The center crumbles

Things I’ve noticed while slouching toward Bethlehem

The falcon cannot hear the falconer.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed

And everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned

The best lack all conviction

While the worst are full of passionate intensity

Surely the Second Coming is at hand

Somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man, a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.

The darkness drops again

Vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

With apologies to William Butler Yeats

autoAmerican Anarchy

Time for another autoAmerican Anarchy update. So much carnage, so little time.

• Credit alert drivers for ripping the lid off the most insidious conspiracy since the Trilateral Commission schemed to take over the world. Opposing Complete Streets policies in auto-centric Alexandria, Va, motorists Jack Sullivan noted “There is a fanatic minority who want to get people out of cars, lower the speed limits and reduce the size of roads. They are being heard in the towers of power.” For the record, what “they” want folks in the power towers to hear is this: Please stop killing us with your cars.

• Not to worry, though, the Complete Streets conspiracists are losing in dribs and drabs. In Providence, R.I, newly installed bike lanes were removed after drivers complained about them. “Making our City streets safe and accessible to all is one of my top priorities,” said Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan. However, “We need to balance all new initiatives with the needs of the surrounding community, particularly when it is a matter of public safety.” Translation: Saving cyclists is fine, but not if it means drivers must slow down.

• Which is not to say that motorists can get away with anything in autoAmerica. A guy who drove his car through a suburban Chicago shopping mall has been charged with terrorism. “Chaos ensued among the patrons of the mall. Hysterical patrons were running and jumping in attempts to evade the vehicle’s path. Stores were locking their gates and sheltering people in the rear of stores for safety purposes,” prosecutor Annalee McGlone said. Turns out the freedom to shop is almost as sacrosanct as the freedom to drive.

• Nobody’s been charged with auto-terrorism in Denver, however, despite the fact that more than 20 pedestrians have been killed or injured by hit-and-run- drivers so far this year. The carnage, Reports Westworld adds “another layer to concerns about the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and scooter riders on metro streets amid rising traffic volume and other infrastructure stressors.”

• Also in Denver, Gazette columnist Mike Rosen duly expressed his condolences over the death of a woman cyclist who was killed by a dump truck. Then he blew the whistle on the local bicycle community’s “aggressive agenda,” writing that “Bicycles have their place but unless cyclists have a death-wish they should realize commuting to work on a bicycle in heavy rush hour traffic isn’t wise…And finding that the driver was at fault is little consolation.” Translation: She pretty much got what she deserved.

• But let’s not, um, dump on Rosen. Streetsblog USA has compiled an impressive list of media mavens who routinely go out of their way to excuse the deadly behavior of drivers. “Yes, local newspapers are still force-feeding us the myth of the American open road.”

• In Sacramento, motorist Nicholas Soller was arrested after he illegally parked in a bike lane….and then beat up a cyclists who complained about it. “Police say Soller tailed the cyclist in a high-traffic area and crashed into him before getting out of his car to continue a physical assault,” reports CBS Sacramento. Temper Nick.

• Elsewhere on the Road Rage Front, a 13-year old boy in Greenville, S.C. was severely injured after being hit by a car while walking his sister to the bus stop. The offending motorists reportedly lost control of his vehicle while engaged in aggressive driving match with another vehicle. “If you start to feel your temper flare, and you start to get mad, the best advise that we can give is pull off on the side of the road, take a deep breath, calm down, and then get back in the road to drive,” Greenville PD. Lt. Alan Johnson said. “If you don’t and you get into a rage situation, something like this can happen, or worse, you can kill somebody.”

• Driving has been banned on Michigan’s Mackinac Island for half a century. But that didn’t stop Vice President Mike Pence from barreling across the island in an 8-car motorcade recently to deliver a speech. “Plenty of actual presidents have visited sans cars,” Julia Pulver tweeted. “It’s literally an island, you can very easily control who’s there for this event. No excuses. This didn’t have to happen, but it did, because they could.” Executive privilege don’t you know.

• While auto-related fatalities overall are decreasing, cycling deaths have increased by 25 percent since 2010. “The major causes of cyclist deaths are motor vehicle crashes, and hit-and-runs and driver inattentiveness are unfortunately the most common factors,” reports One way “to deter bicyclist fatalities is to start holding drivers responsible when they cause the accident, especially in cases of a hit-and-run.” Yeah, like that’s gonna happen in autoAmerica.

• Speaking of breaking records, deaths from red-light running has reached a 10-year high, according to the American Automobile Association. “This is at least two people killed every day at the hands of drivers blowing through red lights,” Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research for AAA, told USA Today. This hasn’t stopped Texas and at least 14 other states from banning cameras that can catch red light runners in the act.

• In Michigan, three Amish siblings were killed and another critically injured when a motorists ran into their horse-drawn buggy. This following a eerily similar collision in June in which three other Amish siblings died. “There have been other accidents this summer in which Amish buggy passengers were injured,” reports USA Today. “In July, six children were injured in a vehicle-buggy crash in Mecosta County, and in August, four members of a family were injured after a buggy-vehicle crash near Hillsdale.”

