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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Florida vs. Detroit

The Big Picture blog at the Boston Globe recently had a selection of satellite shots of "human landscapes" in southwest Florida. The irrational exuberance of the housing boom comes through in these aerial views, and the subsequent bust is also clearly visible in many cases.

Take this one, for example:
(photo copyright: Google)

Minus the fake lake, this bears some resemblance to certain parts of Detroit:

View Larger Map
Will either of these neighborhoods ever recover and be a good place to live? The reasons for the strange landscapes are different in the two places, but when you step back and look at it in macro terms, all those new houses being built in the marshlands of Florida aren't entirely unrelated to the hollowing out of inner cities. I remember a developer quoted in an NYT article I read a while back, talking about an uptick of new housing starts in Las Vegas despite the dire state of its housing market. Paraphrasing, he said "Sure, there are lots of unsold houses that are a few years old elsewhere in town, but people want new houses. And that's what we're selling." That's not sustainable, of course, and I really dislike hearing people talk of houses as a pure commodity, since they're not just widgets, but part of the fabric of communities. Anyway, if you're looking for a place to build new houses to sell, there's room in Detroit.

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