Are They STILL Paving Paradise, to Gain a Wal-Mart?

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HERE is a story calling for our immediate attention and focus, because the stakes are the highest, and it is happening even now. It involves a fairly simple sale of a 90-acre parcel of land in the Richmond Heights area of South Florida, which may not at first seem relevant to you. But it is, very much so, and in fact you have likely read or heard of it. The headlines read “Endangered Forest to be Destroyed to Make way for Wal-Mart,” or some variation thereof. The real power of the story, and its true importance, lies in the land itself.

 

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Ordinarily, the destruction of Miami’s constantly dwindling native environmental bounty is hardly newsworthy. It has now been well over one hundred years, after all, since Man undertook in earnest his unrelenting and determined assault upon gracious Mother Nature and all of the good gifts she had always offered up so freely here. Not one has been wholly let alone: unmolested, free of meddling, active obstruction, or even being cut off at the root. And in many cases, only out of spite.

 

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Early 1920’s, clearing the land for Carl Fisher’s Nautilus Hotel. Illustration from Florida Enchantments. Captions read:
“Foot by foot, gleaming with sweat, a small army of workmen conquered the rampant jungle. ” Then, “The Nautilus Hotel was destined soon to rise where this dredge sucks hungrily at the bay bottom in its herculean task of covering miles of ugly stumpage with sand fill.” The Nautilus Hotel opened in 1925, with land enough for a “new polo field.”  (Below) The site, completed. below.

 

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Virtually every expression and aspect of her being has been sadly affected, and the campaign even today proceeds apace, with short-sighted politicians and self-infatuated builders/ developers waddling with the self-assured swagger of those who have bought every right to speak to power, in all the right places. Yet not one of these casts of characters can credibly claim ability to birth a living tree. Not even one

Back to the land in question. It is not just any land: far, far from it. It is among the largest remaining intact tracts of an exceedingly rare forest environment set quite apart by the luxurious diversity of plant and animal species to be found (in many cases, only) there, known as the Florida Pines Rockland Habitat. A hundred years ago, the forest thrived on Miami’s higher ground, given its name by the tall, picturesque pines (variously “Slash pine,” or “Dade County Pine”) rising from a lush, lower field of growth, all perched atop the dramatic limestone ridges of the area.

 

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1890’s, “Pure stand of Pinus Elliottii with dense undergrowth in Florida,” Coconut Grove area.

From an estimated once 185,000 original acres, we’re down to 2,000 plus TOTAL, give or take. Which effectively means, the world is down to that amount. The land is that kind of unique.

 

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Florida Pine Rocklands

 

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“Forest Defense is National Defense,” it was once understood.  Poster, 1941.
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Yet why does this particular story so stand out? Two primary reasons. First, the land’s seller was our own University of Miami. Second, just as bad, or worse, it sold the land to a Palm Beach development company, Ram Development, knowing that it intended to basically pave over the entire plot (and then some), and anchor the whole undistinguished concrete mediocrity with a Wal-MartStore. The acreage was sold for $22M, despite the fact that the land had been GIFTED to the School by the U.S. Government following its shut down of the Richmond naval Air Base of which the land was originally part.

 

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Landscapes of Miami, 1898.

And you won’t be hearing any comment from the U of M, because it is still “in bed” with the Developer, having granted rights of use to Ram to build to its heart’s mischievous content on an adjacent 40 acres of which it has kept ownership. In other words, it has sold into prostitution outright the bulk of the miraculously virginal land, and exercised a “pimping” option on the remainder. And from one point of view, it’s done well with the transaction. But from another, the idea of an institution so beloved and for so long bearing the City’s very name counting and eagerly re-counting out its pieces of silver for that so precious it has sold, leads only to a feeling of sorrow, and hollow emptiness. If we would help the institution so many of us love, we must ask, “What can it now do to redeem itself?

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And despite the nature of the institution, the question is anything but academic.

It’s a stunning heartbreaker. More to come.

Thank you.

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