Winter’s still coming

Yes, we were all disappointed in the series finale of Game Of Thrones. Is that all there is?

No, actually, a sequel is in the works.

And it will be ugly. Republics will fall. The center will not hold. The new order will march in lock step. Tweets will go nuclear.

On the plus side the flag may still wave. We may still retain the illusion that life as we know goes on. We will continue to consume and twitter.

But all that will be an illusion. Winter really is coming. And the only thing that can hold it back is our collective will. And only if we care about our children and their children and our species and life as we know it.

The Republic is rotting before our very eyes. From the inside out.

We have just one year to stop the rot.

And if we don’t then we deserve what’s coming.

The winter of our discontent is near. Do we care?

Do we?

Walking on rainbows

Now we’re walking on rainbows in downtown Gainesville. How cool is that?

Listen, Gainesville is no stranger to public art. We’ve got the French Fries From Hell and that evil Jay Leno lookalike moon with the glowing eyes.

And we’re busting out all over in wall murals. Tom Petty, dragons and apes, Me Too and true romance…our walls have a thousand stories to tell.

But, really, why stop there when we’ve got perfectly good public streets for canvas?

Gainesville launched its Art In The Crosswalks initiative last month with three rainbow crosswalks on 1st Street – next to city hall, at Bo Diddley Plaza and in front of the Hipp. The rainbows celebrate National Coming Out day. And what a colorful way to display our collective pride in being a welcoming city.

And those rainbows will do double duty. For art’s sake, and for safety’s sake.

Anything we can do to get cars to slow down and pay attention is to the public good. And the rainbows are certainly attention-getters.

We’re not alone in that regard. All over the country, and around the world, cities are laying down imaginative street designs to celebrate their creativity – and to get cars to slow down. Crosswalks are being dressed up as zippers, keyboards, kaleidoscopes, optical illusions and, yes, rainbows.

“Bright colors and unique designs in crosswalks can create a sense of community while keeping pedestrians safer and drawing drivers’ attention to them” argues the online news service Smart Cities Drive. “Brightly colored crosswalks are popping up in a variety of designs from geometric patterns to symbols that represent a city’s history and culture…”

Hey, who doesn’t love creative crosswalks?

Well, the Federal Highway Administration for one. Seems the traffic “professionals” have been trying to get cities to desist from being artsy at street level. FHA prefers the standard, white, by-the-book crosswalks that have been so successful in protecting pedestrians.

Of which 6,227 were killed last year alone. And that number keeps rising.

According to the feds “crosswalk art is actually contrary to the goal of increased safety and most likely could be a contributing factor to a false sense of security for both motorists and pedestrians” reports the New York Times.

To which objections some cities are responding with a polite but firm “bunk.”

“With the system of federalism in the United States, the federal government does not have jurisdiction over everything,” states a written response Ames City, Iowa, which has decided to keep its rainbows despite a “sharply worded” federal request to remove them.

My personal favorite rebuke comes from Doug Turnbull, aka the “Gridlock Guy” an Atlanta traffic watcher. “A pencil-pushing bureaucrat a thousand miles away shouldn’t affect policy of this kind on this level,” he wrote recently in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Rainbow crosswalks are a good thing…forbidding them for being unsafe is laughable — and probably makes people want to jaywalk even more.”

So here’s to walking on rainbows in Gainesville. And perhaps that’s only the beginning.

Assistant City Manager Dan Hoffman says to look for one or two additional creative crosswalk projects in the near term. And more later on if the city commission decides to keep funding Art In Crosswalks.

“One of the reasons we have to look at these kind of solutions is because the federal government has for years failed” to protect the walking public, Hoffman said.

So how about something really creative – and eye opening – at University and Main? Or University and 13th?

All the better to see us by.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.

Dirt cheap water

The thing about bumper stickers is that you can only put so much information on a narrow strip of adhesive plastic.

Say no to Nestle water grab. This from the conservation group Our Santa Fe River.

Nestle’s bid to take a million gallons of water a day from Ginnie Springs, on the Santa Fe River, and pour it into little plastic bottles is the literal definition of highway robbery. Aside from permit fees the company gets the water pretty much for free.

It’s almost like picking money up off the ground. Or in this case, siphoning it from deep below the aquifer.

If that water wasn’t diverted into plastic it would be nourishing the Santa Fe River.

“As water levels of the Floridan aquifer continue to drop, and the flow of the Santa Fe River continues to decline, Nestle’s false claims of sustainability fall flat.  The river is sick and in recovery,” notes OSFR on its web site.

And I’m with them so far as that goes. But here’s the thing.

We can say no to Nestle, although out politicians and regulators don’t like to say no to any corporation. But let’s say we do.

The fruit of our victory will amount to, well, a drop in the ocean.

Because Nestle is just a symptom of a much larger problem. And it is simply this.

