The remarkable growth of coastal resort towns in Florida is a big travel development. Twelve years go, when I last visited the town of Delray Beach between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Delray was a relatively small place and fairly quiet; it had a few restaurants, a couple of fairly large hotels (the Colony and the Marriott), a quiet though lovely beach, and an atmosphere of laid-back gentility.
When I returned last month, it was a wholly different place, a miniature Fort Lauderdale crammed with restaurants, sporting new motels, jammed with cars, full of young people dining at night at sidewalk establishments, and with new shops of every sort up and down the main street of Atlantic Avenue. It is no longer a small town but an incipient metropolis. And although the official population figures are around 60,000 as of 2010, it's obvious from the activity on the two-mile-long public beach and the city's dynamic streets, that the actual population is today much higher. Like its giant sister city to the south (Miami), Delray Beach is enjoying a boom; the recession of 2008 now seems far away.
If you are looking to rent a condo here for next winter, I was told by real estate agents, you must do so now; they will all be rented in a month or two. Even as far inland as five miles from the beach itself, persons from all over America are now attempting to snare apartments in Delray Beach developments that were once designed purely for elderly people, whose passing opens up housing for much younger Americans.
Responding to the city's new-found prosperity, Delray Beach's government has begun to engage in all sorts of youthful cheekiness. One step recently taken was to grant a license to operate taxi service to a group of young men who use electrically-driven golf carts for that purpose. Those familiar sports vehicles now cruise along the city's downtown streets, advertising that their use is free of charge to passengers who can simply tip the driver with any amount of money they choose.
The strange vehicles--they have been slightly enlarged to accommodate as many as six passengers--are able to move at a maximum speed of 26 miles an hour, which is perfectly sufficient for Delray Beach. They need to be recharged with electricity every two hours or so. And they are limited to serving the downtown area, and cannot respond to calls for airport service or other longer trips, a concession that probably protects them against violent opposition from the normal taxicab drivers. Their operators are almost all in their twenties (one is pushing 35), and claim (I asked them) that they earn a respectable income from the tips that passengers voluntarily elect to give them. Those tips are almost certainly less than a normal taxicab fare would be, and permit residents and visitors to move about the downtown streets at very little cost.
The golf-cart taxicabs of Delray Beach are symbolic of the young and enthusiastic attitudes of current residents, who certainly live in one of the fastest-growing communities of America. The prosperity of Delray Beach seems emblematic of similar growth in almost all the coastal resorts of Florida.