Paying for our excesses

Happy New Year, I suppose.

I hate to end 2018 on a sour note, but somebody has to say it. 

Actually, Bruce Gibney said it best in his book “A Generation of Sociopaths. How the Boomers Betrayed America”:

“The boomers inherited a rich, dynamic country and have gradually bankrupted it. They habitually cut their own taxes and borrow money without any concern for future burdens. They’ve spent virtually all our money and assets on themselves and in the process have left a financial disaster for their children.”

Looking ahead into 2019 and beyond:

In sheer economic terms, my children will not be able to afford the auto-American world we have built for them. They won’t be able to afford the subdivisions and cul de sac living out in the suburbs and exurbs. They won’t be able to afford maintenance on the road systems we have built to connect suburban homes with urban jobs. They won’t be able to afford the rising cost of urban housing because so many people have decided that living “out there” is a dead end. 

It gets worse. They won’t be able to afford the cost of remediation all of the bad water and the bad air we have created in our mindless pursuit of the American Dream. 

There is no “fire season” in California anymore. We have built in the forests and amid the scrub and we have altered the climate to the point that dry forests and dry scrublands are going to incinerate more or less continually. They won’t be able to pay the price for ridding the oceans – or the food chain for that matter – of all the plastic we have dumped into our world. And we continue to dump. 

They won’t be able to afford the stronger, wetter and more destructive hurricanes or the rising sea levels. We are fishing out the oceans so not much more affordable sea food. Climate migration really is a thing, and we won’t be able to build a wall high enough to keep the refugees out. Neither will Canada when it realizes that their climate refugees are going to come from the U.S.

We may be able to afford to exploit the melting polar ice cap – the famed Northwest Passage – in order to drill for still more oil and gas. So our carbon and methane emissions will continue apace. But future generations will ultimately pay a heavy bill for our excesses.

There is no escaping the really bad consequences that the Great Acceleration Generation has bequeathed to their kids and to successive generations. 

We could have chosen wise ways to downsize our earth-killing lifestyles but of course we have done the opposite. The whole concept of sustainability is too little, too late now. And if I were not 70 years old and surly living out my last years I suppose I would feel more than guilt about what we have wrought. I’d be feeling pure panic. 

There is no overstating this. My children, Jenny and Andrew, and their peers, will not be living the lifestyles they may have grown accustomed to in their childhoods. We needed more stuff and we wanted to pay less for it. And that economics of it won’t work for much longer.

Oh yes, Trump gave us tax cuts….and a soaring deficit. Who believes that won’t blow up in our faces? 

Oh what a Brave New World that has such people in it. We are the first species in the history of the Earth that is deliberately exhausting the very “carrying capacity” that has allowed us our excesses. So far.

Our kids won’t be building monuments to us. They will end up cursing our memories. 

Brunch on two wheels

Sunday brunch has gotten to be a big deal in Gainesville. 

And what’s not to like? Mimosas. Eggs Benedict. Meeting up with friends to see and be seen.

But, really, anybody can drive to brunch. Why not turn your Sunday brunch trip into an adventure on two wheels? A journey of exploration? 

Here’s a leisurely Sunday brunch bike ride that will show you the best Gainesville has to offer on your way to your favorite cafe or restaurant.

Mile zero: Begin at Depot Park of course. Take a pre-brunch lap around the ponds and past the Cade before heading south on the Depot Avenue rail-trail.

Mile .07: Take a brief loop through Porter’s Quarter to see the shipping container house.

Mile 1.8: Cross the DNA Bridge. Take a selfie under its orange strands.

Mile 2.5: Cross Archer Road and enter UF campus for a lap around Lake Alice.

Mile 4.1: Stop and stroll the boardwalk though UF’s Natural Area Teaching Laboratory. It’s a short walk through green serenity. 

Mile 4.2: Arrive Museum of Florida History and The Harn. Hey, would a little culture kill you? And butterflies!

Mile 4.9: Selfie at the Baughman and the bat houses. Maybe see if you can spot any real gators in Lake Alice.

Mile 5.8: Get your photo taken perched on the big gator outside the football stadium. If you’re really feeling ambitious, take a pre-brunch stadium hike all the way to the top tier of seats and back down.

Mile 6.6: Century Tower. You know what to do.

Mile 6.8: First brunch opportunities on University Avenue. The Swamp, The Social, etc.

Mile 8.2: You can leave the route just past GPD and take a left on the rail-trail. Just one block north will take you to Afternoon, another prime brunch spot. Then back to the route.

Mile 8.7: Take a stroll through the Thomas Center Gardens.

Mile 9.5: Enter downtown Gainesville, a brunch target-rich environment. Emilianos, Harry’s, 

Boca Fiesta, Paramount Grill, the Top, etc.