We treat our water like dirt because our water is dirt cheap.

As the New York Times notes, most water use “regulations do nothing to address the main driver of the nation’s wanton consumption of water: its price.

Why don’t farmers use drip irrigation? Because cheap water. Notes the Times article. “about half the 60 million acres of irrigated land in the United States use flood irrigation, just flooding the fields with water, which is about as wasteful a method as there is.” But it’s cheap.

But wait a minute. If we raise the cost of water, won’t the poor be deprived of this life giving fluid?

No, but our lawns might. It is an act of national insanity that nearly 60 percent America’s household water supply ends up being poured on the ground – back into the dirt – to keep our lawns green.

“The pricing is wrong,” reports Atlantic. “We Americans are spoiled, we wake up in the morning and we turn on the tap and out comes as much water as we want for less than we pay for cellphone service or for cable television. So we take water for granted.” This from Robert Glennon, a water expert at Arizona University and author of Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It. “We all pay a ridiculous amount of money for the water.”

The thing is, Nestle’s get rich for nothing scheme only works if they are getting the water for, well, nothing.

If they had to pay the people of Florida, say, 30 cents for every $1 bottle of water they sell – if it were a source seller’s market – Nestle likely wouldn’t do it. Problem solved.

But if it did pay, it would create a source of revenue that could be used for water preservation and conservation.

But here’s the thing. Nestle is not an aberration. If Nestle goes away Florida will continue to vastly over-pump. To feed urban growth, to serve Big Ag’s needs. Our water is just too cheap to allow it to sit unused in an aquifer.

Do you want to stop farmers from doing this?

Right price water and they will do this.

This is the price we all pay for dirt cheap water in America.

And this.

By all means, let’s keep the bare liquid necessities affordible.

“Since drinking water is a human right, experts all agree that the base amount a person needs to survive, about 15 gallons a day, should be subsidized,” notes Atlantic.

But beyond that, let’s make our water too expensive, too precious, to treat like dirt.

“It’s the issue of how to price water for swimming pools, lawns, and agriculture that’s tricky and politically thorny,” Atlantic adds.

“From an economist’s standpoint, modern urban water shortages are almost always self-inflicted wounds” Richard Carson, economics professor University of California at San Diego.

We treat our water like dirt because our water is cheaper than dirt.

We really ought to start treating water it like it is coming out of the aquifer already bottled.

The price we pay

It’s almost as though our cars are out to kill us.

Not to be paranoid or anything.

But it is a fact that while fewer people who encase themselves inside rolling steel cocoons are getting killed on the road, more people who do not enjoy such armored protection are perishing.

Which raises a public safety question.

Shouldn’t there at the very least be a bag limit on cyclists and pedestrians?

Why this is happening? There are clues.

Perhaps it’s because we lust for ever bigger, ever faster, ever more deadly cars.

But let’s not jump to conclusions.

And the irony is that every time we try to slow cars down in the interest of saving the the lives of cyclists, pedestrians, children and other living things, the backlash ramps up: We are waging a “war on cars.”

Pity the hapless victims of traffic calming. For they must periodically slow and even stop.

Lest they suffer the wrath of Big Brother. The Deep State.

Crosswalk art is beginning to be a thing. To liven the urban environment and hopefully to catch the eye of distracted, heavy footed drivers.

But traffic engineers say crosswalk art has the “potential to compromise pedestrian and motorist safety.” Too confusing.

Nothing confusing about this though.

But there is no confusion here. The cause and effect is crystal clear.

As a society we have decided that 36,560 deaths a year are simply the price we willing to pay to preserve our freedom of the road.

It is the price we pay for autoAmerican anarchy.


Gainesville rocks

I originally wrote this piece last yer for FORUM magazine. But with Tom Petty Weekend in full swing I thought it worth rerunning to remind folks about one of Gainesville’s coolest claims to fame. This town rocks!

On a cooling autumn weekend, while the Gators had a bye, Gainesville threw a huge party for its favorite son.

A city park where the Tom Petty played as a boy was renamed in his honor. Friends, family, fellow musicians and fans – lots of fans – showed up for two days of live music at Depot Park. And more of the same at nearby Heartwood Soundstage, a state-of-the-art concert venue and longtime studio where Petty recorded some of his earlier works.

This for Gainesville’s second Petty tribute since the rock star’s death in October, 2017.

“It was pretty amazing,” said Bob McPeek, Heartwood co-owner who has been part of Gainesville’s music scene for 45 years. “We had music inside and music outside. We had people from as far away as Hong Kong, Scotland and Canada.”

Jessica Hurov, tourism director for Visit Gainesville, said the national coverage of the Tom Petty Festival amounted to $1.7 million worth of promotional advertising for the city.

“That’s not a bad return on investment” for the $20,000 her bureau spent as a Petty Festival sponsor.

