In many respects, Florida is still evolving. Socially and politically, it hasn't stayed still since the earliest days of US settlement: stimulating growth has always been the paramount concern, and with an average of a thousand people a day moving to the booming state, it's currently the fourth most populous place in the nation. The changing demographics have helped overturn the common notion that Florida is dominated by retirees (though, coincidentally, the state song is a venerable spiritual entitled "Old Folks at Home"), or is part of the conservative Deep South, even if elements certainly do remain. The new Floridians tend to be a younger breed, taking advantage of the economic development along the Highway 4 corridor in the center of the state - and Florida's lack of a state income tax. Immigration from outside the country is also on the increase, with Spanish- and French-Creole-speaking enclaves providing a reminder of geographic and economic ties to Latin America and the Caribbean. These links have proven almost as influential in raising the state's material wealth over the past decade as the arrival of huge domestic businesses, including sections of the film industry that have opted for central Florida in preference to Hollywood.
Not all is rosy: in the past decade, Florida vigorously fought a reputation for violent crime against tourists; you're highly unlikely to encounter any trouble, but the perception still lingers on a bit. The state also served as a major political battleground for the contested presidential election in 2000, rarely putting its best face forward as legal eagles and demonstrative protesters descended here en masse for the messy proceedings. A bit more behind the scenes, Florida is engaged in a struggle to provide enough houses, schools and roads for its growing population; levels of poverty in the rural areas can be severe; and in an increasingly multiethnic society, racial tensions frequently surface. Expanding towns without jeopardizing the environment is another hot issue; large amounts of land are under state or federal protection, and there are signs that the conservation lobby is gaining the upper hand. Nevertheless, uncontrolled development is posing serious ecological problems - not least to the Everglades....Continua