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Archive for the ‘Sustainable Sarasota’ Category

As the quest for more viable renewable and alternative energy sources continues, some of the options suggested seem brilliant while others remain firmly in the world of the bizarre. Take, for instance, a biofuel mentioned in a recent article on portstrategy.com:

According to a recent report by the American Chemical Society, alligator fat could be the best option for fuelling cars; the oil found in the alligator’s meat and skin is apparently more practical than soya, the usual biofuel source, and the society says that the meat industry sends 15m pounds (lbs) of alligator fat a year to landfill.

Really? Gator gas? Gotta wonder whether the folks at the American Chemical Society are avid golfers who lost one too many balls to alligator-defended water hazards. Then again, it’s hard to justify wasting 15 million pounds of alligator fat annually. Might as well put it to use. As strange as gator fuel sounds, it is an interesting possibility, one that could lead to more locally sourced biofuels.

Another, more technologically oriented, potential energy source is the humble speed bump. A Maryland-based company has developed a speed bump that harnesses the kinetic energy of cars as they pass over it and  then converts that energy into electricity.

The company “is targeting installations in parking lots, border crossings, exit ramps, neighborhoods with traffic calming zones, rest areas, toll booths, and travel plazas. Electricity would power roadway signs, street and building lights, storage systems for back-up and emergency power.”

Traffic calming can make neighborhoods safer, more enjoyable, more humane places to live, so if it can also increase an area’s social, economic, and environmental sustainability who could complain? Downtown Sarasota has dozens if not hundreds of places appropriate for such a speed bump.

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A couple weeks ago I posted about merits of replacing a second car (or even a first car) with a bicycle. Bicycles are big right now in the worlds of urban planning and placemaking, for many good reasons. As mentioned before: bikes are affordable, they don’t add to noise and air pollution, they don’t require any fuel beyond the food consumed by their operator, they take up very little space, and they increase the average health and happiness of communities that embrace them. Bicycles are also incredibly functional, especially if one thinks a bit outside the box. To prove this last point, I’ve included a collection of photos of bikes at work (below, click on images for source).

It’s strange and a bit saddening that bikes have become politicized symbols of environmentalists, liberals, communists, hippies, hipsters, or whatever other group. The fact is that an increase in cycling benefits everyone and hurts no one; intelligent, universally beneficial activities are nonpartisan, and should be allowed to remain as such. So many towns and cities in the US could become vastly better places to live simply by recognizing bicycles as a valid and viable means of transportation.

The next time you happen to be stuck in traffic on 41, just imagine if half the cars were replaced by bicycles. Imagine how much nicer the bayfront would be without the endless lines of traffic. How much more accessible Main Street would be if you never had to look for a parking spot. Imagine how much more freedom children and elderly people would have. Imagine how much space would become available for homes, shops, offices, or parks if the vast parking lots at shopping centers were no longer needed.

Loving the bicycle doesn’t mean hating the car. It’s about making smart decisions that improve the lives of individuals and communities alike.

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Anyone who’s read this blog from its inception knows that we at Laurel Park Management are big supporters of bicycles and the folks who ride them. To clear up a quick issue of nomenclature, I tend to use cycling when I mean higher speeds, longer distances, stretchier clothes, and bicycling when I mean cruising around, running errands, dressing normally. I’ve written here before about how ideally suited Sarasota is to both cycling and bicycling—bicycling being the subject at hand—but I’ll repeat the key points quickly before moving on to the point of this post…that, for many of us, replacing a car with a bike is not only viable but really pretty smart (if you’re scoffing at me right now or labeling me as one of those enviro-wackos trying to destroy America, please reserve judgment until the end).

When my then-girlfriend and I moved to Sarasota several years ago from Los Angeles we sold one of our two cars and used the money to pay for the move across country. We had enough left over to buy a bicycle for each of us, pay off a credit card, and rent an apartment here in Laurel Park. My girlfriend usually took the remaining car to work up the trail, which left me with a bicycle to use for all my daily needs. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Sarasota is flat, the climate is spectacular, most roads have relatively low auto-traffic loads and speeds, and shopping and services tend to be clustered compactly enough to allow bicyclists to cross off several to-do items in quick succession. But it’s too hot during summer, you say? I bicycle year round and find that shade from trees keeps things sufficiently moderate even on the worst days. What about rain? Thankfully, our rain tends to be pretty predictable. I simply pay more attention to the forecast than I used to. Cars can be an issue, partly because the prevailing mentality of drivers here is, let’s say, Darwinian, and partly because most drivers just aren’t used to looking out for bicyclists. And despite the compact clusters sprawl can also be something to overcome. BUT…by and large, SRQ is a fine place to ride a bike, and it could become a spectacular place to ride a bike if we plant more shade trees, paint more (and wider) bike lanes, and take some simple steps to protect current bicyclists while encouraging new ones to join. Why would we want to do such a thing? Isn’t the car the American way (to get around)?

The honest answer is, sometimes. Cars are great for driving relatively long distances, for rural areas, and for a host of other situations. But in an urban context cars can be more trouble than they’re worth. Using a bicycle as a primary mode of transportation has changed how I interact with the city. I see more, hear more. My senses come alive. The world slows to a human speed. Errands have become enjoyable. And, perhaps surprisingly, I can usually accomplish them faster with a bike than I can by car. This is also due to the advantages of proximity that residents of Laurel Park benefit from, of course, but it still caught me by surprise.

Parking a bike is faster and easier than parking a car. It’s also free. Riding a bike improves one’s health, makes no noise, emits nothing smelly or toxic. Bikes take up roughly 1/10th the space of cars while driving, and as little as 1/15th when parked. Then there are the economic benefits: cars cost a lot to buy, and you still have to insure them, maintain and repair them, and fill them with gas. Bikes are cheap, repairs are simple, maintenance is minimal, and fuel costs are already included in your grocery bill. On the rare occasions when I need a second car I rent one. The cost and hassle are both substantially less than with ownership.

Since becoming a daily bicyclist I’m healthier, happier, and my income goes further than it used to. I’m not saying that everyone should get rid of their cars, but most households with multiple cars can probably get by just fine with one car and a new bike. Heck, a few new bikes. People in Copenhagen, for example, use their bikes not only to commute and shop but also to drive their kids to school (see the picture above) and do a million other things we don’t associate with bicycles.

People who haven’t lived there might be surprised to know that Copenhagen has a lot of cars and that the roads are, at times, filled with car traffic just like they are in Sarasota. The difference is mostly one of options…many people there recognize that certain trips are faster, cheaper, and easier to make by bike. The point of all of this is that there are options, there are solutions to every problem, some of which are so simple they escape our view. If you are looking to cut your expenses, improve your health, get more fresh air, and take better advantage of all that our beautiful city has to offer, I highly recommend selling your car (especially if you have more than one) and getting a bike. Or, if that just isn’t feasible, using a bike for as many trips as possible. You won’t regret it.

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NEW YORK (AP) — America’s cities are beginning to grapple with a fact of life: People are getting old, fast, and they’re doing it in communities designed for the sprightly.

To envision how this silver tsunami will challenge a youth-oriented society, just consider that seniors soon will outnumber schoolchildren in hip, fast-paced New York City.

This excerpt is how a recent AP article began, which got me thinking. Seniors have outnumbered schoolchildren in Sarasota for a long time, but how will our fair city handle increasing numbers of seniors in an era largely devoid of retirement? With social security dwindling and the 401k’s of many would-be retirees reduced to pennies, how will the new crop of seniors make their living?

It is worth considering what the needs of seniors are and will be, and how we might plan for them. No one wants to lose their independence, but shouldn’t seniors have more options for mobility than driving themselves? Bicycles could be a major part of the solution, but routes need to be safer and have more tree cover to protect from the sun and rain. Increased range and frequency of bus routes could also be good, but both come at a cost, and the city coffers are getting bare. What about some creative solutions that bypass the need for currency altogether? What about “exchange banks” in which services are bartered?

Density has been seen as a four-letter word by many Sarasotans…understandable when you consider how rapidly parts of the city have grown and how much of SRQ’s traditional village character has been lost in the process. But higher densities, if done right, can be much more humane for seniors, bringing shopping, services, activities, and neighbors within closer reach. Residents of Laurel Park and other downtown neighborhoods are fortunate to be able to not need a car for many daily activities, but most Sarasotans are not so lucky.

Maybe the focus shouldn’t yet even be on the answers but on the questions. Before much action can be taken, it would probably be best to involve as many people as possible in the conversation and to honestly assess how the future will be different than the past. Sarasota’s history of catering to seniors may prove to be an enormous advantage, and we might even find ourselves at the vanguard of demographic, economic, and social shifts.

Do you know of any innovative measures being taken locally? Are you part of any? Would you be willing to participate?

Some more of the AP article on the graying of American cities is excerpted below:

It will take some creative steps to make New York and other cities age-friendly enough to help the coming crush of older adults stay active and independent in their own homes.

“It’s about changing the way we think about the way we’re growing old in our community,” said New York Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs. “The phrase ‘end of life’ does not apply anymore.”

With initiatives such as using otherwise idle school buses to take seniors grocery shopping, the World Health Organization recognizes New York as a leader in this movement.

But it’s not alone.

Atlanta is creating what it calls “lifelong communities.” Philadelphia is testing whether living in a truly walkable community really makes older adults healthier. In Portland, Ore., there’s a push to fit senior concerns such as accessible housing into the city’s new planning and zoning policies.

Such work is getting a late start considering how long demographers have warned that the population is about to get a lot grayer.

“It’s shocking how far behind we are, especially when you think about this fact — that if you make something age-friendly, that means it is going to be friendly for people of all ages, not just older adults,” said Margaret Neal of Portland State University’s Institute on Aging.

While this fledgling movement is being driven by nonprofit and government programs, New York aims to get private businesses to ante up, too.

Last year, East Harlem became the city’s first “aging improvement district.” Sixty stores, identified with window signs, agreed to put out folding chairs to let older customers rest as they do their errands. The stores also try to keep aisles free of tripping hazards and use larger type so signs are easier to read. A community pool set aside senior-only hours so older swimmers could get in their laps without faster kids and teens in the way.

On one long block, accountant Henry Calderon welcomes older passers-by to rest in his air-conditioned lobby even if they’re not customers. They might be, one day.

“It’s good for business but it’s good for society,” too, he said.

The size of the aging boom is staggering. Every day for the next few decades, thousands of baby boomers will turn 65. That’s in addition to the oldest-old, the 85- to 90-somethings whose numbers have grown by nearly one-third in the past decade, with no signs of slowing.

By 2050, 1 in 5 Americans will be seniors. Worldwide, almost 2 billion people will be 60 or older, 400 million of them over 80.

That’s almost always viewed as a health issue, preparing for the coming wave of Alzheimer’s, or as a political liability, meaning how soon will Social Security go bust?

“We think this is something we should be celebrating,” says Dr. John Beard, who oversees the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities. “They need to live in an environment that allows them to participate.”

In East Harlem, a yellow school bus pulls up to a curb and 69-year-old Jenny Rodriguez climbs off. The bus had already dropped a load of kids at school. Now, before the afternoon trip home, it is shuttling older adults to a market where they flock to fresh fruits and vegetables. keep reading at yahoo.com

 

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We at Laurel Park Management aren’t out to save the world. We know that task is a little tall for a rental management company. Like most of you, we’re trying to do our jobs well and support our families. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be conscious of our actions, of their consequences. It doesn’t mean we can’t act responsibly and do our part to lessen our impact on this beautiful part of the world that we are so fortunate to inhabit.

Last week’s post was obviously tongue-in-cheek…The Onion is, after all, a satirical publication. But all good satire is rooted in truth, and the truth is that even as busy as our live sometimes get, there is always time to stop, think, and decide whether the action we are about to take is truly the right one.

LPM does what it can to support green living. We use long life CFLs, energy-efficient appliances, low-VOC paints, and low-flow faucets. We offer a recycling program with incentives. We reuse historic buildings rather than knocking them down to build new ones. We support a bikeable, walkable, urban village style of living. None of these things are terribly difficult, and all make a difference. What we’ve found is that green living is really just about consciousness. If we choose to pay a bit more attention and to educate ourselves, even a little, our lives become a bit greener.

So, to remind ourselves and to help those newer to the green movement, here are some easy ways to Go Green (borrowed from Treehugger):

Top Back to Basics Tips

 

 

  • Transport Having got a little reading under your belt, you’re probably itching to get started. One of the biggest impacts we have on the planet is a direct result of the way we move ourselves around. Fortunately, for many of us, this is also easy to do something about. You might consider walking, biking or using mass transit, at least a few days a week. Maybe you can convince your boss to let you work from home? Maybe you can carpool with a friend? If nothing else, you should certainly consider fuel consumption as a major factor in your choice of next vehicle. And when it comes to longer trips, flying is notoriously carbon intensive – so let the train take the strain wherever possible. Find a greener route from A to B with How to Green Your Car, and our Cars and Transportation section.
  • Energy With all the talk of solar panels, fuel cells, building-integrated wind turbines, and flux capacitors, it can be easy to think you need a million bucks to go green at home. Not so. Many of the most effective ways to cut carbon emissions are also the cheapest. Turn lights off when you go out, install energy efficient bulbs and appliances, insulate your home, and keep an eye on consumption. Once you’ve done all that, why not investigate if you can buy green energy from your local utility? Check out our guides on How to Green Your Heating and How to Green Your Electricity for a more detailed plunge.
  • Water This is where the folks in Seattle or the UK start switching off, but stay with us, please! Even if you live in areas of abundant rainfall, water is still a major ecological issue. Clean, drinkable water is precious and needs to be used most efficiently. Every drop of tap water we use also requires energy to filter, purify and transport, and that means fossil fuel emissions. And for those of you in dryer areas, you know only too well that water is becoming an ever-scarcer resource. Fortunately it’s pretty easy to do something about–install water-saving shower heads and aerators, turn the tap off when you’re brushing your teeth, switch to more efficient appliances, or collect rainwater for use in the garden. All this and more can be found in our guide, How to Green Your Water. For those wanting to go a little more hardcore, the Navy Shower, or the “selective flush” are worth a try–if the comments on these posts are anything to go by, you’ll be in good company!
  • Food We’ve all got to eat, and most of us do it every day. It stands to reason that our collective food choices have a huge impact on the planet, and with the global food industry shipping products further and further around the world, and with farming becoming ever more intensive, this impact is only getting bigger. Fortunately, there is a resistance underway. More and more people are getting interested in sustainable food systems. To bring it back to basics, there are four principles that can help guide you to greener meals: eat local, eat seasonal, eat organic, and finally, eat less meat. For a comprehensive guide to a more sustainable diet, check out How to Green Your Meals and the Food and Health category.

Want to read more? Check out the whole article at treehugger.com!

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Questioning The Idea of a Creative Class{photo source}

There’s nothing like times of economic hardship to stir up discussion about a city’s future. Should we revive industry? What kind of industry? Attract the creative class? What exactly does the creative class do? Or is tourism and retirement a safer bet? The asking of such questions always seems to lead to the development of various ideologies that, if adopted correctly, will supposedly bring communities within reach of the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Some experts espouse building quality of place through the experience of the built environment. Some say to lure young bohemians. Often, especially in recent years, the argument revolves around whether or not a city has “it.” Cities, so the logic goes, must be cool in order to prosper. Our current age is one of unequaled mobility in which the new industrial economy is virtual and spaceless and its captains free to choose and change their bases of operation at will. Your city better be cool, or the new prosperity-bringers will go elsewhere.

But is chasing that elusive and ephemeral “cool” a wise policy? For that matter, can “cool” be planned for at all? Bill Fulton wrote a nice piece for New Geography a short while back that encourages cities to focus less on image and more on productivity.

The question is not whether cities must be cool or uncool in order to prosper. Clearly, there are some cities in each camp that prosper, and some cities in each camp that do not. The question is deeper: In both cool and uncool cities, what is the underlying nature of the economy? Does the city simply import money from other places, or does it export goods and services to other places? Because it is this distinction – not cool or uncool – that serves as the dividing line between prosperity that is real and prosperity that is illusory.

Fulton examines retirement communities, which are essentially dependent on a single demographic’s notion of “cool”:

Not long ago, I was interviewing a retired politician in a fast-growing Southern metropolis. Even though he was a good ol’ boy who had never left home, he bore no resentment for the retired Yankees who flooded his town. In fact, he attributed the whole area’s prosperity to them. A retirement community, he said, “is like a high-wage factory. You build 1,000 houses, you have 1,000 households making $90,000 a year. A high-wage factory without the factory.”

Fulton is quick to note, however, that the factory metaphor only goes so far.

The most obvious similarity, as my politician friend pointed out, is that the residents live in town, get steady paychecks to spend locally, and become involved in local life. Like factory workers, retirees can support a whole service economy with their local spending.

But there’s more to a factory-town economy than simply Saturday grocery shopping by the workers. Factories are in the export business, while retirement communities are in the import business. An export economy spins off all kinds of economic benefits that you don’t get from an import economy. A big factory requires lots of suppliers, and tends to stimulate the creation of an economic cluster — a group of businesses that feed off each other and, in time, find new customers outside the region.

A retirement community creates a cluster of suppliers, too. But this cluster tends to be composed of local service-sector businesses that create low-wage jobs and aren’t interested in repackaging their services for export outside the region — retailers, contractors, landscapers and pool-maintenance companies.

He could be talking about Sarasota. For all our assets, and we have many, we are still primarily a tourism and retirement town. There’s nothing wrong with that, but as our village has become a town and now a small city, our needs have changed. Whether or not the city spends our tax money wisely is a legitimate conversation, but the fact is that well-run cities require a strong tax base. Or else a citizenry that takes on the responsibilities typically held by local government.

Above all, though, we need to become less economically dependent on tourism, a fickle industry that contributes most to low-wage jobs, and retirement, which has only been around in its current form for a handful of generations and is now under serious threat. But how? Should we become one of Richard Florida’s Creative Class meccas? Should we build a fancy convention center? Or should we take a different approach, one that plays to our abundant strengths?

It’s time to stop talking about whether towns should be cool or uncool. What really matters is what they are producing. If all they’re producing is some kind of experience that induces people to come to town and spend money, it doesn’t matter how cool the town is; it’s probably not sustainable economically. If, on the other hand, the city is creating and exporting something the world needs – whether that product is cool or uncool – it’s a good bet that both the city and its people will do pretty well for a long time.

Maybe these are the questions we Sarasotans need to continue to answer—what are we producing? What can we start producing? How can we add diversity (and more middle income jobs) to our economy? How can we balance an import economy with local exports?

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Sarasota residents came out in force on March 8th to elect three new city commissioners, and now that the dust has almost cleared—

Actually, that’s a bit of a fib. The dust hasn’t cleared. And not because the runoff vote in District 1 has yet to happen (it’s scheduled for May 10th), but because no dust was kicked up in the first place. Sarasota residents didn’t come out in force for the elections. In fact, they barely came at all.

The City of Sarasota has 32,019 registered voters. Of those, a mere 5693 cast a ballot. That’s an 18% turnout. No matter what scale of measurement you use, 18% is a failing mark. City commissioners make the decisions that most affect the daily lives of Sarasotans, and yet no candidate had as many as 1800 votes. Shannon Snyder won district 3, which includes Laurel Park, with 704. Only three precincts reached 30% voter turnout, while six were in single digits.

Here at Laurel Park Management, we’ve met so many passionate people, people who work hard to be good neighbors, good citizens. Who take pride in their neighborhood. Every time we walk outside we encounter one. So, why isn’t that passion translating into votes?

Any community, no matter the size, is only as great as its civic involvement. Sarasota is fortunate to have an extremely vocal and involved minority, but they remain just that: a minority. If the majority of residents don’t make their voices heard by at least choosing our representative leaders, how representative can our leaders be? And what right will we have to complain about the job they do (or don’t do)?

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