Mile 9.6: Hang a left at The Hipp. Grab a cuppa at Starbucks or Maude’s.

Mile 9.9: Take a ride through Sweetwater Park.  

Mile 10.3: Selfie at GRU’s giant water ball.

Mile 10.4: Daily Green on left. Last brunch opportunity of the route.

Mile 10.8: Back at Depot Park. Continue on route for a post-brunch beer at First Mag. BTW: If you like the ride so much you don’t want to stop yet, just head east on the Gainesville-Hawthorne Tail to rack up some bonus miles. 

12.2: Back at Depot Park again. Time for some Sunday Raggae at The Boxcar. The Cade should be open by now, and that’s always worth a visit. Plus, there’s usually a flea market at the park on Sunday. 

Is Sunday brunch in Gainesville great or what?

High tides, dry grass

“Oh, of course I’ll keep it to myself. Until the water reaches my lower lip, and then I’m going to mention it to somebody!” Professor Fate in “The Great Race,” 1965.

Shortly after I went to work at The Sun, in 1976, fellow reporter Carl Crawford and I embarked on a two day canoe trip down the Santa Fe and Suwannee rivers so we could write a feature piece for our Sunday magazine.

Yes, we had a Sunday magazine. Those were the days my friend.

Anyway, it was a great trip. We came upon a wild boar soaking himself in the Santa Fe’s cool water. We camped on a sand bank with an ex con who told us about the best juke joint in Dixie County. And we met a developer from Miami who was building his dream retirement house on the river because “I love trees.”

I was cool with the boar and the ex con. But Carl and I had to urge to toss the guy who got rich cutting down trees and planting subdivisions into the river.

Turns out he was just an advance scout.

I thought about that long-ago encounter the other day after reading an on-line Miami New Times column reporting that in the face of rising sea levels Miami stands to “lose 2.5 million residents to other cities in Florida” by 2100.

“Now that Cuban migration into Miami has slowed, the city’s Republican legislators have pretty much decided that they hate refugees,” New Times columnist Jerry Lannelli wrote. “But as long as those same GOP legislators continue to deny that climate change is real, they’re all but guaranteeing that the U.S. locks itself into a refugee crisis of its own.”

Lannelli cited a recent study by University of Georgia population analysis Matthew E. Hauer, to wit, “unmitigated SLR (sea-level rise) is expected to reshape the U.S. population distribution, potentially stressing landlocked areas unprepared to accommodate this wave of coastal migrants.”

Holy refugee crisis! Is Gainesville destined to become a sanctuary city for tree-razing developers, fast-buck time share tycoons, condo cowboys and mega-mall magnets? 

Look, I’ve always been skeptical about the “we don’t want to turn into another Miami” rhetoric that has dominated anti-growth debates around here for decades. I used to argue that we could gut all our zoning codes and comp plan restrictions and still not turn into Miami because, heck, we don’t even have a beach. 

Who knew that beaches would one day become a liability?

 Of course, most coastal refugees in coming decades are more likely to gravitate to places like Orlando and Atlanta than Gainesville. Still the attraction of a trendy college town and football Mecca located smack dab in the middle of high and dry north Florida might well prove irresistible to many SLR refugees.

But the joke will be on them. By the time they get here, Gainesville will likely be unbearably hot and smoky as well as high and dry. 

Climate change plays no favorites. 

But of course, this is all about the politics of denial and the inevitable consequences of willful ignorance on the part of our elected officials and policy makers. Politicos like Donald Trump and Rick Scott are the Professor Fates of our time. Their stubborn insistence that everything is fine and there’s no cause for alarm flies in the face of both the best available evidence and reality itself.

Lower lip still dry? No crisis yet.

Listen, the current national hostility toward refugees is largely being directed towards people who are coming her to escape persecution or poverty back home. But if scientists like Hauer are right, if America is even now planting the seeds of its own domestic refugee crises, it is taking root in the fertile ground of studied indifference and partisan ideology. 

And who are we going to hate then? When “those people” are fleeing, not from Syria and Mexico, but Miami and New Orleans?

I dunno, maybe Trump is right about that wall. I’m thinking just south of Paynes Prairie is a good place for it. 

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. This column was originally published in The Sun in May, 2017.)

Guns, students and 1968

When it came out that Lee Harvey Oswald killed the President of the United States, in 1963, with an Italian bolt-action rifle that he bought under a false name via mail order for $19.95 (plus postage and handling) Congress fairly leapt into action.

“If guns are to be kept out of the hands of the criminal, out of the hands of the insane, and out of the hands of the irresponsible, then we must have licensing,” newly sworn-in President Lyndon Johnson said as he signed a bill restricting the sale of mail-order firearms.

Just kidding. 

Actually it wasn’t until 1968 that LBJ finally got to sign a rather tepid gun control bill – one without his licensing requirement.  

