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

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Change We Can Believe In and Change We're Having Trouble Adjusting To

The Democratic Party is embracing a platform of change and I get that. 

CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN (particularly at the national level) works for me. 

But in many ways I think Sarasotans may have had quite enough change in recent years. Change in economic fortunes, in gas prices, property taxes, insurance. We've had to change our old assumptions about what to do when a hurricane approaches [Nobody is saying anymore: "I have a friend I can stay with in Arcadia."] We are changing our assumptions about whether our beaches are uncontaminated. Changing our understanding of what restaurants remain open. Changing perceptions about how fast our school age population is growing or if it is growing at all. Changing our belief that sea level isn't rising. Changing our minds to accept that North Port is bigger (geographically and population-wise) than the City of Sarasota.* Lots of changes.

And the recent Ringling Bridge name flap underscores what may be a local reality: that tinkering with what may seem to some like minor issues actually has big effects on Sarasotans. [I think 3,875 online petition signatures in less than a week is evidence enough that citizens do feel affected.] 

Some are tempted to dismiss the bridge name issue as a tempest in a teapot -- much ado about nearly nothing.

I don't see it that way. I think our local landscape has been so dynamic, so subject to change that ostensibly insignificant changes can end up being very distressing to people.

In this setting of seemingly constant change, landmarks and history and vacant lots that don't change end up being reassuring touchstones in our lives - anchors of permanence that help keep us oriented and connected to where we live. 

And I think part of the reason people fight so hard to thwart developments, or protect trees or save old buildings is not because they can't accept the idea of new neighbors or that the tree provides crucial habitat or the building is part of a unique architectural legacy (which may be true); but simply because the loss of such landmarks can be profoundly disturbing when one already feels overwhelmed by change, when every other landmark is gone and people are down to one familiar, reliable thing that persists and it is about to be flattened. 

I'm not a no change guy. I think people and neighborhoods and communities need to change or they will stagnate. But I believe it is healthy and helpful to hang on to what we feel is unique or special about the places we frequent. 

We can't save everything and I don't think we should try. But I think we should work hard to identify what makes our places special and work hard to retain what we can of those, even if it is only a representative sample. 

I'll skip the final crescendo that ties this line of argument into my campaign and what I've been doing the last 30 years and just leave it at my realization that seemingly little things do matter, perhaps disproportionately, to people. That doesn't make people unreasonable, it makes them observant and caring and connected to where they live. That's a good thing.

So one change I believe in is changing to acknowledge people's legitimate attachment to place and rather than dismissing it, finding ways to allow needed change while resisting unnecessary change. Like changing a bridge, but not its name.

*The City of Sarasota still has a 450 edge over North Port in registered voters. It will be interesting to see if North Port can narrow or close that gap by Nov. 4th.

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