• In Orange, Tex., 19-year-old Harley Joe Morgan and 20-year-old Rhiannon Boudreaux Morgan got married, climbed into their car to start the honeymoon – and were promptly killed in a collision with a pickup truck. “Justice of the Peace Joy Dubose-Simonton, who performed the wedding, attended their bodies as coroner,” noted USA Today.

• And finally, for those who had hoped that technology would save us from ourselves, the Wall Street Journal reports that safety features in some new automobiles intended to protect pedestrians don’t really work all that well all the time. Especially a night. ““Pedestrian fatalities are really becoming a crisis,” Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering, told the Journal. The newspaper cautions “While such pedestrian-detection systems have the potential to save lives, drivers shouldn’t become overly reliant on them to prevent accidents…”

Stream of consciousness

It appears that the end may finally be near.

The suspense has been killing us.

But the signs are everywhere.

The news is telling.

A plague of Biblical proportions looms.

Storm clouds are gathering.

But we know from bitter experience that there are strange forces out there capable of….um….surprising us.

But dare we hope this time?

For a glimmer of light at the end of this impeachment tunnel?

Because don’t we have other things to worry about?

Than this clown?

Even as we speak, the birds are going missing.

And we don’t know why.

Are the insects next?

It’s getting to the point that the only thing more endangered are moderate Republicans.

Can’t we all just stop for a moment? And maybe take a deep breath.

And ponder whether there more to this invisible line dividing us than walls and shadows?

I only ask because, well, the guy’s a publicity hound and we’re still throwing him bones.

Where are the adults in the room?

Perhaps we are arriving at a generational moment.

Don’t we have bigger, um, fish to fry?

Have we finally trapped this rat?

He broke it. We bought it.

The evidence is clear.

The defense has rested.

You don’t even have to read between the lines.

To arrive at a just verdict.

That’s guilty.

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

He knows it. She knows it. We know it.

You don’t need a weather vane to know which way the wind blows.

Time to exit. Stage right.

Out of sight Out of mind.

The hand that mocked them. That colossal Wreck. Boundless and bare.

Gainesville’s choice

There must be a bureaucratic graveyard somewhere in which are entombed the bones of all the studies, reports and plans that were never implemented.

But make no mistake. Charlie Lane, UF’s CEO, is as serious as a heart attack about breathing life, form and function into the strategic master plan he’s been nurturing for nearly four years.

It’s not good enough that UF has been ranked the 7th best public university in America by U.S. News and World Report. They intend to break into the top five.

And to get there, UF will spend nearly $1.5 billion over the next several years for new buildings and initiatives – many of which will have far reaching impacts both on and off campus.

Like turning the northeast quadrant of campus into an “Academic Walk” zone in which automobiles may not venture. That means parking and driving in and around campus won’t get any easier, even as the 2,000 acre campus sprouts more buildings and more activity.

The good news is that UF’s strategic plan is intended to foster future growth and economic prosperity into Gainesville proper rather than outward toward the suburbs.

“When I-75 came through it changed the dynamics of Gainesville dramatically,” Lane said at a breakfast gathering on Wednesday. “A lot of economic development flowed toward the interstate and continues to flow there.” The master plan, he said, will try to direct that flow inward.

All of which raises a crucial question for city commissioners:

Wither the Great American City?

The phrase has emerged as shorthand to describe the sort of dynamic town-gown partnership necessary to ensure that the changes UF envisions will be beneficial, not detrimental, to its host community. If Gainesville is not successful – at fostering strong healthy neighborhoods, a bustling economy and a climate that encourages collaboration and innovation – then neither will UF succeed.

We haven’t heard much talk about all this of late. Really, not since former City Manager Anthony Lyons was forced to resign because he was making life uncomfortable for city employees.

You can fault Lyons for his people skills, but his commitment to the town-gown partnership matched Lane’s own determination to master plan a better future for UF. Lyon’s single-minded focus on changing the culture of city government likely cost him his job.

I only bring this up because the city commission still hasn’t replaced him. An initial field of 55 applicants has been narrowed to five. But in talking to some commissioners I haven’t detected a lot of enthusiasm for any of the finalists.

I would argue that this city manager hire may be the most crucial Gainesville has ever undertaken. We have had our share of caretaker managers whose longevity has depended on keeping commissioners and city workers happy. But what Gainesville needs now is a change agent. Someone who grasps the importance of this still nascent town-gown partnership to Gainesville’s future. Someone who has both the savvy, and the courage, to keep Gainesville’s own strategic blueprint (yes, there is one) out of the bureaucrat’s graveyard.

The folks in Tigert Hall pretty much ignored City Hall before Charlie Lane convinced them that what happens downtown matters as much as what happens on campus. UF could easily slip back into “splendid isolation” mode if it detects waffling on the city’s part.

The next city manager needs to be strategic, visionary and committed to making the New American City a reality.

Even if that means making people in City Hall a little uncomfortable.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at

Bartram and Palatka

A piece I wrote for the Spring, 2018 edition of FORUM

On a “fine, cool” May morning in 1774, William Bartram navigated his tiny craft up a broad stretch of the St. John’s River and nosed toward the western shore.