Not bad indeed. Still, the activity generated by Gainesville’s tribute to its own rock legend was relatively constrained compared to the fuselage of screaming guitars that would jolt the town on the very next weekend.

For the 17th annual Fest.

Three hundred bands. Thousands of punk rock enthusiasts from around the world.

For three days Fest fanatics strolled through the streets of downtown Gainesville. Stopping at Looseys and Rockys Piano Bar, at Durty Nelly’s and the Hardback. Moving from Boca Fiesta to the Palamino to Depot Park to Bo Diddley Plaza (named for another famous, albeit adopted son).

To listen to Lagwagon, The Get Up Kids, Cursive, The Menzingers, Audio Karate and Sarchasm – to name a just a few of the scores of Fest punker bands.

Eating at local restaurants. Filling up hotel rooms.

As it turns out, Gainesville is not all about the football.

“We have a music story to tell,” Hurov said. “We have a huge market opportunity to grow band tourism with signature events that we can grow year after year.”

This, after all, is the college town whose music legacy has spawned at least two books: Marty Jourard’s “Music Everywhere: The Rock And Roll Roots Of A Southern Town,” and Matt Walker’s “Gainesville Punk.”

A town that nurtured no fewer than nine Rock And Roll Hall of Fame inductees: Mike Campbell, Stan Lynch, Benmont Tench, Ron Blair, Stephen Stills, Don Felder, Bernie Leadon…and of course Tom Petty and Bo Diddley.

Minnie Ripperton lived here. Petty’s Heartbreakers, the Dixie Desperados, Sister Hazel, Less Than Jake and countless other bands had their genesis here.

“We used to joke that there must be something in the water,” Mike Boulware, a longtime Gainesville musician and one of the organizers of a campaign to purchase the old Masonic Temple on Main Street and convert it into a Gainesville music museum.

“It will not be just a rock museum,” Jeff Goldstein, a former Gainesville-area concert promoter who launched the campaign. “It will include every type of music that has been part of Gainesville’s history…opera, country and western, rock.”

If that effort is successful, the museum would be within walking distance of the just-recently restored Cotton Club, the “Chit’lin Circuit” era night spot where B.B. King, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Brook Benton, James Brown and countless other black entertainers played back in the days when white venues were mostly off limits.

As a lively city of the arts, Gainesville has murals – its 352 Walls project is bringing in street artists in from all over the world. It has a world class art museum in UF’s Harn. The newly opened Cade showcases the art of science. Its reservoir of artistic talent is wide and deep.

But what distinguishes Gainesville’s arts scene from other Florida cities is a music legacy that promises to be increasingly vital to the local economy as signature events like the Petty Festival and Fest attract more and more visitors.

“For a long time this was kind of the Bermuda Triangle of band promotion,” Boulware said. “That’s changed. Now Gainesville is becoming a destination.”

And it’s not just attracting visitors. Gainesville’s music scene is also key to attracting and retaining the city’s youthful high-tech workforce.

“Music has become really important to the creative economy,” said Richard Florida, author of the “Rise Of The Creative Class.”

Florida ranks cities according to their ability to attract creative workers – artists, scientists, technicians, start-up entrepreneurs and so on. Gainesville ranks 13th in the nation by Florida’s reckoning.

“Without question Gainesville is Florida’s creative economy leader, far out in front of the major Florida metros,” Florida said. “It is playing in the same league as Boston, San Francisco and D.C. And music has been under-appreciated for its importance to the creative economy.”

But heck, Tom Petty could have told him that.

“Homegrown in the headphone,” Petty’s song “Gainesville” begins.

“Gainesville was a big town.”

It’s official (Florida)

If you know anything about Florida you know that we shamelessly borrow from elsewhere to sort of fill in our blanks.

Snowbirds, iguanas and Burmese pythons to name just a few of our, um, exotics.

So it should surprise no one that Florida’s official state pie isn’t a product of Florida produce at all.

But can the celebrated Key Lime Pie really be Florida if it comes with “ping-pong ball sized limes from Mexico?”

This conundrum posed by Mark Lane, who has forgotten more about all things Florida than most of us will ever know.

Turns out necessity is the mother of pies as well as invention. Our indigenous key limes having been long blown away by hurricanes.

But never mind that. What’s important is that the Key Lime Pie (aka “the pink flamingos of Florida food”) stomped both pecan and sweet potato to sit atop Florida’s confectionary food pyramid.

I didn’t know all this until I read Lane’s new book. “Roaring Reptiles, Bountiful Citrus And Neon Pies: An unofficial guide to Florida’s official symbols.” (University Press of Florida).

Mark is an old pal. A long time columnist for the Daytona Beach News Journal he looks – and rather writes – like a Mark Twain Florida clone. That’s a complement, people.