Politicians won’t even cross the NRA to protect their own.

Still, let’s not gloss over the possible significance of that five-year – well, call it a “waiting period” – between the time Oswald’s bullets struck home and Congress finally did something about mail-order guns.

Remember 1968? 

The year of the barricades?

“1968 was a year of revolution,” says historyguide.org. “In a period of unprecedented material prosperity and cultural activity, the sons and daughters of the most privileged sections of the United States and of Europe decided to make their own revolution.

“The year of the barricades served as a symbol of everything an entire generation of young people detested about the generation of their parents: the ‘It,’ the System, the Establishment.” 

Yes, it was very much a youth-driven revolution. Certainly Gainesville experienced its own days of rage as young anti-war and civil rights protests spilled out into University Avenue and 13th St. 

Speaking of kids, did anybody notice how polite and well behaved were the survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting who went to Tallahassee after the bloodshed to ask their elected representatives to please redress their grievances?

Said grievances being their dread and horror over the prospect of being among the next wave of innocent children caught in the crosshairs of an angry young man with an AR15. 

They stood in the House visitors box in respectful, if appalled, silence as their elected representatives deemed it more important to debate pornography than so much as talk about a ban on military-grade guns designed to kill a lot of people in a very short period of time.

Even the teenagers who staged a three minute lay-down in front of the White House carried out their act of symbolic death without fuss, muss or bother. 

Three minutes being the time it took Nikolas Jacob Cruz to extinguish 17 lives at Stoneman Douglas.

Of course, 2018 isn’t 1968. Back then a terrible war without end, racial strife, civil discord, economic inequality and a growing contempt for governmental authority were among the factors that finally sent America’s young into the streets and onto the barricades. 

Nothing like today.

Still, there is little doubt that a new generation of, well, let’s just call them concerned citizens, is waking up and wondering what’s going on. They have grave doubts about the efficacy and fairness of the system they are inheriting. And they are appalled that so many politicians can be so easily bought by a gun lobby that doesn’t care how many children must die to protect their profits. 

Prudent politicians might want to consider, at this critical juncture, that it is better to show this upcoming generation of voters that the system really can work for them. That problems can be solved by policy rather than polemics.

Before the barricades go up and it’s 1968 all over again.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.  This blog post was originally published in The Sun in Feb. 2018. 

 

Density is our destiny

(This was originally published in The Sun in the spring of 2015, but it seems especially relevant today given the furor over GNV Rise.)

Density is destiny, Gainesville.

If we want to nurture an innovative economy, a place where creative young people desire to come to live, work and play, then density is the key.

If we want to have a truly walkable, bikeable, “complete streets” community, density is essential.

If we desire world class transit, demand will follow density.

The most exciting thing that’s happened to Gainesville this past decade has been the redevelopment of long neglected neighborhoods and commercial districts in and around the downtown-University of Florida quadrant. Aided by UF’s decision to build Innovation Square, we have been slowly but surely reclaiming our urban core. 

This following decades of outward expansion into the western suburbs that threatened to render UF and Gainesville as car-dependent and traffic congested as any number of identity-challenged, cookie-cutter suburban American cities.

Cities that have been simultaneously exploding on the edges while rotting from within.

The social, fiscal and environmental costs of sprawl have been well documented. A joint report by the London School of Economics and the Victoria Transport Policy Institute pegs the costs of sprawl in North America alone at more than $1 trillion a year. 

In addition to the loss of agricultural lands, sprawl forces horrendously expensive infrastructure improvements – new roads, utility lines, sewers and so on – to serve new developments.

And then there are the intangible costs of sprawl, including “consumer costs, traffic congestion, accidents, pollution emissions, reduced accessibility for non-drivers, and reduced public fitness and health.”

A rational society would write land use plans to make it easier and less expensive to develop in the urban core than out on the edges. But instead, American planning dictates have had exactly the opposite objective since at least the end of World War II. The results have been predictable – the slow death of inner cities, a deep urban-suburban political divide that has rendered our democracy ever more polarized, a car culture that has nearly destroyed the fabric of American life. 

There may be is no community in Florida that has more hotly debated and railed against sprawl development than Gainesville. Since I arrived here, in the mid-1970s, I’ve heard it again and again: We don’t want to turn into another Miami. Our fear and loathing of South Florida-style sprawl has dominated the public debate over everything from road funding to land conservation to the location of new schools.

But now, with City staff proposing Land Development Code revisions that would have the effect of encouraging and facilitating urban infill – specifically in the UF-downtown core – we’re all of a sudden worried about Gainesville turning into…what?

New York City? Boston? Austin?

“It’s an open invitation for hyper-development,” former Mayor Mark Goldstein told The Sun. “It is the worst thing I have ever seen in 44 years of participating in local government and living here.”

Seriously?

