Being a Civil War buff, I have often ventured into the Heart of Dixie with an historian’s eye. The American southeast, or the Confederate States as they were then, were devastated by the Civil War, particularly by Sherman’s destructive ‘March to the Sea,’ where the army set out to destroy the heart of the Old South. The agricultural southern states pretty much muddled along after the war, while the north expanded and industrialized rapidly, leaving the south as a virtual back water.
By the 1970s, three things changed everything and propelled them into prominence once more:
- The invention of DDT meant that the coastal areas could be urbanized without the worry of people dying of Malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.
- Air conditioning finally allowed people to live and work in a region that was blessed with sunny and hot weather.
- The creation of the computer meant that jobs were no longer tied to the industrial north.
Suddenly, Americans flocked to the sunny southern states, increasing their population from 25 million people in the 1970s to over 60 million today.
As an urban planner, I have watched the cities of the South grow into incredible metropolises. Atlanta is now over 5.5 million people in size and is the headquarters of large corporations like Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Delta Airlines. Miami – Fort Lauderdale – Palm Beach has even more people with the booming tourism business. The Research Triangle area of Durham-Raleigh-Chapel Hill in North Carolina is a booming centre of science and medical research. Arlington, Virginia is also developing fast as government services spread out from Washington DC. They will also be home to a huge new Amazon headquarters.
The reason that I am writing this article now is to point out that not everything in the sunny south is sunny — or should I say, too sunny. This has been the hottest month on record in the south, which means that it will be a very hot and dry summer. A friend of mine in Atlanta told me that it rained all winter, but now they are in drought. There is either too much water or too little. In 2013, the drought was so bad in Atlanta that they only had three months of water left in the reservoir. The booming cities of the south have outstripped their water resources. The water tables in South Florida have been depleted so badly that the ground is starting to cave in. The City of Tampa now has to use a desalination plant, which is an expensive way to get your drinking water.
The Southern states have always had to deal with hurricanes, but 2018 was disastrous! Global warming has made the waters along the south coast much warmer than previously. Hurricane Florence came ashore in North Carolina as just barely a hurricane, but it stalled and dropped 30 inches of rain on Wilmington, causing massive floods and $24 billion of damage. A month later Hurricane Michael came ashore over the Florida Panhandle, at category five with winds of 260 km/h, causing $25 billion in damages. If either of these storms had hit Miami, it would have been a huge disaster.
The South is not known for earthquakes, but some political seismic shifts are definitely happening. Long the political home of conservative republicanism, it has been changing recently. The highly-educated newcomers to the booming cities have shifted the political centre to the left, causing all kinds of political tremors to the rural natives. Several of these states have gone Democrat while others are see-sawing back and forth. It will not take long before they go strongly Democrat.
Rapid urban growth without much of an understanding of its impact is having a serious effect on Old Dixie. The South has risen again, but certainly not the way that the old Confederates had wanted.
Jeff Scott is a former councillor for the City of Kingston (Countryside District), and has contributed editorial content local publications for a number of years. He continues to live, work and write in the Countryside district of Kingston, and runs his own blog, The Countryside View. Visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jeffscottthecountrysideview to read more of Jeff’s content.