The Sustainable Life

My first “real job” after graduating with a degree in Communications from Florida State University was at the Disney-MGM Studios in sunny Orlando, Florida. My dream was to break into the movie business via screenwriting, but things didn’t quite go in that direction.

Instead, I found myself performing interesting behind the scenes tasks that supported the theme park’s live stage shows. These including pushing a giant “Zonkmobile” onto the stage and firing off confetti cannons during episodes of the “Let’s make a Deal” talk show; driving around golf carts full of various supplies across the studios’ back lots; and operating some interesting props for a popular live show called “Superstar Television.”

The goal of “Superstar” was to grab guests out of the studio audience, dress them in funky costumes and insert them into video clips from real episodes of popular television shows such as “I Love Lucy,” “Cheers” and “Golden Girls.” One particular unlucky person was selected before each show to appear in the “Three Stooges” clip. He would stand there while the video screens portrayed those three characters and their friends throwing pies at each other, and then suddenly…a Disney cast member would emerge from the shadows and slam him with a whipped cream pie!

I had the distinct privilege of being one of the studio pie tossers. I wasn’t very talented at first; my initial inclination was to throw the pie with all my might, lacking any discipline and finesse The whipped cream would stick everywhere but on the fellow’s face, which ran counter to the goal of the pie toss! I soon learned to have a little more style, to think through how I would make the toss, to deliver a more sustainable pie.

Having lived in different parts of ever-growing Florida, I’ve seen some sprawling communities that look sort of like someone had just tossed around a bunch of infrastructure to see where it might stick. Roads, subdivisions, schools, business parks, and the like seemed to be jumbled together with some natural habitat preserved here and there, lacking any recognizable cohesion or strategy. I’ve seen a lot of places playing catch-up through taxes and impact fees in order to try to keep pace with growth and population demands. I’ve seen a clear lack of thinking ahead to what a community might look like 5, 10, even 20 years down the road.

In 2003, my family and I deliberately chose to lay down roots in an area where we could see ourselves residing for many years to come. For the first time, we made a choice of location based not on the jobs that might be available to us, but on the quality of life for our family. We saw Brevard County, Fla., as an area offering an amazing mix of beauty and business, of natural resources and economic opportunities, of quality beaches, parks and schools as well as growing retail, residential, religious and commercial districts. It truly felt like a county that offered the best of everything.

The challenge is that the best-kept secrets of Brevard County have been getting out to people such as my family and many others who are pouring in from all directions (except perhaps from the East!). Roads are becoming more congested. Developers are subdividing raw land in a frenzy, and wild species are beginning to show up in rights-of-way looking dazed and confused. Office parks are springing up. New schools are being planned. The intensity of trying to catch up to development and provide balanced quality of life is more and more pronounced as Brevard becomes a magnet for people tired of imbalanced urban sprawl found in other parts of Florida and the country.

A goal I have as a long-term resident of Brevard County is not only for us to keep up with development by providing for a well-functioning infrastructure, but for the county to serve as a model for smart and responsible growth…with industry, citizens and government working in harmony.

My desire is that Brevard will embrace a long-term vision of sustainability, which is defined in dictionaries as the ability to carry forward or support or maintain for a prolonged period approaching perpetuity.

Too often the challenges we face concerning development and balance are posed in either-or, black-and-white kind of arguments. I think that is a misleading context. My assertion is that this is not a question of being pro-development or. pro-environment—it’s about being pro-sustainable. It’s about being pro-Brevard, if you are a resident here and care about the quality of life. It’s about consensus building and working together for common goals.

I work for a giant company in the financial services industry. Obviously, I’m a free market kind of guy. I believe that demand should create the supply and the frequency, not mandates from the government. I believe we should have the freedom to make choices, but I realize that the best choices flow from increased awareness of important big picture issues. There are vital choices that individuals, companies, developers and governments can and must make in order to achieve sustainability.
For the consumer, there are technological choices that include being intentional about the use of items such as low flow shower heads and toilets that help conserve water; homes that allow for natural light in order to conserve energy; and hybrid cars that have higher fuel efficiency and produce fewer emissions, a very relevant issue today given our energy struggles. These are just a few among a plethora of choices.

For developers, there are planning choices to be made that include preserving enough green space to allow the county to retain its character and for native species to continue to thrive. There are choices to provide for the improvement of roads, dedication of land for schools and parks and other infrastructure long before new residents start moving into their new homes and new employees flow into new office parks.

For builders, there are choices to be made that involve the up-front investments in materials such as solar panels; high-quality windows that provide better insulation; choices in carpet, wood and particle board materials that are locally produced and recycled; and proper storm water management, just to name a few.

The resulting impact of all of this, I believe, is a community that feels like it is managing growth with responsibility and vision. This flows into a positive impact on our emotions and, subsequently, our health. A healthier work force means less down time for employees and more productivity. It turns out that being environmentally aware can result in a stronger profit margin, rather than the assumed opposite. Lower energy costs eventually more than make up for the higher up front expenses of sustainable construction choices.

Another economic consideration for those who choose sustainable building and development is the millions of dollars in grants being distributed as incentives by the federal government. The emerging bottom line is that sustainability is good for business!

Let us, as citizens, businesspeople and government leaders in Brevard County, choose the path of “Smart Growth,” defined as the following:.

Smart growth recognizes connections between development and quality of life. It leverages new growth to improve the community. New smart growth is more town-centered, is transit and pedestrian oriented, and has a greater mix of housing, commercial and retail uses. It also preserves open space and many other environmental amenities. But there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.

Successful communities do tend to have one thing in common–a vision of where they want to go and of what things they value in their community–and their plans for development reflect these values.

I have given a short talk based on this essay to many groups in Brevard County. Often, I hear people frustrated with the apparent lack of balance they see emerging, persons who have resigned themselves to the misnomer that is impossible to achieve sustainability. They will be proven correct—if good people choose not to be involved in the process of smart growth and opt to not lend their voice to the table of ideas.

Do you have a heart for the future of Brevard County? Then let your voice be heard with clarity and thoughtfulness. Be persistent but positive. Don’t try to drown out the other’s expressions; there’s too much of that in America already, with politics that divide rather than seek solutions with which everyone can live.

Ultimately, whether we identify ourselves more with business or the environment, we are all impacted in the same way as residents of Brevard. We must strive to see beyond our particular special interests, and stay informed of the issues that affect us and the emerging generations. It is our responsibility to know and understand what is happening around us, and to exercise our rights as citizens. Voter turnout in local races that dips into figures such as 27 percent is simply not acceptable—apathy is never an appropriate world view!

Despite what some may perceive, there are lots of signs of hope in Brevard County that sustainable growth is underway. Brevard Tomorrow, an offshoot of the excellent citizens’ academy known as Leadership Brevard, has worked for three years to develop a comprehensive vision for the future that embraces all aspects of our quality of life. The group is composed of the best minds from business, government, education, retirees, environmentalists and so forth, all with a common goal of ensuring that Brevard County is a place where we all will still want to be 20 years from now.

The road to paving this strategic vision has not been easy nor without contention—but people with far-sighted vision and character and a heart for others can withstand the challenging birthing process of carving consensus out of emotion while embracing the greater good.

Let’s work together to preserve and improve our quality of life here in Brevard. Let’s enable Brevard to be a model for the rest of Florida—indeed, for the rest of the nation. Commit yourself now to getting and staying informed, to lending your voice to the mix, to finding your niche to serve in this emerging grassroots effort to hold the best of all possible worlds together along the Space Coast.

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