This dissertation explains the physical and economic shape that Tampa acquired during its most formative years. The generation of business and political leaders who most influenced change during the postwar years, who I call "civic entrepreneurs," were themselves most affected by the events of the 1920s and 1930s. The lessons, values, and assumptions that they inherited from their experience of Florida's first great real estate boom and economic crash guided their subsequent policy choices and preferences.
For most of the twentieth century, Floridians’ fundamental economic assumption was that new growth would dependably fuel the local economy. Through increased population, investments, and jobs, growth would finance itself and yield gains for the existing population. By perfecting the pattern of economic and population growth that briefly obtained during the 1920s, Floridians imagined an infinite cycle of importing capital in exchange for cheap land and resources such as water and energy. To the twenty-first century observer, the formula seems problematic, if not unsustainable. However, to the mid-century citizens of Tampa and of Florida in general, the lesson of the 1920s was that growth was an end in itself.
The boom of the early to mid-1920s suggested that Tampa was rich with opportunity through land development and sales, which entrepreneurs could achieve at relatively little cost. Beginning in 1926, a real estate and banking collapse frustrated those intent upon expanding Tampa's prosperity. The economic disruptions of the 1930s perpetuated the sense of challenge that affected Tampa's civic entrepreneurs. The experience of the crash and the Great Depression did not alter their ambitions, but it did alter their attitude toward identifying and exploiting different resources to advance their interest in growth. Tampans looked to the federal government to move their local agenda forward. Civic entrepreneurs regarded federal interventions as coming at little cost in money, local autonomy, or in terms of affecting Tampa's traditional hierarchies, which included white supremacy and economic dominance by business elites. By the end of the 1930s, however, Tampans began to modulate their practices so as to better appeal to those they had previously kept at arm's length, e.g., unsympathetic northerners, federal bureaucrats, or labor activists.
The New Deal and World War II raised the importance of the federal government in Tampa. By the end of the war, Tampa's civic entrepreneurs began to imitate the federal government. They sanctioned comprehensive planning by local government, and created new public institutions in the form of public "authorities," through which they sought to exploit the power and financial capital of federal institutions, e.g., the Civil Aeronautics Administration (later the FAA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (later the DOT). By the 1950s, federal housing policies created during the Great Depression energized real estate development and finance, allowing that economic sector to resume where it had stopped in 1925.
After World War II, the pattern of support from government (at every level) for local growth became settled policy. Its effects include Tampa International Airport, the Port of Tampa, and the Interstate Highway System. The last of these, Interstate Highways, brought with them a new local agency, the Urban Renewal Authority. With that, Tampa's civic entrepreneurs met the sharpest limits yet of their ability to direct the remarkable growth that they had achieved. Nevertheless, the physical shape of the twentieth-century Tampa Bay region owes everything to the assumptions and choices that came into play during the period from the 1920s to the 1960s.
Since the 1960s, "growth management" has become one of Florida's most sensitive policy issues. It is the subject of a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2010 statewide ballot, even as Florida is trying to emerge from real estate and banking collapses resembling those influential events of the 1920s. This research should stimulate readers to examine the presumptions that drive contemporary policy reactions to similar conditions.