“I suddenly saw before me an Indian settlement, or village,” he wrote. “Some of the youth were naked, up to their hips in the water, fishing with rods and lines, whilst others, younger, were diverting themselves in shooting frogs with bows and arrows.”

Four months later, Bartram – artist, explorer, map maker and botanist – would return to the village to partake of the tribe’s watermelon fest.

“We were received and entertained friendlily by the Indians, the chief of the village conducting us to a grand, airy pavilion in the center of the village,” he wrote. “Here being seated or reclining ourselves after smoking tobacco, baskets of the choicest fruits were brought and set before us.”

It was as fine a welcome to Palatka – or what would eventually become Palatka – as a Quaker from far off Philadelphia could hope for.

This gentle stranger who would become known to the Seminoles as Puc-Puggy: Flower Hunter.

Nearly a century and a half later, Sam Carr sits in Palatka’s gleaming new St. John’s River Center and ponders the relationship between America’s first naturalist and Carr’s beloved hometown.

“When you read Bartram’s writings his heart becomes our heart,” said Carr, retired Ford Motor Co. executive, avid fisherman and homespun conservationist. “He was more concerned about how man took care of God’s creations. He was the first to see the relationship between our wetlands, the river, the wildlife, the seasons.

“This guy belongs to Palatka. He’s ours.”

Carr is not so much a Bartram enthusiast as a Bartram evangelist. For the past several years he has lived, breathed and expounded upon Bartram’s writings and explorations – to just about anybody who would listen.

From his home in nearby Satsuma, Carr can see Murphy Island, which Bartram described as “1500 acres more or less of good swamp, and some hammock.” And last year, when Palatka hosted for the first time the national, annual Bartram Trail Conference, Carr took conferees on a journey up river to sulfurous Satsuma Springs to experience that “prodigious large fountain of clear water of loathsome taste.”

“There were people with tears in their eyes to realize it’s really here as Bartram described it,” he said.

His book “Bartram’s Travels” was wildly popular in young America. And partially as a result, “people were coming here to find that this was indeed what he called a creator’s garden. They came to see the springs, the river, the flowering plants and all that creates Palatka.”

The city’s popularity as an early nature tourism destination was such that Palatka once boasted nearly 6,000 hotel rooms. Most of which burned down in a disastrous fire in 1884.

Palatka never fully recovered its luster after that inferno. But it may yet.

Palatka has seen many economic evolutions since then, alternatively fueled by shipping, railroads, citrus, lumber and paper mills. But busts have inevitably followed booms. An article in the Washington Post last year deemed Palatka and its 10,000 residents, a city “desperate for an economy to call its own.”

Which is where William Bartram and his legacy may come in.

Bartram’s travels up and down the American east coast are well recorded. And his Florida explorations took him the length of the St. John’s as well as to points as distant as Alachua County’s Paynes Prairie and the Suwannee River.

But Bartram mapped more sites, 32 of them, in what is now Putnam County than anywhere else on the river. And for the past few years, Carr and other members of Palatka’s ad hoc Bartram Committee – with financial backing from the city, county and the Florida Council on Humanities – have been locating and marking Bartram’s sites with colorful information kiosks. They have also mapped a growing network of greenways (biking) blueways (kayaks) and hiking trails with the intention of once again establishing Palatka as the ecotourism center of Florida. Maps that will lead modern explorers from Palatka to Welaka, Port Royal, Georgetown and points in between.

Where Bartram once set foot, others can now follow.

“Putnam county’s assets are amazing,” Carr says. “We have a huge amount of public lands and the river. We can be the bike trails hub, the river hub.”

Carr and others hope that Bartram’s legacy will become integral to this river city’s very sense of place.

In addition to hosting last year’s Bartram Trail Conference – drawing scholars and enthusiasts from as far away as London – Palatka now sponsors an annual “Bartram River Frolic,” which offers visitors historical reenactments, riverboat tours, food and drink and concerts and art displays. At the River Center visitors and student groups learn not only about Bartram’s travels, but are also schooled on how to exercise environmental stewardship over the land and the water around them.

“This is the headquarters for Bartram recreational trail,” Carr says. “Go through the Bartram exhibit, get the brochure, the maps. Figure out whether to hike, bike boat or drive. It takes about four days to see everything and it’s rather unique.”

Another Bartram Committee member, Linda Crider, recently converted her two-story historic home near the river into the Bartram Inn. “What I really wanted to do was promote adventure tours and wrap it around our Bartram efforts,” she said. “On the second floor I have on the walls all the kiosks panels that explain who he is. Every room has a brochure. I have bicycles available to do Palatka’s historic homes and murals tour.

“The Bartram Inn is probably Palatka’s first tangible business-commercial connection,” she said, “but I think it’s going grow. Who knows where it might lead?”

Puc-Puggy surely knew. He who sailed up this great river to discover a “boundless apartment of the Sovereign Creator…inexpressibly beautiful and pleasing” yet “equally free to the inspection and enjoyment of all his creatures.”

For more information

William Bartram in Putnam County

St. John’s River Center

The Bartram Trail Conference