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Tampa? New York Times says new book makes it sound like ‘hell on earth’

Carriage Pointe was built on what once was a tropical fish farm in Gibsonton. Builders intended to develop nearly 1,000 homes, but Lennar Corp. ended up building 382 homes before the market collapsed in 2007. By 2009, the subdivision had a foreclosure rate greater than 50 percent.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times (2009)

Carriage Pointe was built on what once was a tropical fish farm in Gibsonton. Builders intended to develop nearly 1,000 homes, but Lennar Corp. ended up building 382 homes before the market collapsed in 2007. By 2009, the subdivision had a foreclosure rate greater than 50 percent.

Tampa made the second paragraph of a New York Times book review this week, but not in a good way.

In a review of George Packer’s new book, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, the newspaper said Tampa "had problems before the foreclosure crisis and seems like hell on earth now."

In an 18-page chapter titled “Tampa,” Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, puts together a description that reads like a prosecutor’s indictment. Tampa actually appears in a series of chapters that touch on the foreclosure crisis, the defeat of light rail in Hillsborough County, the rise of the tea party, the difficulty of climbing out of poverty and the spectacle of the Republican National Convention.

In the book's first chapter on the place, Packer writes that "Tampa would continue to grow, and by growing, become great" and, moreover, that "it grew in order to grow." Here are two excerpts from the chapter:

• ... it was really the county that grew. While the city of Tampa inched past 300,000 people, Hillsborough County, with its vast tracts of unincorporated farmland and ranchland and wetland, surged beyond a million. The selling point wasn’t America’s Next Great City after all — Tampa was an old port with a defunct cigar industry, a history of labor trouble, a high crime rate and an uneasy mix of Latinos, Italians, Anglos and blacks.

• Tampa had tried to take a shortcut to greatness, but that never worked; its downtown had no coherence, nothing to attract people beyond an office job, a hockey game, or a court case. Riding a bike around town was dangerous, and so was trying to walk across one of the broad, high-speed streets — Tampa ranked second in the country in bicycle and pedestrian fatalities.

If Tampa is your hell, then Packer writes as if Michael Van Sickler should be your Dante.

Packer devotes more than a dozen pages to Van Sickler’s reporting for the Tampa Bay Times — how he detailed the way out-of-town speculators drove the market, exposed hustlers who got rich using shady loans and spectral buyers to flip houses in neighborhoods like Belmont Heights and Sulphur Springs, profiled the Carriage Pointe subdivision in Gibsonton, where the foreclosure rate hit 50 percent, and tied the real estate bubble to the collapse of Wall Street.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 30, 2013 8:50pm]

    

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