The following opinion piece, “The Idea of Florida,” is published here with the permission of the author, Ron Cunningham. After describing his extraordinary bike tour of north Florida (by my standards, anyway), Cunningham notes as many of us have, “Sometimes you have to wonder if our lawmakers have any idea what they’re doing to Florida.”
He goes on to report certain observations by former Florida Senator Lee Constantine made at a press conference with former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator, Bob Graham, recently. Constantine said,
|Ft. Clinch State Park|
“They (lawmakers) forgot that people don’t come to Florida because we have the best strip malls. People come to Florida for the idea of Florida, for what we take for granted. Our beaches and rivers and open fields and even our orange groves. They think that if they make it easy for developers, all our problems will go away. The idea of Florida, what we love about Florida the most is not our malls.”
It is a thought all of us should keep in mind and restate every chance we get to anyone with a care to listen. If there comes a time when Florida has been reduced to nothing more than a vast wasteland of malls, suburbia and crowded asphalt thoroughfares, there will be no reason for anyone to visit much less live here, and its economic future will become irreparably diminished. It is well worth making the point to all who suggest jobs should be created at any expense, because such is a false premise with returns that will not serve even our grandchildren or theirs.
Cunningham’s original article can be found here: http://under.blogs.gainesville.com/10572/the-idea-of-florida/
Recently I spent a week with about 630 of my closest friends touring the back roads, pine forests and sparsely developed sea shores of the Big Bend region.
|Little St. George Island|
The cyclists who participated in Bike Florida’s Forgotten Coast Tour came here from all over America, from Canada and points beyond. We took them from Tallahassee to legendary robber baron Ed Ball’s old hunting lodge (now Wakulla Springs State Park) and then northwest through the Apalachicola National Forest to the point where Lake Talquin drains into the Ochlockonee River. From there it was an easy run (except for some very unFlorida like hills that needed to be topped) into Quincy.
We crossed the mighty Apalachicola River at Blountstown and then headed south past the chain of dead lakes into Wewahitchka, famous for its tupelo honey and where the movie “Ulee’s Gold” was filmed. They spent two days in Apalachicola; which is going through something of a small town renaissance these days; as a lively new arts and culture community settles in comfortably with the town’s generations-long oyster industry (think Cedar Key, only more so). From there, some riders headed west to Cape San Blas and the sugar-white dunes of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, while others opted for a 12-mile hop (11 of those miles over just two bridges) to nearby Saint George Island; which also has its share of trackless white dunes set amidst the turquiose waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The return journey to Tallahassee took them through the tiny communities of Carrabelle, Sopchoppy, Medart and St. Marks.
All in all it was a smashing trip through the heart of a scenic and natural Florida that many people don’t even know exists. And I only felt a tad guilty on the first day, when we routed cyclists past the state Capitol Building.
In retrospect it seemed a dirty trick, because that’s where the Florida Legislature seems to be doing its level best to obliterate everything that is special, unspoiled and unique about Florida.
Sometimes you have to wonder if our lawmakers have any idea what they’re doing to Florida. And I’m not the only one who is wondering.
Last week former Florida Gov. Bob Graham and Lee Constantine, a one-time state senator who was known in the Legislature for his environmental stewardship, were at the University of Florida making what amounts to a recruitment pitch for the recently organized Florida Conservation Coalition. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that coalition of environmental groups and activists came together more or less in self-defense after the 2011 session, which Graham called the worst session for the environment in modern Florida history.
Growth management? Gone. The Department of Community Affairs? Disappeared. Florida Forever? Defunded. The water management districts? Emasculated. A new law to begin inspecting millions of aging septic tanks? Let ‘em leak. In the name of “jobs, jobs, jobs” lawmakers hacked away at clean water regulations, development constraints and any pretense of sensible planning for Florida’s future.
|Apalachicola Bay, Florida|
“They forgot that people don’t come to Florida because we have the best strip malls,” Constantine said. “People come to Florida for the idea of Florida, for what we take for granted. Our beaches and rivers and open fields and even our orange groves.
“They (lawmakers) think that if they make it easy for developers, all our problems will go away,” he added. “The idea of Florida, what we love about Florida the most is not our malls.”
He’s right about that. We didn’t schedule a single strip mall layover day during the Forgotten Coast Tour. The riders who came here from Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere spent a lot of money, but they spent it in the tiny shops of Apalachicola, the restaurants on St. George Island and in a painstakingly recreated, “old fashioned” downtown Port St. Joe.
Anyone who has been paying any attention at all these past several years knows that the Florida landscape has become littered with abandoned big box stores, once imposing shopping plazas now converted into flea markets and other sad relics of commercial urban blight that represented someone’s misguided “idea” of Florida.
And that’s the problem. Too many of our politicians have altogether the wrong idea about Florida. There is a huge baby boom generation on the verge of retirement, and to the extent that those boomers are going to come here to live, play and otherwise spend their golden years (and their disposable income), they are not going to be lured here by the siren’s song of multiple-lanes of congested traffic, endless miles of commercial sprawl and cookie-cutter exurban housing plantations.
They want the very idea of Florida. The real Florida. I only wish our legislators had the same idea.
Ron Cunningham, editorial page editor of The Sun, also serves on the board of directors of the non-profit Bike Florida.