On the edge of Sunrise, next to the Florida Everglades, eight modernist blocks of flats (the first of them 28 stories high) are to rise, along with offices, car parks and a shopping street including restaurants and a cinema. Erick Collazo of Metropica Holdings, the developer, says the idea is to build a downtown in suburbia. Metropica, as the 26-hectare complex is called, will not really be a downtown. Because of what it suggests about the future of cities and suburbs, it will be more interesting than that. …
As it has done before, Florida is pioneering a new kind of city. Robert Bruegmann, an authority on urban sprawl at the University of Illinois, reckons that American city centres and suburbs are coming to resemble one another. Suburbs are growing denser and more diverse; urban cores are greener, cleaner and often less densely populated than they were (even go-go Manhattan has two-thirds as many people as it did a century ago). Ersatz city centres, which can be built in low-rise suburbs like Sunrise or in built-up areas, bulldoze the distinction further. South Florida is becoming a landscape of scattered centres—sprawl with bumps.
But creating the appearance of urbanity is not the same as making a city. Cities are supposed to be cosmopolitan and surprising; they ought to change in unpredictable ways. Mixed-use developments, by contrast, are fully-formed when they are built—and are too costly for the poor. They are not supposed to be diverse. John Hitchcox of Yoo, a design firm that has worked on Metropica and many other projects, says that mixed-use developments aim to create communities of like-minded people. Though they look like cities, they are supposed to feel like villages.
In fact, the low-rise 1960s suburb where Metropica is being built is already full of cosmopolitan surprise. Behind those monotonous lawns lives a diverse population: one-third of the 88,000 people who live in Sunrise are black and one-quarter are Hispanic. The strip malls are filled with esoteric businesses—a South Indian vegetarian restaurant run by Palestinians, a Vietnamese café, a Dominican hairdresser, even a British shop selling Boddingtons beer and scones. Walkable they are not. But by providing places for immigrants to get ahead, the cheap, ugly, car-oriented strip malls of suburban Florida are already doing what cities are supposed to do.