“Florida’s Choices,” Al Burt Addresses the Governor’s Commission on the Future of Florida, Tallahassee, Jan. 4, 1989

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“Florida’s Choices,” Al Burt Addresses the Governor’s Commission on the Future of Florida, Tallahassee, Jan. 4, 1989
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Florida's Future: Challenges and Hopes
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Al Burt Papers


University of Florida Libraries


Florida's Roving Reporter and Miami Herald Columnist


"Florida's Choices"

Al Burt Addresses the Governor's Commission on the Future of Florida, the Mansion, Tallahassee,
Florida, January 4, 1989

I am disappointed that you convened the Governor's Commission on the Future of Florida, in
these early days of the New Year, at a luncheon that did not feature hog jowls and black-eyed peas and
turnip greens. Any good Florida Cracker could have told you that, at this time of the year, that menu
gives you a leg up on the future. The hog meat and peas bring you good luck, and the greens guarantee
you lots of dollars. And both of those are essential to Florida's future.

However, I don't worry about the future as much as I did before we heard Gustav Speth. That
was powerful stuff. With his words now, as T.S. Eliot wrote, we have seen the Eternal Footman hold our
coats and heard him snicker.

My assigned task is to assume a perch on the planet Mars, and look down at Florida, first telling
you what I see, and then talking some about the possibilities for the future. I like these easy jobs.
They've given me 30 minutes to wrap it all up. That's Republican optimism for you.

I have put on my critical glasses for this job because I assume you did not come here expecting
to be tossed a bunch of marshmallows.

The most important thing to remember about prophecy is that there are no prophets. The
future comes out of the present, not out of tea leaves or hog entrails or crystal balls.










The future can surprise us, but usually it creeps upon us like a new habit. It doesn't arrive like ET
on a spaceship; we build it ourselves, every day. Most of the time, the future comes step by step, like a
pedestrian. And if we pay close attention, sometimes we can see it coming. For that reason, I am going
to dwell a bit on Florida as it is now, on what clues there might be out there now that might warn us
about what to expect, or even avoid.

From where I sit on Mars, looking down at Florida, I see a rather strange place with a lot of odd,
moving parts. It is hard to tell whether this is one place or about seven places stuck together under one
label. It is not an easy place to understand.

My first impression is that I see a lot of carpetbaggers from New York and New Jersey and Ohio
running around the state, and a lot of Republicans holding statewide offices. If I didn't know better, I'd
say my telescope had a time machine on it and that we had just lost the Civil War and these were the
Reconstruction days. But that would be wrong. This war is not a matter of history yet. Battles are still
being fought and sometimes won against entrenched, outdated ideas. For Florida, these are the
struggles of the New Reconstruction Days, not the old ones.

In history, the job for pioneers was to conquer natural Florida to tame it, to make it habitable.
That was done, perhaps even overdone. Now our job is the opposite: to preserve the spirit of this state,
nourishing its natural and wild side; to save those soothing natural vistas and green, growing things; to
make the necessities and conveniences of a large population compatible with the true nature of this
special place called Florida.

I see a state that started as paradise and after four centuries of diligent efforts at improvement,
it is in trouble. It is under siege by population growth that has overwhelmed the state's attempts to
accommodate it. There are too many new needs and new appetites. They came too fast, and the
answers to them came too slow. There are never enough roads and schools and prisons and sewers,
never enough parks, teachers, and policemen. You look at Florida and you see that not only Hell is
paved over with good intentions; Paradise is, too.

It is a place that has been unevenly developed. The pace of history has been erratic coming
with a great rush in some places, dawdling along in others. On one hand, the state has St. Augustine,
more than 400 years old. On the other hand, there are cities whose developed histories barely span
more than one lifetime.

Let me review some of the details of this place. I see a peninsula whose temperatures in winter
mark the state like a thermometer in reverse order. The high numbers are at the bottom, and along
the coasts, combining beauty and comfort, so that's where the visitors and the migrants go first. The
state inhales and exhales people in great bunches, and grows not from births but from migration. The
newcomers are mostly refugees from the cold, troubled Rust Belts of the Midwest and Northeast plus
an opposite stream from the warm but even more troubled Caribbean. They provide Florida with a
largely uprooted, opportunity-sensitive population that includes everything from Crackers to
international sophisticates. The newness of so many of them in a strange land encourages in everyone
the search-and-consume attitudes of nomads. This is a place that has a wonderfully diverse, talented,










interesting mix of people. This is a place that has little understanding of itself, and does not worry about
it.

