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A Seminole mrs poling past a billboard heralding the revenue of reclaimed soil in the Everglades, circa 1920. Courtesy the HistoryMiami Museum
the was one of the nation’s critical unpopulated frontier, a subtropical wilderness that appeared to numerous inhospitable, and certainly unbuildable.

But in the early decades of the 20th century, southerly Florida came to be the setting of among the country’s most storied soil rushes and development booms. A brand-new PBS documentary, The Swamp, i m sorry premiered this week and is accessible online, explores the efforts to conquer, colonize, and eventually preserve, the Everglades.

While the engrossing illustration of the American Experience series focuses its power on one specific watery wilderness, it’s additionally a really American story the touches on themes of advancement and ecological destruction. Journalist and also author Michael Grunwald, whose book The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the politics of Paradise helped educate the show, told urbanbreathnyc.com the in numerous ways, Florida has been built roughly the “people-importation industry.”

In what that calls “a bewildering dreamscape forged by greed, flimflam, and absurdly grandiose visions the somehow stumbled into heavily populated realities,” the attempted change of swampland into promised land is a potent metaphor.

“The story of the repeated initiatives to tame the Everglades—and the frequently deadly results of those attempts is a specifically cautionary tale in this days of increasingly violent herbal disasters,” claims American endure executive producer mark Samels.

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A 1911 watercraft trip to show off potential Florida land. One buyer, caught in the rush, said, “I have never bought soil by the gallon.” Courtesy of the Lawrence E. Will certainly Museum the the Glades / Glades Historical society Turning a backwater into a boomtownThe Swamp starts at a time once South Florida, because of the impenetrable nature of the Everglades, to be a true wilderness.

In the early years of the 20th century, a Floridian version of manifest destiny took hold, combining belief in man’s ability to boost dangerous and also diseased swampland—ignorant of the ecological and environmental benefits of the Everglades—and a desire to do money. Charles Ponzi, the swindler whose name came to be synonymous with unsustainable organization ventures, had actually a sideline in the ’20s selling lots “near Jacksonville” the turned out to it is in 65 mile away.

Visionaries of the so late 19th and early 20th centuries—such together Hamilton Disston, who bought four million acres through plans come drain, dredge, and also redevelop, governor Napoleon Broward, that proclaimed “water is the common enemy” as he propelled forward policies to transform south Florida, and Henry Flagler, that ran a rail line southern to the Florida Keys—reshaped the landscape.

This was an era the spawned neighborhoods and also towns such as Progresso and Utopia, when Miami to be marketed as a dry wonderland to northerners who easily purchased swampland real estate, vision unseen. “I have never bought floor by the gallon,” one buyer remarked. Thousands of thousands of brand-new arrivals would transform a farming state into something radically different.

Creative, in some instances duplicitous, advertising and marketing assisted sell Florida come the remainder of the country (famous developer Carl Fischer hung a billboard in time Square the proclaimed “It’s June in Miami”). Writer Marjory Stoneman Douglas, namesake the the Parkland High School, who gorgeous prose would certainly make the instance to maintain the Everglades and establish a national park, invested time penning brochures for brand-new developments.


Foreshadowing Florida’s future

The Swamp stays grounded in the shifting fortunes of the Everglades, including man-made disasters, such together the development of the Tamiami Trail, a highway v the swamp that offered as a dam, and also the hurricanes that 1926 and also 1928, where negative farmers were eliminated by extreme weather and infrastructure failures.

While the initial land eight trailed off throughout the Depression era, Florida’s expansion has only acquired momentum, and also the battle to balance development with preservation has become much more important. Currently the state through the country’s third-largest population, and a pivotal allude on the choice map, is quiet growing and also sprawling with brand-new subdivisions and also residents. The state’s biggest farming industry no citrus, it’s sod and palms trees, numerous destined for recently manicured lawns.

The Everglades land rushes showcased in the doc, and also the greed that helped fuel them, also foreshadow the future the Florida genuine estate. Banking and advancement interests collided ~ above what would later be revealed to be a scam, argues historian Raymond Vickers. According to Grunwald, much of the land originally arisen during the early stage forays right into the Everglades would later on be center stage during the subprime loan scandal that resulted in the an excellent Recession.

Like the earlier eras chronicled in The Swamp, growth statewide often comes up versus a an effective natural force, that of water. Grunwald states that coastal areas have been fight with terrible red tides, and also waterways and estuaries have been clogged through “horrid guacamole glop” as result of environmental degradation. Only recently has actually Miami, repetitively pointed to together the first metropolis that will certainly fall as result of climate change and rising sea level (the ultimate bust), started to be more responsible and sustainable, together the oceanfront proceeds creeping onto city streets. The story that the Everglades serves together a cautionary tale about development there is no taking organic ecosystems right into account.

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“We have very short memories, the sunshine is very nice, and also the cycle begins again,” Grunwald says.