Finding a Middle Path: Balancing the Desire for Economic Growth and Environmental Protection in Florida, 1971 to 1989


Florida during the 1970s was transforming from a relative backwater to an emerging political and economic force of the Sunbelt. While one of the great draws of the state was its mild climate and subtropical environment, that environment was increasingly threatened by development. A rapidly increasing population around cities such as Miami, Orlando, and Tampa was encroaching upon wilderness areas at a very fast pace. Floridians were in a tough position. They benefited from the state’s economic growth, but that same growth was threatening the very qualities that made Florida such an attractive place to live. It was within this context that Florida developed a distinct environmental political culture that prompted many Floridians to support state policies that would protect the environment and support economic growth. However, many people, including the authors of a 1979 survey conducted at Florida State University, believed that environmental protection and economic growth were mutually exclusive goals. Despite this belief, supported by the public, policymakers in Florida enacted a series of programs aimed at harnessing economic growth in the state to protect the environment. Perhaps the best known of these programs was the Preservation 2000 initiative, which was launched in 1989. Preservation 2000, like an earlier program, used tax funds raised from development to purchase environmentally sensitive lands. Ultimately, Preservation 2000 and similar programs in Florida demonstrate a third way that government and business can use to balance the seemingly contradictory needs of conservation and economic growth.

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