Thirty minutes inland from devastated Fort Meyers, Florida is the planned community of Babcock Ranch. The term “planned community” already sounds kind of boring, but that planning turned out to be a major survival factor last week when Hurricane Ian came smashing through the area.
When Ian came ashore in the Fort Meyers-Naples area of Florida, it was packing winds in excess of 100 miles per hour. As it raged inland it dumped massive amounts of rain, pushed a huge storm surge in front of it and its winds shredded buildings of all types. Power was knocked out for 2.6 million people.
In Babcock Ranch, the residents never lost power or internet access. One of the key features of the Babcock Ranch community is a 870-acre solar farm. That’s right. Their solar farm has about 700,000 panels. Power distribution and internet cabling are also buried—so there was nothing of the distribution infrastructure for Ian to tear down. The community still uses natural gas for power at night.
The planning of the community, which began in 2005, and was slowed by the 2008 recession, included designing the streets to flood in order to flow water away from the homes. Logical since in Florida flooding, massive rains and destructive storms are not a matter of “if” but rather “when.”
Babcock Ranch did have damage. As reported by CNN,
The storm uprooted trees and tore shingles from roofs, but other than that … there is no major damage. Its residents say Babcock Ranch is proof that an eco-conscious and solar-powered town can withstand the wrath of a near-Category 5 storm.
“We have proof of the case now because [the hurricane] came right over us,” Nancy Chorpenning, a 68-year-old Babcock Ranch resident, told CNN. “We have water, electricity, internet — and we may be the only people in Southwest Florida who are that fortunate.”
A Climate Change Case Study
In the planning of Babcock Ranch, former NFL player turned real estate developer, Syd Kitson may not have intended such a striking example of getting things right in the face of global climate change. But the result speaks for itself.
Choosing land 12 miles inland from the coast was the first good decision. Coastal areas will continue to see outsized damage from weather and sea level rise issues in the coming years. The melting of the Greenland ice sheet alone could add another foot to global sea level. Then there’s the melt underway in Antarctica of the Thwaites Glacier. Any way you look at it, the future value—not to mention the survivability—of coastal real estate is going to take a major hit.
The next important factor in Babcock Ranch is the drainage planning. Florida is flat, not billiard-board flat—even though it looks like that from the air—but flat enough to have a healthy respect for the question of where will all that water go when it comes down. Kitson and company addressed this by planning for the streets to flood to pull the water away from homes, and using landscaping to help channel the water.
Another factor that protects human habitation from weather events like hurricanes are wilderness areas. And once again this is where planning comes into play. The original land purchased for the Babcock Ranch development was approximately 91,000 acres. Of that space ninety percent of it will remain undeveloped. Aside from agricultural uses, this leaves a vast amount of wilderness and recreation space for the community—and an additional buffer against storms.
The survival successes of Babcock Ranch in the face of a massive storm and the devastation of neighboring areas should be studied. There are lessons there for every other coastal community. Not just in Florida.
Marty Kassowitz is co-founder of Factkeepers. As founder of Interest Factory and View360, he brings more than 30 years experience in effective online communications, social media management, and platform development to the site. He is a writer, designer, editor and long time observer of the ill-logic demonstrated by too many members of the species known as Mankind. After a long history of somewhat private commentary on a subject he totally hates: politics, Marty was encouraged to build this site and put up his own analyses as well as curate relevant content from other sources.