One long, linear city covers most of the east coast and another covers about half the west coast.
A third stretches out across an interstate that joins the first two. They form a great 'H' like a concrete
anthill that spreads across Florida. Nobody knows what the 'H' stands for. Maybe for hybrid, which
would fit, or for honeypot, which is what this attractive state is, or perhaps hedonic. Elsewhere, away
from the 'H', there are smaller urban islands with their own ambitions.

Note that the state not only has a climate that stretches from subtropical to temperate, but also
a geography that ranges from sea-level to hilly, from desert-like to swampy. Its soil varies from white
sand to black muck to red clay. Each of those variations represents the preferences of certain living
things people and plants and animals and they cluster to those differences.

From my perch on Mars, it becomes increasingly clear that this is a hard state for anyone to
know, either visitor or lifelong resident. It is a place understood only in the same way that we
understand next week's weather, or tomorrow's arriving stranger. We have some idea, but not all the
specifics.

This is a state that relies on uncertainties. The weather is the major commodity and those
arriving strangers the best crop. It thrives on mobility and change, the ingredients of impermanence,
and out of those it tries to mold a sense of the permanent.

The state lives by a series of rhythms, almost tidal in their broad patterns. The lives of its people
fall within those. The rains, the birds, the fish, the people come and go like the tides in that varied
climate and across that varied geography.

I see a Snowbird in South Florida. It is winter. He is shaking his head and talking to an old
Cracker. "Lots of weird people down here," the Snowbird says. "Yeah," the Cracker replied, "but there
ain't near as many in August as there is in January."

I see a state forever poised on some new turn of an old cycle, some new tide or migration that
repeats history, and whose threats seem fresh only because they arrive to a new day and to new
conditions. People sit by their pools and worry about drought, or they light up their gas grills and worry
about fire exploding in nearby fields where once there was a marsh. During cold snaps, they wrap up in
heavy coats and walk barefoot on the beaches.

Consider some more of the peculiarities. They are important. They explain things. There are
two seasons: cool-and-dry and wet-and-hot. They contradict each other, and they are careless about
their schedules. Year to year, Floridians never are allowed a constancy that permits them to perfect
either their rain prayers or their sun worship. Spring and fall are brief transitions measured by days
and sometimes weeks in the north, probably by hours in the south.










Life in Florida rides a pendulum from the sublime passing through the tacky to the dangerous,
and back, again and again. Life is like building sand castles waiting for the winds and the tides and the
sunbathers to do their work and then building more sand castles.

In Florida, life's truths and its tricks march in the same parade. You have to guess, and then
guess again, because they change all the while. Successful Floridians have to be flexible enough to bend,
but principled enough to hold on.

Everybody tries to define Florida, but few of the definitions stick .... It has been called Lotus
Land, a haven for hedonists, and Noah's Ark which reminds me that Mark Twain once remarked that
sometimes it seems a shame that Noah didn't miss the boat. What T.D. Allman said in his book about
Miami could be said about all of Florida it is built on the bedrock of illusion. It has unique
combinations of good and bad, gorgeousness and ugliness, depravity and chic, utter weariness with life
and great enthusiasm for it, escapism and civic responsibility.

From this wonderful seat on Mars, I see the most turbulent state in the United States.
Proportionally, there is more movement in and out and around here than in any other state, even
California. This brings great opportunities, and great risks. Think of the human impact, the lives
uprooted, the friends lost, the tearing away of ties to family as well as to place. Think of how it affects
stability, the impact it has on continuity in politics, the loss in terms of heritage and self-identity.

There is a sense of unease in this state a kind of full-moon-madness running loose and the
statistics reflect it. Mixed in with its space shots and world-class tourism, Florida has high
rates of suicide, divorce, crime, accidents, and death. As Raymond Chandler said in one of
his detective novels about another scene, in this atmosphere meek wives are encouraged to
feel their butcher knives and study their husbands' necks.