Worse than the steady march of western suburbanization we’ve experienced over the past, oh,  44 years? Worse than Plum Creek’s proposal to leap-frog sprawl into the eastern reaches of the county as well? Worse than the looming “hyper-development” of Butler Plaza and all that it implies for still more traffic congestion and loss of green space and community?

The truth is that Gainesville is never going to turn into Miami, nor Austin for that matter. All of our hand-wringing over runaway development notwithstanding, Alachua County has continued to grow at a slow, steady, predictable pace year after year, decade after decade. The market forces simply don’t exist to support the “hyper-development” of inner Gainesville.

That said, the planning objectives of our university city ought to be to facilitate urban redevelopment and discourage sprawl to the greatest degree possible. 

Yes we can build an innovation economy by making it possible to locate high-tech and spin-off companies within easy walking, biking and busing distance of Innovation Square and UF proper.

And yes we can expand our downtown commercial and entertainment district north to 8th avenue and south to Depot – and even beyond.

And yes, we can remake 13th Street into something better and more functional than a typical Florida gas station, fast food and convenience store corridor. 

And yes, we can make it possible for students, faculty and staff – not to mention young entrepreneurs – to live an auto-free life in quality mixed-use neighborhoods close to where they work, play and study.

But density is key to all of those objectives. And land development regs that encourage density by design are crucial to making it all happen.

Because density is destiny, Gainesville.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.

Only kidding Gainesville

A lot of folks like to think of Gainesville as being a progressive university community. But, really, we’re a typical suburban American city.

The signs are everywhere – the way we’ve designed University Avenue, 13th St. 16th Ave. etc. for the express (pun intended) purpose of getting motorists in and out of town as quickly as possible, for instance. And never mind the occasional dead cyclist and pedestrian, or the sacrifice of walkability and economic vitality in our urban center. 

But we got another reminder of our suburban sameness when the city commission backed off GNV Rise in the face of an angry public backlash. With opponents hurling accusations of corruption and incompetence, the city’s modest plan to encourage a more affordable housing mix was dismissed as just another venal scheme to enrich South Florida developers and destroy neighborhoods.

To turn Gainesville into Orlando. Another Miami.

Oh, and that ugly word, “gentrification,” got tossed around in hand-grenade fashion. Never mind that the flip side of gentrification is segregation.

And that’s what we’re really talking about here. 

Like most American cities, we in Gainesville self-segregate ourselves. Mostly by income, but also by race. And we are comfortable in our little niches.

Daniel Herriges puts it very well in his recent Strong Towns essay: “Go to any planning meeting in an American suburb and you’ll hear plenty of talk about ‘protecting neighborhoods,’ but from what? From the side effects of new residential construction.”

In the end, what’s what the knee-jerk opposition to GNV Rise amounted to: Protecting neighborhoods from “others” – prospective neighbors who don’t look, sound and earn like we do. Students, low income workers, single moms and their kids, young people just entering the workforce and, of course, people with different shades of skin.

We’re freezing ourselves in amber here in Gainesville. Which by default means fostering sprawl, sprawl and more of the same.

It’s not that GNV Rise couldn’t use more work, any plan can. Conspiracy theories aside, it was at best a modest attempt to begin to grapple with a very complicated challenge. 

These days UF’s biggest housing problem doesn’t involve students. It’s finding affordable and proximate housing for lower income workers, entry level professors, graduate assistants, lab workers and so on. Lacking options folks inevitably end up in the suburbs – or maybe Putnam and Levy counties – and driving to campus each day; creating a horrible parking situation on campus and daily traffic snarl for Gainesville. 

Eventually UF’s strategic planners – whose consultants have bullishly promoted Boston-type urban infill as key to our town-gown quality of life future – are going to figure out that Gainesville is only kidding when we say we want the same thing. 

No, infill is gentrification. It’s a developer’s plot. Infill won’t protect neighborhoods.

Anyway, there’s plenty of developable land remaining on the west side between here and Cedar Key. And if the Plum Creekers get their way, eastward sprawl is just over the horizon. 

All we need are more cars. We’ve already got the stroads to accommodate them.

There’s an election coming up. If history is any indication, Lauren Poe is in trouble (only one incumbent, Pegeen Hanrahan, has been reelected since we started picking mayors separately from other commissioners). Poe’s opponents will likely run on the “protect neighborhoods” platform, just like Tom “The neighborhoods are getting hammered!” Bussing did.

There is also a pretty good chance that City Manager Anthony Lyons is going to be forced out. All of which means that the city commission will likely become more cautious about taking chances and making changes come the new year. 

GNV Rise will likely not rise again in 2019.

And if that comes to pass, Tigert Hall may begin, slowly and quietly, to back away from its strategic partnership with Gainesville on the grounds of municipal fickleness.

But at least we will have protected our neighborhoods from others.