2002: J. Albert Diaz, The Miami Herald
Award for Community Service Photojournalism
Friday, March 29, 2002
by: ASNE Staff

Section: Community Service Photojournalism

J. Albert Diaz

If there is one idea that defines the American way of life, it is the ownership of a home. The homestead is the guarantee, in our minds, that when all else goes wrong, at least we have our base, something we can build and paint and make very much our own, a reflection of ourselves. Suburbia is the most basic building block of America.

From the land rush of the Old West to modern-day suburbia, Americans have searched for paradise. In south florida, that paradise has been found in the former swamplands of Broward County, once ranked third in the nation for population growth. The problem that with the dream come people and with people come the growing pains of traffic jams, overcrowded schools and a shortage of patience.

Now the rapid growth has subsided as the county nears buildout. The boom has hit a wall: the ever-fragile line between encroaching development and the federally protected Everglades National Park. Still people want to move to Broward. They come to buy whatever little plots of land are left. And if it looks like cookie-cutter on the outside, it is anything but that inside.

Broward is a place where communities are born and lifestyles flourish, a true glimpse of American life and the product of a nation built by different cultures working to a harmonious coexistence. While people seem to have similar goals, they enjoy the right to be different. That was the original American dream, to find a peaceful place where one could live by one's wits, and that theme has been played out repeatedly through history and across the nation. The challenge facing us now if to keep paradise found from becoming paradise lost.

These photographs by J. Albert Diaz eloquently address all these issues and raise many questions about the future of Broward County and the whole country as urban sprawl becomes a major challenge to many of our ways of life. The photographs in this project are really a product of the photographers' own life. A member of the communities he photographed, Diaz is living, eating, breathing the American dream. Early on he recognized the impending challenges in his community and for two years, he photographed everything he could find from yard sales to environmental protests. The people in these pictures are his neighbors and friends. They share the same schools, parks, roads and bike paths. His kids play with their kids and they wave at each other when their paths cross. As Diaz says, "We did not just buy a house, we bought a community, a lifestyle."

— adapted from The Miami Herald ASNE contest entry.

A Portrait of Broward: J. Albert Diaz, Miami Herald staff photographer with his family in their Silver Lakes community. From left, Emily, 13, Jason, 11, Nury and Grace, 18.

Baby Boom: More young families are attracted to the new communities of west Broward and Memorial West Hospital has seen its maternity ward expand. Here, Pam Eskalyo, right, feeds her newborn baby girl Jayci while taking part in a Mommy and Me class at the hospital.

Out for a stroll: Bikepaths and walkways are one of the many desired aspects of the new communities being built in Broward. Here, Gonzales Johnson walks his four poodles down a Silver Lakes community path along with walkers and bike riders. The dogs are Lady Bear, Baby Bear, Mimi Bear and Tiger Bear. Only he can tell which is which.
Encorachment Looms in the Distance: An alligator sits in water in Everglades National Park along side Interstate 75 as the horizon glows from rest area lights and lights from the east.
First Family Meal: Don and Elaine Hawkins, with daughter Melanie, 10, enjoy their first family meal, Pollo Tropical takeout, in their new Laguna Isles home in Pembroke Pines as they take a break from unpacking. They moved from Anderson, S.C., when Elaine transferred her job to Broward. The family has taken a liking to Pollo Tropical, an ethnic food which they could not find back in Anderson.
Growing Minorities and Private Schools: The Nur-Ul-Islam Academy, in Cooper City, has been filling the growing demands of Islamic schools in Broward County for 6 years. The school has grown as the county experiences a growing diversity in its residents. Here, teen girls play volleyball during PE with the backdrop of the mosque.

More Homes to Come: A lot displays a sold sign in the community of Sunset Lakes in Miramar. The owners could be moving in less than a year.

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