A famous New Yorker essayist offers up some lyrical and comforting thoughts about the empty streets and abandoned homes and half-built structures left by the state’s real estate crisis. His words seem particularly apt in southwest Florida, where entire subdivisions looks as if time stopped dead, when the boom went bust.
The writer finds a kind of beauty as nature reclaims the lost real estate. “Although I am no archaeologist, I love Florida as much for the remains of her unfinished cities as for the bright cabanas on her beaches. I love to prowl the dead sidewalks that run off into the live jungle, under the broiling sun of noon, where the cabbage palms throw their spiny shade across the stillborn streets and the creepers bind old curbstones in a fierce sensual embrace and the mocking birds dwell in song up the remembered grandeur of real estate’s purple hour.
“A boulevard that has been reclaimed by Nature is an exciting avenue; it breaths a strange prophetic perfume, as of some century still to come, when the birds will remember, and the spiders, and the little quick lizards that toast themselves on the smooth hard surfaces that once held the impossible dreams of men. Here along these bristling walks is a decayed symmetry in a living forest—straight lines softened by a kindly and haphazard Nature, pavements nourishing life with the beginnings of topsoil, the cracks in the walks possessed by root structures, the brilliant blossoms of domesticated fine run wild, and overhead the turkey buzzard in the clear sky, on quiet wings, awaiting new mammalian death among the hibiscus, the yucca, the Spanish bayonet, and the palm.”
That was the E.B. White, writing in 1941, a time when he had temporarily abandoned The New Yorker and was writing a regular column for Harpers Magazine. It was a different real estate bust but one that was just as devastating to Florida’s long running get-rich development-based Ponzi scheme. And nature’s inclination to reclaim the wreckage left by the inevitable downtown of a real estate economy has hardly changed.
White wrote, “I remember the days and the tall dream of rainbow’s end; the offices with the wall charts, the pins in the charts, the orchestras playing gentle to prepare the soul of the wanderer for the mysteries of the subdivision, the free bus service to the rainbow’s beginning, the luncheon served on the little tables under the trees, the warm sweet air so full of the deadly contagion, the dotted line, the signature, and the premonitory qualms and the shadow of the buzzard in the wild wide Florida sky.”
“I love these rudimentary cities that were conceived in haste and greed and never rose to suffer the scarifying effects of human habitation, cities of not-quite-forgotten hopes, untouched by neon and by filth.’’