Gary Morimo’s Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida is concerned primarily with the manner in which Florida transformed from a barely inhabited region in 1900 to the state with the fourth largest population in 2000. Connected with this story of growth is the manner in which Florida formed a distinct identity distinct from its northern, more established neighbors. To accomplish this Morimo shows how it is that since the 1960s “Florida was more climate controlled, technologically inclined, and also older, more ethnic, more religiously and racially diverse, wealthier, whiter and less agrarian than the rest of the south” (7).
Florida’s beaches were early recognized as a place of beauty to be areas of repose and restoration by elites, leading to various real-estate booms and busts in Miami, the lack of transportation infrastructure, the real threat of hurricanes and the fetid and mosquito filled natural environment meant that most of the states economic activity in the beginning of the 20th century was agricultural and located in the interior of the state.
It was not until the onset of World War II that the conditions would be present that would lead to Florida’s rapid coastal development. First was the transition to Fortress Florida. Federal investment into the region for military bases brought with it service sectors, better roads and infrastructure to be used by the counties after they abandoned it. The many barrier islands were ideal for practicing amphibious assaults, such as the ones that would occur in the Japanese peninsula, and it is the state closest to the Caribbean. It thus was ideal as the base for operations to quell communist organizing in places such as the Dominican Republic following the capture of Cuba by Castro.
Morimo additionally illustrates how new technologies shaped the patterns of habitation, economic investment and culture of Florida. The creation of refrigerated rail cars and that capacity to make juice concentrated enabled agricultural barons to expand their market share and their income. Interstate highways led to the decline to smaller tourist attractions and restaurants and the increase of large tourist operations and chains. Air-conditioning made Florida an acceptable place to live year round to more people, while dredging operations made more land available for housing. It was not just technological innovation that helped create the state, but financial innovation as well.
Much of the mid-twentieth settlement of Florida was accomplished via financial instruments that made paradise affordable to northern retirees. Low down payments on homes facilitated a gray invasion of retirees while insurance policies were founded on political rather than economic rationales. Later came the Marielitos and shortly after them narcos, crooked bankers, dictators and their cabals from South and Central America brought with large amounts of money and a distinct culture that helped distinguish South Florida from “the south”. These factors that shaped modern Florida continue to do so and in ways that are not always clear – be they environmentally devastating or otherwise – however the image of Florida as an aspirational place to live continues despite it’s many peculiarities.