Is Tallahassee’s Growth Part of a Master Plan, or a Natural Evolution?

Two sides of the tracks



(page 1 of 3)

The letter was angry in its tone …

‘‘I am a production expert with street smarts. I want those idle rich in Killearn to dig up that blasted golf course and plant potatoes. They aren’t producing anything. All they do is hold a stopwatch over other people and dance their lives away at country clubs and resorts.”

Published as a letter to the editor in the Tallahassee Democrat, it raised the ire of those on the north side who read or heard about it. Once again, the wedge that divides the north and south was being driven ever deeper.

The northeast side of town, with Killearn as its representative, was being positioned as home to the affluent and privileged class. But people who live there disagree with the portrayal.

Dorothy Reiner, a resident of Killearn Estates for five years, says, “Everybody targets Killearn, and it’s unwarranted. These are not rich here; they are hard-working people. And some have a lot more money than others.”

New Year’s Day party at the Maclays — Killearn Gardens, Florida, 1929

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

 

The perception that all people with money are somehow privileged is also misguided.

“The so-called ‘idle rich’ are the ones who create jobs,” she says.

Reiner isn’t surprised by the resentment, though. Her experience has been that every town or community has a north and south boundary that serves as a divider of social classes.

The reason is that often the land on one side of town is developed later and conforms to more stringent regulations, making it inevitable that the homes and buildings are more modern. Aesthetics alone act as a conduit for newer development, which often leaves another part of town lagging.

But trying to blame the people who make their homes in the newer areas for the decline is ludicrous, says Reiner.

 

Land Quality Starts the Trend

Will Butler, a real estate consultant and appraiser with Boutin, Brown, Butler Real Estate Services, says he’s also seen the north-versus-south mentality in other communities.

“It’s one side of the tracks versus the other side of the tracks in just about every community,” he says. “It’s a natural progression for residential developments.”

A quality development like Killearn can start a chain reaction, and people will pay a premium to be next to the Joneses.

“Atlanta and Orlando are good examples,” he says. More desirable developments become a magnet for growth, and they can drastically alter the demographics of an area.

Even with the phenomena occurring time and again in other communities throughout the United States, there’s no way to predict where and why it’s going to happen. The trend can start as a result of any number of factors, including land ownership and historical uses. It’s fueled by politics, community leaders and sometimes the perception of the people who reside in that community.

As in Tallahassee’s case, often the trend is started by the quality of land.

More affluent growth to the north was driven by unique topographical characteristics in Leon County. There’s sandier and scrubbier types of topography on the south end, Butler says, whereas the northeast was plantation property with spring-fed lakes and better-quality soil.

“There’s always been more affluent residential growth to the north and northeast,” he says. “In turn, that’s going to be followed by commercial growth, while more industrial uses have traditionally been located to the south due to the quality of land.”

This natural progression is viewed as a problem, mainly when schools are affected negatively in the older parts of town. It’s not that they have less resources, necessarily; it’s the perception people have about the backgrounds of students enrolled there.

“Everyone wants their kids to grow up in a certain kind of environment,” Butler explains. The financial status of families whose children attend schools in less affluent areas of the city comes into question, even if the teachers are equally qualified. It’s a stigma that’s hard to erase.

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