What are the alternatives for Florida’s future growth?

Over the next five decades, Florida is projected to reach a population of more than 33 million residents and have as much as a third of its land developed.

Given these alarming numbers, the biggest question might be: what are the alternatives?

Using geographic information systems to compare land use patterns, Margaret Carr and Paul Zwick, professors from the University of Florida School of Landscape Architecture and Planning, developed research within the UF GeoPlan Center showing alternative population distribution scenarios focusing on development densities.

This study was done as a collaboration between the UF GeoPlan Center, the non-profit, smart growth advocacy organization 1000 Friends of Florida and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“The exercise is simplistic, but it has the potential to help people see the long term,” Carr said. “It’s really hard to imagine what things are going to look like 50-60 years down the road given the cumulative effect of lots of small land use decisions, but if we don’t change what we’re doing now, we’re going to end up with something that I don’t think anyone really wants.”

The study includes a series of statewide and regional maps for three scenarios: 2010 Baseline, 2070 Trend emphasizing current development patterns and 2070 Alternative with a more compact pattern of development and increased protected lands.

“This study is about trying to let people know they can save a lot of land and still have growth,” Zwick said. “It doesn’t have to be sprawl. It can be higher density growth, more compact growth. We are growing, and we’re probably going to continue to grow, but we can do it in a better way.”

Projections from the study revealed that South Florida will see developed land go from about 15 percent in 2010 to 30 percent in 2070 if current trends continue. However, the alternative scenario shows the percentage of developed land by 2070 will be only 22 percent.

Central Florida will see the biggest increase of developed land, according to the study. The percentage of developed land will go from 25 percent in 2010 to 48 percent in 2070 with current growth trends. If alternative solutions are adopted, the study shows there will still be 40 percent of the region in development.

A second part to the study, which hasn’t been released yet, deals with estimates of water demand for the three scenarios. Carr said the release of these details are slated for mid-October.

Carr and Zwick both began research associated with projecting Florida’s future nearly 25 years ago when they worked on the Florida Greenways Project, a statewide plan for a network of recreational and natural areas.

Then in 2006, they worked with 1000 Friends of Florida on Florida 2060 study, a precursor to Florida 2070.

The value of this study, Zwick said, is that it places the importance of Florida’s future in front of the public – whether pro or con – it allows the conversation to unfold.

“We’re at a university where research is valued,” Zwick said. “That research contributes to the well-being of the general public. I think this study contributes to the well-being of the general public in providing information to help them make better environmental and development decisions.”