Posted on December 27, 2016
The city of New Orleans is a rich mix of the modern and the old, of wealth and poverty, of music, historic buildings, a new flourishing arts district, and all the good and the bad of the culture of the Deep South.
In areas like the French Quarter the excitement — and sometimes drunkenness — of the tourists floats like a thin sheen over the hardships endured by the street performers and service staff, the poverty of nearby neighborhoods, and the failures of the public sector to provide services and maintain public facilities. Of course, visitors are encouraged to look past all that, but it is there and is a part of what makes New Orleans what it is.
Posted on August 26, 2016
Sarasota is a town on the cusp of becoming a city. And there’s a building boom going on downtown — mostly hotels and high-end condominiums. One, ironically named “The Vue,” blocks some of the view of Sarasota Bay as it crowds in just a few feet from two of the busiest streets in town in a very pedestrian-unfriendly way.
This surge of new construction dwarfs the older “historic” parts of downtown. Of course, change and growth can add vitality and diversity to a community, helping it become a city. On the other hand, too much of one thing can put a community out of balance and sap its strength.
Many of these new buildings will be filled with wealthy older residents looking for a low-key but upscale lifestyle. Nothing wrong with that — unless, of course, they put up a metaphorical wall around downtown to keep out others who are different. In that case, this new growth will suffocate rather than vitalize, and the town will become not a city, but a slightly more dense area of the sprawl that is so much of Florida.
Which will it be for Sarasota? The jury is out.
Posted on August 4, 2016
Early morning, and the sun begins to lighten the sky at the Audubon Society’s Venice Rookery. Most people come to see the birds roosting on the small island in the middle of the pond. And the birds are wonderful, as they come awake, squawking and beginning to feed their young.
But so is the gentle rise of color as the sky lightens and reflects off the water. Enjoy this other bit of magic, too.
Posted on April 25, 2016
There is plenty to see and wonder about in most urban places. Behind the scenes in the alley there may be places of rest, or of mystery. And the busy street may hide a surprise for the attentive imagination. It pays to keep one’s mind and eyes open.
Posted on June 15, 2015
Posted on April 27, 2015
At the beach, in the park, or even in the alley behind the abandoned warehouse, step through the looking glass. You never know what you might see!
Posted on February 19, 2015
Much of modern American commercial architecture is a study in faceless anonymity once you remove the trademark pasted on the front. Some might say it is a blight upon the landscape.
But look again and see how the light hits the surface, the details of decay, the geometric composition of shapes and colors. One can find interest and beauty amid the blight, all of which says something about who we are.
Posted on December 29, 2014
A new enclosed shopping mall has been built here in Sarasota. All over the country malls are struggling, being re-purposed or abandoned. But here a new one just opened. It is big. It is new. It is filled with things from other places.
They call it “University Town Center”. It is near University Parkway, and in the center of a very large parking lot, so perhaps that counts. There are some other big-box stores and their parking lots nearby, but no real town. This is the suburban fringe.
At the grand entrance just past the valet parking, one is dwarfed by the glass “foyer” containing a water feature and a group of indoor palm “trees”. High expectations for an upscale experience are tempered only by the dressed up, but ordinary, chain restaurants flanking either side.
Whether or not the mall will be a financial success remains to be seen. However, it is unlikely to ever serve as an authentic “town center”. Very little about it is authentic, from the conditioned and freshened air, to the indoor palms, the furniture that discourages rather than encourages interaction, and the piped in music and other sounds designed to create the illusion of excitement and anticipation. It is a monument to creating and fulfilling desires for things — not for creating any sense of community.
With only a few exceptions, the stores and the goods being sold here are the same as in dozens or even thousands of other locations across the country. Nothing, not even the air is authentically from this place. It doesn’t even smell like Florida. One could be anywhere.
But the parking lot was full and people were shopping. This mall is an artifact of our time. The sameness of corporate-led consumerism is becoming a defining characteristic of American life in the 21st century. But will there be a groundswell of those who eventually turn away from the siren song in search of the personal, the authentic, and community?
Posted on November 18, 2014
Posted on October 9, 2014
Fort Desoto sits on Mullet Key, guarding the entrance to Tampa Bay in Florida. Mullet Key and several other low lying keys are now Fort Desoto County Park visited for its fishing, camping, and miles of sandy beaches, in addition to its history.
The fort itself was built in response to the Spanish American War of 1898 to defend Tampa Bay from intruders. While the war ended in 1898, the fort was not completed until 1906. It never really served its military purpose, sitting largely unused throughout World War I. Several of its large mortars were even disassembled and shipped to San Diego in 1917.
The Fort’s remains stand amid the natural beauty of the seashore and these uninhabited islands. They are a reminder that more than a century ago the fear of war and invasion led to great waste — just as it does today.