressions from my last visit remain largely true, I didn’t remember that a huge area is devoted to Everglades National Park and the Rookery Bay Reserve, protected from development thanks to social movements in the 1960s. I also observed that though gated communities are pervasive, and indeed embody extreme social and economic stratification, Walmart proved to be a very real space where the area’s diverse population could meet on common ground.

During my explorations (by car, but also by bike with my father), what emerged as the most enlightening feature to understand the geography and logic of Naples was the ever-common “No Outlet” sign.

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Driving along the wider arterial, highway-style roads, you encounter many intersecting streets. Most of these intersections are accompanied by a “No Outlet” sign.

Essentially, you can only get to different neighbourhoods via the highway. Every time you enter an area from the highway the “No Outlet” sign signifies that there are a bunch of loopy roads that don’t lead anywhere. The only way out is the way you came in.

The consequence is that there are all these areas that are wonderfully different from each other in terms of income level, architecture and vibes, but are completely physically separated from one another. Each has their own distinct internal logic. Entering each neighbourhood from the highway, you experience incredibly different versions of the South West Florida universe.

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Hand drawn conceptualization of “No Outlet”

Functionally, “No Outlet” means that you cannot cut through a neighbourhood as a shortcut. It means that residents have no reason to enter another neighbourhood unless they have an explicit reason to do so. As a result, there is no space for chance encounters and understandings between classes and cultures to occur (the very essence and benefit of urbanity, in my view). The social and economic stratification of the communities in Naples is fixed and ingrained due to the “No Outlet” state of affairs. My mind wanders to one hundred years in the future: will the communities integrate, ever? Will increasingly expensive energy prices break down the walls between these side-by-side but physically barricaded neighbourhoods? A closer investigation of the map reveals a life-line between two neighbourhoods here and there, but mostly between those of the same socio-economic group.

For now, “No Outlet” describes Naples, Florida pretty succinctly. It also makes me grateful for the cross pollination that is enabled by the tangled, twisted and integrated grids of my Toronto. Of course, Toronto is no paradise of unified urbanity itself. Poverty is increasingly concentrated in the city’s inner suburbs, which have similar “No Outlet” style isolated neighbourhoods. (Though not as extreme, the scale of the neighbourhoods and their location far from downtown don’t lend themselves to aimless exploration and chance encounters).

Back in Naples, biking through the above-mentioned nature reserves — up Sea Shell Road and toward the Gulf Coast — I began to wonder if the physical geography of the area could offer any enlightenment as to the “No Outlet” mentality of South West Florida.


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The coast of South West Florida, south of Downtown Naples

Dense thickets of mangroves hovering above the water, sandy oak scrub and brackish estuaries mean that Naples’ coast lacks any easily understood linear logic. The coastline is rather a series of loops, curves, isolated bays and pockets connected only by larger waterways — nature’s version of “No Outlet”. Perhaps the logic of the mangrove swamp has seeped into development patterns of Naples and its isolated communities. Or perhaps, more simply, the area was developed too recently, too in the thick of car dependency, to have had the chance to manifest any differently.