Driving down I-95 along the Atlantic Coast to CNU 20 in West Palm Beach last month, there was nothing so jarring as coming upon these landfill mountains in the flat Floridian landscape. It’s one thing to come across these artificial hills of filth in the river bluffs along the Mississippi River or other Midwestern rivers, where the hilly topography affords some aesthetic opportunity for these behemoths to blend into the natural landscape (putting aside the issues of any potential environmental impact arising from a mountain of buried garbage). It’s another thing to find them in a landscape no more than a few feet above sea level. These are the American Pyramids, a testament to our culture of mass consumption. The Egyptians built their pyramids as tombs for the pharaohs and monuments to the gods. In America, we build our pyramids as tombs for our refuse; monuments to what we consume and mostly defecate.
If ever there was an appropriate metaphor for today’s American society, then this is it. Instead of taking action to cut down the perilously hanging tree limb in this grocery store parking lot, someone thought a more effective measure would be to place shopping carts in a circle around the probable landing zone with cautionary tape wrapped about the carts and wait for gravity to do all the work. This is how we solve problems in today’s America. We wait for gravity to pile on instead of taking action to solve the problem. It’s an insane world!
From Concrete Blonde
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the final script for an online political ad in support of Florida Hometown Democracy (Amendment 4) during the November 2010 elections. I have no idea if the ad was ever finished or aired.
Hello! My name is Mark David Major. I’m a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and I’ve lived – and worked – in Florida for nearly a decade now. Over the last decade, as Senior Planner for Nassau County, a planner for one of the largest home builders in the state, and a small business owner, I have worked on both sides of the table on growth and development issues in Florida; ALWAYS based on the principle my primary ethical obligation is to the public good, and to speak clearly and honestly about growth issues to the public, my employers and my clients.
I want to talk to you today about why I’m supporting Amendment 4, or “Florida Hometown Democracy”, and why I’m urging you to vote YES on Amendment this November 2nd. During my time in Florida, it has become abundantly clear to me how we manage growth and development in our state simply does not work. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Even those who opposed Amendment 4, openly admit it does not work. And you don’t have to take their word for it either.
Over the past 2 years, Floridians from all walks of life have experienced first-hand the catastrophic effects of our real estate market being Ground Zero for a Global Recession that has led to 1 out of every 5 Americans being out of work. Banks have foreclosed on homes at a rate not seen in this country since the Great Depression. There are record numbers of people filing for bankruptcy. The scale of personal debt defies description and the scale of government debt is beyond comprehension. Decline in the value of our homes have been massive. And it has all been a direct result of the way we’ve planned, grown, developed and built our communities, neighborhoods and homes over the last 30 years. It is not an accident the areas of Florida hardest hit by home devaluation during this Great Recession has been those characterized by unsustainable, energy-inefficient, suburban sprawl neighborhoods. That’s because when the housing bubble burst, the bill for reckless growth finally came due.
So what’s the solution? