Feature Articles

March 26, 2010

Florida could lure new jobs by expediting permitting for clean industries

Jobs, jobs, jobs. I hear that mantra from the governor on down to locally elected officials. And yet no government is streamlining the procedures that business must go through to grow or locate in Florida.

Nearly 12 percent of the working population of Florida is out of work. And among architects and engineers — some of our highest paying jobs — the jobless rate is closer to 25 percent. With unemployment at near-record levels, policymakers should review regulations to remove unnecessary barriers for new business and growth for existing businesses.

Read more of this story here

November 8, 2009

The water grab

Reposted with permission of Gaineseville.com 

When the Florida Council of 100 proposed in 2003 that the solution to Florida's growing water shortage was to pipe massive amounts of water from water-rich North Florida to thirsting South Florida, the backlash was sharp and swift.

"Not a drop," chanted a packed house at Chiefland High School during a state Senate committee hearing on the proposal. The response was so negative that the developer-dominated business group quietly took its plan off the table.

But now the Council of 100's ideas are back - this time in a new report by the staff of the Florida Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation. Not only does the report urge taking water from the haves and giving it to the have-nots, no strings attached, but it also recommends the establishment of an all-powerful statewide water board, "a central regulatory commission that oversees Florida's water resources and supply development. ..."

Even more worrisome to the haves, which would include Alachua County and its neighbors, the Senate report states that because any massive water transfer systems "benefit the state as a whole ... the cost should be borne by all."

In other words, they want North Florida's water and they want us to pay for it to be taken from us, too.

Meanwhile, a undoubtedly giddy Council of 100 has dusted off its old report with an updated version that also proffers the concept of a statewide water board or "a state water czar with the responsibility ... concentrated in a single individual."

We were particularly struck by Council of 100 President Susan Pareigis' comments in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, which reported that she "noted that the Senate committee's report reads as if it was lifted straight from the 2003 Council of 100 report. ..." She said she hopes the controversy that erupted in 2003 can be avoided this time.

That is highly unlikely.

What is glaringly missing from the 10-page Senate staff report is any mention of serious conservation initiatives aimed at broad-based reductions in Florida's water consumption. What gets ignored is any suggestion that before overgrown areas of Florida can tap into other regions' water supplies, they must enact stricter growth management policies.

What is absent in the report is any outline of how North Florida's water will be safeguarded once the tap to it is opened to the South Florida growth machine.

The Council of 100's lackeys in the Legislature are doing what most observers expected - it just took six years to finally become public again.

Nobody, of course, is surprised, but nobody should expect a state-sanctioned water grab to be attempted without a brutal fight, either

September 15, 2009

Editorial: The power of one

The article below is a succinct discussion of the item that just went before the Florida Cabinet as FLWAC. The hour-long hearing included presentations by Pelham, Marion County Commissioner Barbara Fitos and Linda Shelley on behalf of the comp plan applicant. Governor Crist made a motion that was seconded and unanimously approved that approved DCA’s draft Final Order based on the administrative law judge’s findings of fact and conclusions of law. In a nutshell, the applicant did not overcome the demonstration of need for the land use change and Marion County is to rescind the adopted comp plan amendment. In discussions by the Cabinet while entertaining the motion, it was voiced that the Cabinet does not want to set precedent that a land use change can be adopted and found in compliance when it has not demonstrated need.

Published: Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.

A lone citizen’s challenge to a 2007 land use change approved in neighboring Marion County will be taken up today by Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet.

It is a growth-management case of statewide significance.

The Cabinet will hear the case of Susan Woods v. Marion County. The David vs. Goliath case has a single citizen taking on big development and revolves around the County Commission’s vote to change 396 acres of farmland from rural to medium-density residential. Castro Realty Corp. sought the land-use change so it could build 790 houses on rolling pastures.

In reaching its 3-2 decision, the commission ignored the recommendation of its own planning staff, which concluded the houses were not needed in an already glutted housing market.

The commission’s action was sent to the Department of Community Affairs for final approval, which it got.

Enter horse farmer Susan Woods. The environmentally active Woods challenged the decision, arguing that the project was not compatible with the rural, horse-farm character of the area. She argued that so many houses would harm the aquifer because of the karst topography, and that the county had failed to meet the longaccepted “demonstration of need” benchmark.

With no lawyer in tow, she took her case to DCA. She won a rare, almost unheardof reversal of DCA’s decision ... and the DCA’s support through the remainder of the process.

State administrative law Judge J. Lawrence Johnston ruled that Woods was right; that the land-use change “was not based on a professionally acceptable demonstration of need.”

Comprehensive land-use plans are drawn up to ensure balance in how we develop our community. Changing those land uses, even a little, means changing the character of the community — forever.

With the Cabinet’s ruling at hand, the development industry and conservation and environmental forces have lined up behind the opposing sides. Determination of need is the bedrock upon which a generation of Florida growth-management policy is built.

If the Cabinet abandons what is left of Florida’s growth-management guidelines by rejecting Woods’ determination-of-need argument, it will set a dangerous precedent for the entire state. It will render comprehensive plans all but useless and undoubtedly foster more sprawl.

The Cabinet should side with Woods, the DCA and Johnston.

And as for Woods, our thanks for reminding us that one person still can make a difference in making sure government serves the people justly, even against tall odds.


