Saturday, May 22, 2010

Why I don't live on a Plantation

Not necessarily A Plantation, but Plantation.  The city in South Florida called Plantation.

Perhaps it would be better to say the Idea of Plantation.

Actually it looks like a nice tidy middle class suburb when I drive through it.  I just don't really have a reason to be driving through it or going "there". 

There is a state of mind in any given city.  If you live in Manhattan, you are there because you like the bright lights and big city aspect of things.   Florence, SC was a small little burg with an Old South look to it that I'd drive to and stay because it was half way to South Florida or half way home, so it had the whole small city thing going for it - if that was what you liked.

Plantation is a whole lot of suburbia here in South Florida.  It was built in the 70s as one of the OTP towns that sprung up once the cities East of I95 got full.  OTP is Over The Turnpike.   As in Way Out There.  They built their own malls, their own schools, and have a nice Brady Bunch look and feel to the place.   There are a lot of gated communities out there and I think that might be the problem I have with it.   Being a city of that era, you end up having a lot of homes that are not well designed for the environment of being in South Florida, rather being designed to be Up North.

I grew up in South Jersey, in one of the 1950s suburban tract homes that exploded out of Philadelphia onto 1/2 acre lots that took over the farms that were there before it.  It was a very Brady Bunch way of life.   The Wonder Years were my childhood.  The little pin oaks that grew there when the place was built now are 40 to 50 feet tall.  All the homes look the same-ish, differences in trim or plantings.

That is what Plantation looks like to me, Express your Individuality by living like Everyone Else.  Homes that all look somewhat The Same in Gated Communities.  Perhaps I'm wrong, and I don't really have a good view of the place.  I Never lived there because I Never wanted to go back to Keeping Up With The Joneses. 

On the other hand, Plantation is starting to experience the same problem that all gated communities are finding.  The Barbarians are at the gate.  Where the Gates on the Community were there to keep the Barbarians (you and I who are here to live together and not apart) out, they now are finding that as people are walking away from properties, the Barbarians are now locked in.  People who are upside down on their mortgages are walking away, renting properties to who ever will pay and they're taking a small loss in order to hang onto something while living in a smaller place.  Look up Lehigh Acres and you will see an excellent article of what happens to a gated community and the association when half of your city blows away on the trade winds.

The result is that your nice tidy Brady Bunch experience has a biker meth lab next door or worse. 

If you are living in a stereotypical gated community, you also have to deal with the Private Ownership issues such as roads which may or may not be city roads, police presence which may not happen because they're not allowed in unless called in (See Wellington in Palm Beach County).   All of that tends to lock the problems in and make it that much worse than it would normally be.   Here, our little Police Department and Code Enforcement would find out quickly because crime does not flourish if it is able to be seen.

I live in Wilton Manors, which is a very different place than anywhere else in the world.   The people who live here actively want to be here.   The people who I run into every day actively want this city to be better tomorrow than it was today.  We work hard to make sure that the city is that way, and that shows with a strong spirit of activism and volunteerism.   All this hard work shows in crime stats that are "normal" for the country and 1/3 of that of a neighborhood that is just a short 10 minute walk South.  Neighbors talk, and problems get known quickly.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a gated community, you are not fortunate enough to live in Wilton Manors, except that silly little Jenada Isle, whose gate is all show.  You can drive through there at any time you like.  I think next time, I'll park my Jeep at a convenient spot and use the little community to skate since it is much easier to get to than driving up to the airpark in Pompano.  That little triangle of land is easy to carve out a mile course and during the day I could go nuts doing 20 laps of it.

I guess this rant is a whole lot of To Each His Own, but I think the whole Gated Community experience is highly overrated, and if you have a lot of them in one area it is easy to generalize.  This housing bubble that has just burst turned a lot of things on their heads, and I think paying for a big fancy fountain and guard house is one of those things that will go away for a while.  

Why pay to a Home Owners Association when you are already paying taxes for the same services provided by the city?  You aren't going to get a discount on taxes are you?

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