I see a trend almost everywhere of declining resources and space, and rising demands for
them. Pollution and more efficient harvesting whittle down our fisheries. Loss of natural areas
threatens wildlife. As the population grows, there is less of Florida for each Floridian. What is left
requires greater care and greater understanding. Yet while the need is greater, the state's
turbulence creates a vital loss of knowledge.

Exile has been called that unbearable rift that occurs between a human
being and a native place. Wonder, isthat what is happening to Florida as it is separated
from its history and its natural identity? Are Floridians becoming involuntary exiles?

I wonder about something else as well. Why does Florida not do more to educate its ever-
freshening population about its peculiarities and its frailties?

I see a state full of all these separate dreams, one beset by uncertain, changing standards, one
that has little appreciation of community. The lack of common ties and identity, the failure to recognize
and focus on mutual interests, discourages common solutions. Cynicism grows. Home becomes no
more than an investment to be cashed in when the price is right. Loyalty becomes a chip in the










marketplace. The future becomes this afternoon, or maybe tomorrow. No wonder the young are so
strange.

Well, that is what I see when I put on my critical glasses and look down on Florida from Mars. It
reminds me that someone once said that there is less than one percent genetic difference between apes
and humans.

So now we come to the future. In that critical look at Florida Present, we already have seen
some strong hints of it. We know that there will be change, but what we don't know is whether that
change will be creative, or whether it will be destructive. We don't know whether the trends we have
seen will accelerate, or whether they can be turned in new directions.

Florida faces choices. Sometimes there seems to be too many choices. As a wise old Cracker
said, if you don't know where you're going, any road will do. Sometimes there seems to be too few.
That great philosopher, Woody Allen, put that so well in his speech to some graduates, "More than any
other time in history," Allen said, "mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter
hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

The poet Robert Frost expressed Florida's dilemma in more appropriate terms, "Two roads
diverged in a yellow wood, and I could not travel both." We can't, either. We have to make choices.

Let's take some guesses at where these two diverging roads might lead us. For the sake of
clarity, we will oversimplify a bit, and say that one road is bad, and one is good. My newspaper instincts
prompt me to examine the bad possibilities first. And boy, is it ever bad...

It began when the politicians became even more willing, and even less embarrassed,
to volunteer for ethical emasculation in return for being elected to office. Our leaders became open and
ardentfollowers of the public whim-as indicated by polls and protests. To use an old story,
they put it this way: "I've got to follow my people," they said. "I'm their leader." Some of our younger
citizens, who grew up with a view of the future as being this afternoon or perhaps tomorrow morning,
became our leaders.

As growth management regulations were chipped away in fear that they might interfere with
new developments and new businesses, and in the hope that the bonanza in taxes all this would
supposedly generate those two linear cities, and the crossbar connecting them, began swelling and
filling. Rather than an 'H', they began to form a giant egg, which prophetically suggested that some
huge chickens had come home to roost.

Public services began to break down, because the laws that forced their provision in advance of
development had been repealed. Since half-measures didn't really work anyway, in practice the laws
and regulations still on the books were ignored at the convenience of the influential. Survival went to
whatever or whoever fit. Taxes went up and up to meet perpetual emergencies, but routine services
never seemed to improve.










Some people began moving away from the coasts because the pollution and the congestion
were so bad. Inland, lakes and rivers lost their appeal. People didn't like the smell and the sight of what
was washing up on the shores. They were frightened by the health hazards. So they moved to wherever
there was space left, obliterating the farmlands and timber lands. Rather than urban islands in a natural
setting, we began to have natural islands within an urban sea. They began as parks, and then slowly took
on the dimensions of outdoor museums, of quaint curiosities. Highways spread across the state, like so
many strings on Gulliver, and yet the traffic still moved like molasses. Planners said we should double-
deck the highways, and politicians said not to worry, that we could do it with tolls and without adding
new taxes. An oldtimer said it reminded him of the days when the generals said that all that was needed
to win the war in Vietnam was more soldiers.

As people of substance moved out, huge ghettos grew in the once-linear cities. As the natural
side of Florida disappeared, the state became physically ugly. Costs went up, and comforts went down.
Florida became a place of classes -the very wealthy, and the very poor who waited upon them and
serviced them. The scene was almost feudal great walled, luxurious places for the wealthy, and peasant
shacks that surrounded them on the outside. The rich could afford the old comforts, and the cost of
security to protect them. Moderately well-off folk went somewhere else, someplace less ugly and
uncomfortable and less expensive.

