It took the Miami Herald a while, but the newspaper finally got around to reporting the ghost town subdivisions in the outer reaches of South Dade: "Real estate bust turns South Dade suburbs into modern ghost towns". It covers some of the same grounds as the AP story published two months ago: "Disaster: Homestead, FL. hit by foreclosures".
That AP story featured our blog, (when the story was finally printed in the Herald, the part about our blog was redacted) and the relentless criticism we have leveled against the political infrastructure that propelled Miami's suburbs into farmland and wetlands. (See: "Paving Paradise", by St. Pete Times writers Matthew Waite and Craig Pittman.)
The Herald story touches on some of the key players in the housing debacle, Silvio Cardoso, Sergio Pino and Caribe Homes, without mentioning their role in deforming the purpose of local government to pushing through zoning decisions that so clearly resulted in massive destruction of the south Florida landscape and economy.
The Herald editors wouldn't have had to stretch far to link the ghost towns to financial instruments -- ie. mortgage backed securities that are referred to as "toxic debt" in an endless stream of reporting on bank failures (BankUnited) and a crippled economy.
Throughout the 1990's, I pressed the Herald to write about the Miami-Dade southern suburbs, in the far western and southern reaches of the county, and the sham economic growth they represented. The flip side of that story is the destruction of the Everglades, of Florida Bay, and Biscayne National Park. For the most part, the Herald was and remains mute on making the connection.
The Herald has been sitting on this story for more than a decade, because powerful advertisers in the newspaper-- from furniture suppliers (Rooms-To-Go, Carl's Furniture) to Sprawling Subdivision XYZ (Lennar, Caribe Homes: just read the paper!) are so important to the paper's bottom line. Any implicit criticism of the suburban sprawl model elicits howls of protest from advertisers, like Pino and the clatch of downtown lawyers who represent the Growth Machine.
Even in the context of today's story, note of Pino, of Lennar's Parkland, and of the Builders Association of South Florida is antiseptic; isolated and segregated as though the main feature that Herald readers have to learn is how to read between the lines.
The biggest economic crisis since the Depression was caused by ginning up instant-grow suburbs in farmland and wetlands through zoning changes lubricated by law firms (cf. Greenberg Traurig), local elected officials, tying in big engineering firms (Post Buckley), road paving and rock mining contracts, with Wall Street financiers and the home grown wealth destroyers (BankUnited): all pulling down billions in fees and commissions and compensation before the parade stopped. Why should this be the subtext of the story, and, not the story itself?
I will give the Herald credit for mentioning Lennar's Parkland project, now in the form of a state permitting process (DRI) that the Florida legislature wants to kill off and that Gov. Crist may sign into law (SB 360). Parkland is exactly the kind of "growth" that carbon copies failure on the future, expecting a different result.
The author of today's Herald story was one of the investigative reporters in the outstanding 2008 Herald series, "Borrowers Betrayed", that would have won a Pulitzer if the publisher and editor had unchained the reporters and allowed them to chase the corruption of mortgage fraud up the political food chain to Tallahassee and Washington, DC and into government policies that used the "ownership society" to front for the biggest Ponzi scheme in US history. It is mostly a story about powerful Republicans who are now trying to re-brand themselves.
The Miami Herald had the biggest story spanning two centuries in its grasp and let it slip away.