A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Friday, December 28, 2007

What distinguishes Sarasota's Quality of Life?

Here's an essay I wrote in 2000. It deals with Quality of Life, a somewhat slippery term that obviously means different things to different people. In this essay I propose a rule of thumb for determining what contributes to our quality of life here in Sarasota, as opposed to Clearwater or Naples.

I’ve always taken Quality of Life to represent attributes above and beyond the basics. Health, housing, enough to eat, good education, etc. are essential, and, tragically, not part of everyone’s life. But the effort to seek the basics says little about what makes an experience or place special, sacred or treasured. Here is my rule of thumb: If a stranger wouldn’t notice its absence, it may well be crucial to our quality of life.

Examples: If a stranger were taken to a concert in a Van Wezel that looked like a big pale shoe box they probably wouldn’t bat an eye. But Sarasotans would scream if our purple pleated structure were replaced with a straightforward box. Thus, by my accounting, Van Wezel contributes our quality of life. A stranger would have no reason to predict a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop would be decorated with dozens of charming old publicity stills of circus performers. But the Main Bar exists, and to my way of thinking is a treasure.

 Strangers would predict fast food franchises, strip malls, traffic, sprawl, etc. so I conclude these do not contribute to our quality of life. They would not predict the existence of St. Armands Circle, Myakka River State Park, scrub jays, Mote Marine Lab, Warm Mineral Springs, or Selby Gardens. Put them in the plus column.

 In terms of quality of life we have lost, strangers don’t expect North Lido’s sand to be as white as confectioner’s sugar and squeak. It did once and does no longer. A stranger wouldn’t expect to find the nation’s largest circus wintering in a modest gulfcoast community, but it did and does no longer.

 These things can be subtle. Not many people expect sidewalks to be pink. But in my neighborhood, when the pink sidewalks are replaced with pale concrete we feel a loss. So whenever we flatten a Bickel House, bisect a neighborhood with a wide new road, saw down a tree older than our oldest citizen, or otherwise make Sarasota more like the archetypal, homogenous American community and less like its idiosyncratic, unique, local self; we erode our quality of life.

POSTSCRIPT: Here are a few more places a naive visitor wouldn't notice if they was missing: Caspersen Beach, Snook Haven, the bird rookery at the South County Administration Center, the Hermitage, Sarasota Jungle Gardens, Spanish Point, Jessica's Stand, Old Miakka, Siesta Public Beach and the Phillippi Estate.

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