Monday, September 22, 2014

Brand Sarasota

Comments offered at the Sarasota County Commission Public Hearing on Amendments to the 2050 Plan, August 27, 2014


I’ve lived in Sarasota for nine years. Before that, I lived for 16 years in an adjacent county. That perspective taught me that Sarasota is one of the few places in Florida that enjoys the aura of a distinctive brand name.

A complete inventory of the things that make up “Brand Sarasota” is too complex to go into here -- its roots lie in its natural beauty, and in artistic, literary and architectural movements going back generations. It’s always had visionary lovers of nature and culture.

The question is, how much longer will Sarasota enjoy that brand?

At stake in the proposed changes to 2050 may be nothing less than the extraordinary market value that comes with this distinction.

Sarasota is viewed as an “intelligent” community, boasting

  • Educated and affluent retirees.
  • Hi-tech, clean businesses.
  • Creative design in public spaces.
  • A regard for art, music, theater and film -- the life of the intellect in all its forms.
  • A deep appreciation of our parks, beaches, and Conservation lands, and 
  • An active scientific concern with native plants, marine life and wildlife of all kinds.
Folks with large life-experiences have come to Sarasota because it resonates with their quality-of-life values -- these values have been part of its fabric.

Today, the aspirations of Americans are changing rapidly -- many seek a more agrarian world -- a feature of rural East Sarasota that some proposed changes to 2050 threaten to diminish, if not to eliminate altogether.

If Sarasota County acquiesces in turning its rural sector into a cliched reflection of the banal developments that have paved much of the Gulf Coast (see, for example, what has become of the land between Fort Myers and Naples) it will lose its brand. The very thing that attracted people here will have been sacrificed -- and for what?

It takes time and many multi-sided conversations for an authentically grounded, complex vision to arise. The destiny of Sarasota County should not come from tired developer templates or business models hauled out of MBA syllabi for quick bucks. Our planners and fiscal experts as well as our Commissioners need to be savvy. They -- YOU -- should not fall for trite, outdated development practices, or for gung-ho scenarios pitched by self-serving prophets of endless growth. Look deeper!

It’s not yet 2015. Twenty-five years ago, the Internet didn’t exist for most of us. Today it’s transforming longstanding structures of living. Shopping malls are going the way of newspapers and 8-track tapes. Automobiles will eventually be petroleum and driver-free. Drones might fly fresh milk from the farm to our breakfast tables. Just as no one saw the Internet coming, no one today can foresee what forces will shape the world of 2050. Yet the developers have the hots to build for it now, and wish to tap taxpayer money to do so?

What exactly is the rush?

When the 2050 process began, Sarasota County took measured steps to ensure that the collective instincts of those who dwell here were deeply involved. If those same instincts are now to be ignored; if we residents are dismissed with the insider attitude that we "fail to grasp the intricacies of code revision," then our governance risks being usurped by the private profit motives of the few. When the public good is pushed aside, the result is often hasty, copy-cat style and insipid inspiration, instead of organic and original creation, which matures slowly with time.

East Sarasota could be the new Bonita Springs -- a Brave New Brandon!

When you ignore the gut sense of the people, you play with fire. What’s going to get consumed is the fair name and substance of Brand Sarasota.

So, again, I ask:

What exactly is the rush?

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