There no longer was any sense of the real place Florida. It was either covered up or used up.
Florida became a state where people lived in fear fear of the water they drank, fear of the air they
breathed and the food they ate.

One of the most expensive items of living, especially in South Florida became water. It came
from expensive treatment plants that purified the polluted water drawn from the aquifer, and that also
removed the salt that had intruded. Some used desalinization plants to draw water directly from the
ocean. Some got their drinking water by catching rain in cisterns. Lake Okeechobee stank with pollution
and the Indian River was little better. The Everglades virtually dried up as development tightened
around it. Wildlife all but vanished. It had starved in the sparse habitat left or had been hunted down
and killed for food or sport. Little was left except the scavengers who could adapt to the new Florida -
the raccoons, the coyotes, feral cats and dogs, rats and squirrels. In the public waters, there were few
fish, no oysters, and no shrimp.

That's the future as I see it down the road. It suggests something other than the automatic
involvement toward perfection that Darwin envisioned. It suggests instead an opposite process, in which
natural riches are wasted for poorly understood goals, causing an erosion of the human spirit.

That future rests upon the powerful, civilized tendency to accept, not to challenge but to go along,
and get along. Loren Eiseley expressed the danger of that so well, "If I were to attempt to spell out the single
lethal factor at the root of declining or lost civilizations," Eiseley said, "I would be forced to say adaptability.
[Man] has the capacity to veer with every wind or, stubbornly, to insert himself into some fantastically
elaborated and irrational social institution only to perish with it."










Fortunately, that is not the future we anticipate not the one that reasonable, even if imperfect,
Floridians expect to emerge from these uncertain days. There is another choice.

As Robert Frost put it, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I I took the one less travelled by, and
that has made all the difference."

The difference for Florida began, I think, with three pretty simple points, three simple things that
took us as an incredibly long time to absorb and to accept and to put into practice.

First, there was the critical matter of understanding. As state leaders realized the crippling loss of
memory and identity and knowledge taking place, a concerted educational effort to achieve better mass
understanding of Florida was made, turning into a public information program on the mysteries of natural
Florida. In their own interest, the business community and the media joined in and community
volunteers got into it. It took a long while, but gradually the thing caught on.

With understanding there came awareness that everything we love about Florida is at risk.
There came a public sense that natural Florida needed to be defended. There built a demand among
citizens that others respect Florida as we do. There built the knowledge that sandhills and swamps and
estuaries have intricate, fragile beauty and that each has its own importance, and that study of them
reveals a great drama, a struggle for life that mirrors and affects our own.

Fascination with thousands of small mysteries concerning Florida became fashionable. There
came realization that the great migrating tides of Florida are as wonderful to read as a classic book that
you never can finish, one that goes on and on, adding chapter after chapter. There came understanding
that there is a balance among all these tidal forces that permits us to have the extraordinary advantages
of Florida, but only if we pay the cost, only if we do our part.

Second, there came the acceptance of the Peter Principle of growth in Florida that an
attractive place grows until it becomes ugly, and then it stops growing. We began to realize that the
things that kept growth from making a place ugly were laws, and regulations, and public behavioral
customs that nourished the amenities of life.

We began to realize, finally, that well administered growth management measures did not hurt
the economy instead, they preserved and enlarged it. They gave it a renewable future. We began to
see that the other approach, to pay for growth by cannibalizing Florida, was like eating the seed corn. At
long last we began to understand.

Those first two points led inevitably to the third to the conviction that the potential for a
quality life in Florida requires three things: a quality environment, a quality economy, and a public sense
of shared responsibility. We need all three. None of them stands alone, not for long.

Once we in Florida grasped those three points, everything else became possible. It did not mean
that there was no struggle, but it meant that we had a chance to win the struggle, or at least to improve
the conditions of our loss. Public understanding provided the politicians an enlightened, focused public
will to respond to. With the alternatives made obvious, with the risks clear and present before us, the










public began to take a different view of tax proposals. The politicians had a hard time believing it, but
moves to raise taxes in order to relieve certain specific problems became popular. The public even
demanded them. The politicians again led by following.

Florida began to take the good road when it fully realized how we in this state are exchanging old
customs and traditions and places of unspoiled wild beauty for new conveniences, enlarged visions, and
greater diversity. Florida realized that it needed to find the right balance for this exchange. We began to
improve when we cameto understand that we live in a state that is still defining itself, and we
decided to hurry that definition along by shaping our customs and laws to reflect a vision of Florida as a
place of quality. Despite the pressures of this computer age to reduce every quality in life to a number,
we learned to listen to warnings from people like Wendell Berry who said that any statistical
justification of ugliness is a revelation of stupidity.

With that framework of understanding, all the disparate pieces of Florida began to
resemble parts of a functioning whole like a beautiful mosaic, or maybe a patchwork quilt. There was a
shared sense of jeopardy and opportunity.


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PAGE 1

Miami Herald Columnist Al Burt Addresses the s Commission on the Future of Florida, the Mansion, Tallahassee, Florida, January 4, 1989 I am disappointed s Commission on the Future of Florida, in these early days of the New Year, at a luncheon that did not feature hog jowls and black eyed peas and turnip greens. Any good Florida Cracker could have told you that, at this time of the year, that menu gives you a leg up on the future. The hog meat and peas bring you good luck, and the greens guarantee you lots of dollars. And both of s future. However, I don't worry about the future a s much as I did before we heard Gustav Speth. That was powerful stuff. With his words now, as T.S. Eliot wrote, we have seen the Eternal Footman hold our coats and heard him snicker. My assigned task is to assume a perch on the planet Mars, and look do wn at Florida, first telling you what I see, and then talking some about the possibilities for the future. I like these easy jobs. ve given me 30 minutes to wrap it all up. s Republican optimism for you. I have put on my critical glasses for th is job because I assume you did not come here expecting to be tossed a bunch of marshmallows. The most important thing to remember about prophecy is that there are no prophets. The future comes out of the present, not out of tea leaves or hog entrails or crystal balls. Al Burt Papers University of Florida Libraries

PAGE 2

The future can surprise us, but usually it creeps upo t arrive like ET on a spaceship; we build it ourselves, every day. Most of the time, the future comes step by step, like a pedestrian. And if we pay close attention, sometimes we can see it coming. For that reason, I am going to dwell a bit on Florida as it is now, on what clues there might be out there now that might warn us about what to expect, or even avoid. From where I sit on Mars, looking down at Fl orida, I see a rather strange place with a lot of odd, moving parts. It is hard to tell whether this is one place or about seven places stuck together under one label. It is not an easy place to understand. My first impression is that I see a lot of carpetbaggers from New York and New Jersey and Ohio running around the state, and a lot of Republicans holding statewide offices. d say my telescope had a time machine on it and that we had just lost the Civil War and these were the Reconstruction days. But that would be wrong. This war is not a matter of history yet. Battles are still being fought and sometimes won against entrenched, outdated ideas. For Florida, these are the struggles of the New Reconstruction Days, no t the old ones. In history, the job for pioneers w as to conquer natural Florida to tame it, to make it habitable. That was done, perhaps even overdone. Now our job is the opposite: to preserve the spirit of this state, nourishing its natural and wild si de; to save those soothing natural vistas and green, growing things; to make the necessities and conveniences of a large population compatible with the true nature of this special place called Florida. I see a state that started as paradise and after four centuries of diligent efforts at improvement, it is in trouble. It is under siege by population growth s attempts to accommodate it. There are too many new needs and new appetites. They came too fast, and the answers to the m came too slow. There are never enough roads and schools and prisons and sewers, never enough parks, teachers, and policemen. You look at Florida and you see that not only Hell is paved over with good intentions; Paradise is, too. It is a place that has been unevenly developed. The pac e of history has been erratic coming with a great rush in some places, dawdling along in others. On one hand, the state has St. Augustine, more than 400 years old. On the other hand, there are cities whose developed hi stories barely span more than one lifetime. Let me review some of the details of this place. I see a peninsula whose temperatures in winter mark t he state like a thermometer in reverse order. The high numbers are at the bottom, and along the coasts, com bining beauty and comfort, so that's where the visitors and the migrants go first. The state inhales and exhales people in great bunches, and grows not from births but from migration. The newcomers are mostly refugees from the cold, troubled Rust Belts o f the Midwest and Northeast plus an opposite stream from the warm but even more troubled Caribbean. They provide Florida with a largely uprooted, opportunity sensitive population that includes everything from Crackers to international sophisticates. Th e newness of so many of them in a strange land encourages in everyone the search and consume attitudes of nomads. This is a place that has a wonderfully diverse, talented,