August 15, 2009

Developers: Learn to Predict the Future

by Magnus Lindkvist
*posted on this site with express permission of Magnus Lindkvist*
People like to believe they are highly adept at understanding the present and predicting the future. The fact that we are continually surprised by extreme events, political shifts, technological changes and the rise of emerging markets proves otherwise. When we hear the words like “tomorrow’s world” or city of the future, most of us think about some abstract utopia—or dystopia, depending on one’s general outlook—somewhere far in the future.

 Reared on years of science fiction, people fill a disproportionate part of their futuristic visions with all types of technology and digital devices. However, in imagining tomorrow like a set piece from the new Star Trek movie, people miss a number of abstract, invisible, yet ground breaking trends and developments in society


They fail to imagine things that are too abstract, strange, outrageous, or complex when they think about tomorrow’s world.


Because cities are entities that far outlive the people who build and shape them, it is crucial that urban developers hone their ability to spot invisible trends.


The following are ways to hone those skills:


Ø  Admit you are blind.

Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins once said humans are relegated to living in the “middle world”: they cannot see microscopic details like viruses or atoms, nor can they see very large developments like galaxies.

People are forced o rely on memory or imagination if they want to see anything other than the present. Unfortunately, most people do not approach trend spotting with an acknowledgement of these shortcomings. They make drastic, overconfident claims about where the world is heading and deduce that the issues that matter today—climate, change, population control, financial turmoil, terrorism—are the issues that will matter in a few decades. Admitting blindness is a first and significant step to opening one’s mind to tomorrow’s world of possibilities.


Ø  Study turtle trends.

Behind the scenes exist a number of turtle trends—slow moving changes taking place over decades, even centuries. Because these trends cannit be spotted on a city street, people have to rely on other sources. Libraries are a great source of historical accounts and data, as are the elderly.




Ø  Change your information diet.

Books, it is said, feed your head, as do blogs, magazines, newspapers, tv programs, conversations, seminars and other information sources. When did you last replace one of these sources of your world view? When did you last make an effort to meet new and different people? When have you ever abandoned your entire information flow and replaced it with something else or with nothing at all? A survey by the Economist showed that people tend to surround themselves with people and media that confirm—rather than challenge—their view. Remember that all emerging trends start their life on the fringes of society, not in the mainstream.


Ø  Be an opportunistic collector.

The best, most comprehensive and challenging trend-spotting outlooks are presented by people who have been gathering data, information, images, and anecdotes for years. To build a conclusive, elaborate portrait of tomorrow’s world, you need to continually collect these snippets of information as they pass by and take along a scrapbook—analog, digital or mental.


Ø  Immerse yourself.

What kinds of world view do business-class travelers get? They have their own fast-track security at airports, their own lounges, and their own secluded seats aboard the plane, and they tend to restrict their attention to media focused on business. With this level of alienation from the real world, it is not so strange that the country experienced a financial meltdown last year.

Consultants, architects, and urban planners have a nasty habit of functioning the same way. Instead of making a significant effort to travel and engage with people inside and outside cities around the world, many spend their days in offices discussing statistics, examining survey results or staring blankly at computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing drawings.


Ø  Realize that the messenger and the delivery ought outweigh the message.

People like to think that there is nothing stronger than an idea whose time has come. Nothing could be further from the truth. Consider the issue of climate change: in 1958, director Frank Capra made The Unchained Goddess, a documentary about the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change. Thet movie—although it was well made—changed a few political agendas and did not win a Nobel Peace Prize. Some 50 years later, it took a former U.S. Vice President to do that.

The messenger—who is saying what—and the delivery—how and when it is delivered—are usually a lot more important in driving societal changes that people like to admit. If you want to alter and shape the future, you should focus your attention on who should deliver the message of change and in what shape or form the message should be delivered.

Ø  Never underestimate the unexpected

World War II, the 9/11 attacks and last year’s financial debacle are just three examples of events that were unexpected yet had a huge impact on the world. When people talk about trends, most picture linear curves pointing in one direction or another. What people cannot see is the number of random events that will significantly alter and maybe even cut off these curves.  The 9/11 Commission urged the U.S. state Departments to make imagination part of its daily routine, and so should you. Trend spotters need to build a “What if…?” into every scenario they construct and to continually broaden the scope of possibilities that this question might entail.


Ø  Discover your matrix

In the 1999 science action film The Matrix, actor Keanu Reeves as Neo is living in a digital dream created by machines to harvest human energy. The metaphor of this movie is that all people live in some version of a matrix. Swedes for instance, fought their last war over 200 years ago and tend to be—in the words of the country’s foreign minister—“peace damaged”, with a world view as skewed as a country that is war ravaged. Human beings are unable to look at what is wrong in their world without moving outside of it.

What used to be considered normal—having doctors recommend cigarettes, for example—is considered outrageous today. Being a homosexual would land you in jail as late as the 1950’s in England, whereas today urban theorist Richard Florida asserts that having a high proportionate of gay residents makes a city more creative and economically prosperous. Take a step back and imagine what everyday phenomena people will laugh at or ridicule a few decades from now.

People all like to believe that they are adept at understanding the present and predicting the future. Acknowledging blindness to change, however, is an excellent starting point. Or, to put it in the words of Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, “whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous “I don’t know”.


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