But seriously, does the world need a book about our state song (“Old Folks At Home”), bird (mocking), play (“The Cross And The Sword”), tree (Sabal Palm) soil (Myakka fine sand) and whatnot?

And, really, don’t our elected legislators have better things to do than designate Glenn Glitter our official litter control mascot?

Well, maybe yes, maybe no. But state-blessed symbolism isn’t just symbolic of idle political hands doing the marketers’ work. “These totems and mascots are our attempts to pin down who we are, to make visible previously vague feelings of common identity,” Lane posits.

Plus, there are some really quirky stories attached to the branding of all things officially Florida.

After all, who would even remember State Sen. Joseph Johnson, of Brooksville, if his death in 2009 hadn’t reminded us that he was “the father of the Sunshine State license plate”?

And remember when a disgruntled House Democrat tried to replace the alligator with party-switching turncoat Jim Smith as official state reptile?

Oh, and while Destin Republican Charlie Clary failed to make the Eocene Heart Urchin Florida’s official fossil, he did manage to get a state law named after his beloved dog Dixie Cup.

But wait, what was so objectionable about fossilized urchin carcasses anyway? Turns out that to some nervous pols, they evoked an uncomfortable association with climate change, sea level rise,”mass extinction, evolution and worse.”

And there’s this to say about Lane’s book. It’s not all key lime froth and trivia. A hard-bitten newsman, he isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions.

Like: “If the manatee is truly our state spirit-animal, why is everybody okay with letting boats run over them all the time?”

And does Florida need an official play “about a state-sponsored military expedition that brought European religious wars to the New World”?

And “How did this happen?” This in reference to a state song that contains the lyrics “Oh darkies how my heart grows weary.”

And why are Confederate Memorial Day and the birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis still official Florida holidays? (Think “white nationalists with bad haircuts.”)

Good questions all, Mark.

Listen, if Florida ever needs an official Mark Twain clone, I’ve got just the guy.

Opening doors

Jackson Sasser didn’t need to bone up on the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui to understand the importance of putting the best face on a new building.

By the time it’s finished, Santa Fe College’s Downtown Blount Center will cost as much as $38 million. And it will be a transformational project in the truest sense of the word.

Located midway between downtown and the University of Florida – at University and 6th Street – the Blount Center will fill in educational, vocational, and opportunity gaps that Gainesville sorely needs and that UF, for all of its resources, cannot address.

Feng Shui emphasizes the “invisible energy forces” in architecture necessary to build harmony. And at its ground breaking ceremony, Sasser pointed out that the Blount Center, for all its imposing grandeur, will not front on University Avenue as might be expected.

Instead “it will open onto our 5th Avenue and Pleasant Street neighborhoods,” he said. “Our partners.”

The building’s positioning is not happenstance. It comes by way of reinforcement, and reassurance.

Santa Fe Community College opened its downtown center, in the old Atlantic Coast Railroad Station on 6th Street, in 1990. The college soon began to acquire property and expand with a rapidity that unsettled some long time businesses and residents.

“When we got here we were often at odds with our neighbors,” Sasser acknowledged. Over the years, however, “they have become our best” supporters.

He wouldn’t come right out and say it, but Sasser himself deserves much of the credit for the college’s Feng Shui-like transformation on 6th Street.

He was not president when the train station was converted into classrooms. But Sasser is the chief architect of Santa Fe’s East Gainesville Project – a concerted effort to reach into Gainesville’s historic African-American neighborhoods and provide whatever support, reinforcement and services the college could render to residents who have been too long neglected.

Now on the edge of retirement, Sasser argues that maintaining and reinforcing the college’s east Gainesville outreach is more important than ever.

“The inequities in our area are immoral,” he told me last fall, at the beginning of the new academic year. He cited the “Understanding Racial Equality in Alachua County” study finding that 45 percent of African American children in this county still live in poverty, and that black unemployment is double that of whites.

“We need to keep our North Star very clear in front of us, this idea that everyone can learn. We need to do everything Santa Fe College, with its resources, can do to address what I think is an immoral position…”

When it is completed the Blount Center – with its emphasis on business programs and expanded incubator operations” – will clearly boost downtown’s economic and redevelopment prospects. “We are part of the downtown renaissance,” Sasser says.

But Sasser insists that the center’s core mission – its reason for being – will be to expand the college’s East Gainesville outreach. It will be a “full service” campus, offering education, vocational training, counseling, financial aid, career placement and more, to those who most need it.

It is all about “opening doors,” he said.

Sasser will shortly be stepping down, making way for Paul Broadie, Santa Fe’s fifth president – and it’s first African-American leader.

Broadie has promised to focus on “workforce development and to address the needs of the underserved.” To close “equity gaps” and provide “opportunities so everyone is successful.”

In that regard he will find that Sasser has laid down a proper foundation upon which to build.

In true Feng Shui fashion.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.)