PAGE 3

interesting mix of people. This is a place that has little understanding of itself and does not worry about it. One long, linear city covers most of the east coast and another covers about half the west coast. A third stretches out across an interstate that joins the first two. They form a great 'H' like a concrete anthill that spre ads across Florida. Nobody knows what the 'H' stands for. Maybe for hybrid, which would fit, or for honeypot, which is what this attractive state is, or perhaps hedonic. Elsewhere, away from the 'H', there are smaller urban islands with their own ambiti ons. Note that the state not only has a climate that stretches from subtropical to temperate, but also a geography that ranges from sea level to hilly, from desert like to swampy. Its soil varies from white sand to black muck to red clay. Each of those v ariations represents the prefere nces of certain living things people and plants and animals and they cluster to those differences. From my perch on Mars, it becomes increasingly clear that this is a hard state for anyone to know, either visitor or life long resident. It is a place understood only in the same way that we understand next week's weather, or tomorrow's arriving stranger. We have some idea, but not all the specifics. This is a state that relies on uncertainties. The weather is the major co mmodity and those arriving strangers the best crop. It thrives on mobility and change, the ingredients of impermanence, and out of those it tries to mold a sense of the permanent. The state lives by a series of rhythms, almost tidal in their broad patterns The lives of its people fall within those. The rains, the birds, the fish, the people come and go like the tides in that varied climate and across that varied geography. I see a Snowbird in South Florida. It is winter. He is shaking his head and talking to an old Cracker. Lo the Snowbird says. but there t near as many in August as there is in January. I see a state forever poised on some new turn of an old cycle, some new tide or migration that repeats history, and whose threats seem fresh only because they arrive to a new day and to new conditions. People sit by their pools and worry about drought, or they light up their gas grills and worry about fire exploding in nearby fields where once there was a marsh. During cold snaps, they wrap up in heavy coats and walk barefoot on the beaches. Consider some more of the peculiarities. They are important. They explain things. There are two seasons: cool and dry and wet and hot. They contradict each other, and they are careless about their schedules. Year to year, Floridians never are allowed a constancy that permits them to perfect either their rain pray ers or their sun worship. Spring a nd fall are brief transitions measured by days and sometimes weeks in the north, probably by hours in the south.

PAGE 4

Life in Florida rides a pendulum from the sublime passing through the tacky to the dangerous, and back, again and again. Life is like building sand castles waiting for the winds and the tides and the sunbathers to do their work and then building more sand castles. In Florida, life's truths and its tricks march in the same parade. You have to guess, and then guess again, because they change all the while. Successful Floridians have to be flexible enough to bend, but principled enough to hold on. Everybody tries to define Florida, but few of the definitions stick . . It has been called Lotus Land, a haven for hedonists, s Ark which reminds me that Mark Twain once remarked that sometimes it seems a shame th t miss the boat. What T.D. Allman said in his book about Miami could be said about all of Florida it is built on the bedr ock of illusion. It has unique combinations of good and bad, gorgeousness and ugliness, depravity and chic, utter weariness with life and great enthusiasm for it, escapism and civic responsibility. From this wonderful seat on Mars, I see the most turbulen t state in the United States. Proportionally, there is more movement in and out and around here than in any other state, even California. This brings great opportunities, and great risks. Think of the human impact, the lives uprooted, the friends lost, th e tearing away of ties to family as well as to place. Think of how it affects stability, the impact it has on continuity in politics, the loss in terms of heritage and self identity. There is a sense of unease in this state a kind of full moon ma dness run ning loose an d the s tatistics reflect it Mixed in with its space shots and world class tourism, Florida has high rates of suicide, divorce, crime, accidents, and death. As Raymond Chandler said in one of his detective novels about another scene, in this atmosphere meek wives are encouraged to feel their butcher knives and necks I see a trend almost everywhere of declining resources and space, and rising demands for them Pollution and more efficient harvesting whittle down our fisheries Loss of natural areas threatens wildlife As the population grows, there is less of Florida for each Floridian What is left requires greater care and greater understanding Yet while the need is s turbulence creates a vital loss of knowledge. Exile has been called that unbearable rift that occurs between a human being and a native place I wonder is that what is happening to Florida as it is separated from its history and its natural identity? Are Floridians becoming invo luntary exiles? I wonder about something else as well. Why does Florida not do more to educate its ever freshening population about its peculiarities and its frailties? I see a state full of all these separate dreams, one beset by uncertain, changing standards, one that has little appreciation of community. The lack of common ties and identity, the failure to recognize and focus on mutual interests, discourages common so lutions. Cynicism grows. Home becomes no more than an investment to be cashed in when the price is right. Loyalty becomes a chip in the

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marketplace. The future becomes this afternoon, or maybe tomorrow. No wonder the young are so strange. Well, that i s what I see when I put on my critical glasses and look down on Florida from Mars. It reminds me that someone once said that there is less than one percent genetic difference between apes and humans. So now we come to the future. In that critical look at Florida Present, we already have seen some strong hints of it. We know that there will be change, but what we don't know is whether that change will be creative, or whether it will be destructive. We don't know whether the trends we have seen will accele rate, or whether they can be turned in new directions. Florida faces choices. Sometimes there seems to be too many choices. As a wi se old Cracker t know where you're going, any road will do. Sometimes there seems to be too few. That gr eat philosopher, Woody Allen, put that so well in his speech to some More than an y Allen said m ankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly. The poet s dilemma in more appropriate terms, Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I could not travel both. t, either. We have to make choices. s take some gues ses at where these two diverging roads might lead us. For the sake of clarity, we will oversimplify a bit, and say that one road is bad, and one is good. My newspaper instincts prompt me to examine the bad possibilities first. It began when the politicians became even more willing, and even less embarrassed, to volunteer for ethical emasculation in return for being elected to office. Our leaders became open and ardent followers of the public whim as indicated by polls and prote sts. To use an old story, they said. Some of our younger citizens, who grew up wit h a view of the future as being this afternoon or perhaps tomorrow morning, became our leaders. As growth management regulations were chipped away in fear that they might interfere with new developments and new businesses, and in the hope that the bonanza in taxes all t his would supposedly generate those two linear cities, and the crossbar connectin g them, began swelling and filling. they began to form a giant egg, which prophetically suggested that some huge chickens had come home to roost. Public services began to break down, because the laws that forced their provision in adva nce of development had been rep ealed. Since half t really work anyway, in practice the laws and regulations still on the books were ignored at the convenience of the influential. Survival went to whatever or whoever fit. Taxes went up and up to meet perpetual emergencies, but routine services never seemed to improve.

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Some people began moving away from the coasts because the pollution and the congestion were so bad. Inland, lakes and rivers lost their appeal. t like the smell and the sight of what was washing up on the shores. They were frightened by the health hazards So they moved to wherever there was space left, obliterating the farmlands and timber lands. Rather than urban islands in a natural setting, we began to have natural islands within an urban sea. They began as parks, and then slowly took on the dimensions of outdoor museums, of quaint curiosities. Highways spread across the state, like so many strings on Gulliver, and yet the traffic still mo ved like molasses. Planners said we should double deck the highways, and politicians said not to worry, that we could do it with tolls and without adding new taxes. An oldtimer said it reminded him of the days when the generals said that all that was nee ded to win the war in Vietnam was more soldiers. As people of substance moved out, huge ghettos grew in the once linear cities. As the natural side of Florida disappeared, the state became physically ugly. Costs went up, and comforts went down. Flor ida became a place of classes the very wealthy, and the very poor who waited upon them and serviced them. The scene was a lmost feudal great walled, luxurious places for the wealthy, and peasant shacks that surrounded them on the outside. The rich could a fford the old comforts, and the cost of security to protect them. Moderately well off folk went somewhere else, someplace less ugly and uncomfortable and less expensive. There no longer was any sense of the real place Florida. It was either covered up or used up. Florida became a sta te where people lived in fear fear of the water they drank, fear of the air they breathed and the food they ate. One of the most expensive items of living, especially in South Florida became water. It came from expensive tre atment plants that purified the polluted water drawn from the aquifer, and that also removed the salt that had intruded. Some used desalinization plants to draw water directly from the ocean Some got their drinking water by catching rain in cisterns. La ke Okeechobee stank with pollution and the Indian River was little better. The Everglades virtually dried up as development tightened around it. Wildlife all but vanished. It had starved in the sparse habitat left or had been hunted down and killed for food or sport. Little was left except the scavengers who co uld adapt to the new Florida t he raccoons, the coyotes, feral cats and dogs, rats and squirrels. In the public w aters, there were few fish, no oysters, and no shrimp. It suggests something other than the automatic involvement toward perfection that Darwin envisioned It suggests instead an opposite process, in which nat ural riches are wasted for poorly understood goals, causing an erosion of the human spirit. That future rests upon the powerful, civilized tendency to accept, not to challenge but to go along, and get along. Loren Eiseley expressed the danger of that so w ell, If I were to attempt to spell out the single I would be forced to say adaptability. [Man] has the capacity to veer with every wind or, stubbornly, to insert himself into some fantastically elaborated and irrational social institution only to perish with it.

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Fortunately, that is not the future we anticipate not the one that reasonable, even if imperfect, Floridians expect to emerge from these uncertain days. There is an other choice. As Robert Frost put it, Two r oads diverged in a wood, and I I took the one less travelled by, and The difference for Florida began, I think, with three pretty simple points, three simple things that took us as an incredibly long time to absorb and to accept and to put into practice. First, there was the critical matter of understanding. As state leaders realized the crippling loss of memory and identity and knowledge taking place, a concerted educational effort to achieve better mass understanding of Florida was made, turning into a p ublic information program on the mysteries of natural Florida. In their own interest, the business community and the media joined in and community volunteers got into it. It took a long while, but gradually the thing caught on. With understanding there came awareness that everything we love about Florida is at risk. There came a public sense that natural Florida needed to be defended. There built a demand among citizens that others respect Florida as we do. There built the knowledge that sandhills and swamps and estuaries have intricate, fragile beauty and that each has its own importance, and that study of them reveals a great drama, a struggle for life that mirrors and affe cts our own. Fascination with thousands of small mysteries concerning Florida became fashionable. There came realization that the great migrating tides of Florida are as wonderful to read as a classic book that you never can finish, one that goes on and o n, adding chapter after chapter. There came understanding that there is a balance among all these tidal forces that permits us to have the extraordinary advantages of Florida, but only if we pay the cost, only if we do our part. Second, there came the acc eptance of the Peter P rinciple of growth in Florida that an attractive place grows until it becomes ugly, and then it stops growing. We began to realize that the things that kept growth from making a place ugly were laws, and regulations, and public beha vioral customs that nourished the amenities of life. We began to realize, finally, that well administered growth management meas ures did not hurt the economy instead, they preserved and enlarged it. They gave it a renewable future. We began to see that the other approach, to pay for growth by cannibalizing Florida, was like eating the seed corn. At long last we began to understand. Those first two points led inevitably to the third to the conviction that the potential for a quality life in Florida re quires three things: a quality environment, a quality economy, and a public sense of shared responsibility. We need all three. None of them stands alone, not for long. Once we in Florida grasped those three points, everything else became possible. It did not mean that there was no struggle, but it meant that we had a chance to win the struggle, or at least to improve the conditions of our loss. Public understanding provided the politicians an enlightened, focused public will to respond to. With the alter natives made obvious, with the risks clear and present before us, the

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public began to take a different view of tax proposals. The politicians had a hard time believing it, but moves to raise taxes in order to relieve certain specific problems became popul ar. The public even demanded them. The politicians again led by following. Florida began to take the good road when it fully realized how we in this state are exchanging old customs and traditions and places of unspoiled wild beauty for new conveniences, enlarged visions, and greater diversity. Florida realized that it needed to find the right balance for this exc hange. We began to improve when we came to understand that we live in a state that is still defining itself, a nd we decided to hurry that definition along by shaping our customs and laws to reflect a vision of Florida as a place of quality Despite the p ressures of this computer age to reduce every quality in life to a number, we learned to listen to warnings from people like Wendell Berry who said that any statistical justification of ugliness is a revelation of stupidity. With that framework of understa nding, all the disparate pieces of Florida began to resemble parts of a functioning whole like a beautiful mosaic, or maybe a patchwork quilt. There was a shared sense of jeopardy and opportunity. 2011 University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries. All rights reserved. Acceptable Use, Copyright, and Disclaimer Statement.