November 12, 2007

Florida's Exurban Boom

Swing State Project, a great political watchdog blog, just released a list of the fastest-growing congressional districts around the country. Ever on the search for new residents, Florida made top billing at #4.

The Sunshine State's 5th congressional district: all or parts of Pasco County, Hernando County, Lake County, Citrus County, Levy County, Marion County, Polk County, and Sumter County.

In the 2004 presidential election, the district gave George W. Bush 58% of the vote. Between 2000 and 2005, it grew 27%. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, a Republican, speaks for the district in Washington.

Just from my drive through Lake County's Clermont, I believe the growth is real. I passed acre upon acre of unfurnished tan and peach suburban homes, vacant dirt lots, mucky backhoes, and the vanguard of any big development push--the orange big box called Home Depot. All this building is so close to I-4 you can almost hear the curses of stranded drivers, but far enough way from the Tampa-Orlando-Daytona corridor that you can also hear moo cows grazing in roadside cracker ranches.

This is what the politicians call "exurbs" now--the outer rim of suburbia. They sprout in the oddest of places, behind an orange grove here, next to a horse pasture there. Heck, I snapped pictures of cattle in the same shot as Citrus County's Crystal River Energy Complex. Exurbs boast all of what you'd expect from a 21st century Florida suburb. Starbucks is nearby; so is Target and Wal-Mart. Some exurbs have key-code gates just like the richest McMansion communities. And often, they vote Republican to keep it that way.

You can barely see the smokestacks above the trees that power the state's exurban boom. It's not all fields and fish fries anymore from Levy County to Lake County. Since Democratic and Republican strategists crowned 2004 the "Year of the Exurb," they've been out getting new precinct maps to study. And they're picking up lunch at a brand-new Panera Bread on the way.

No comments: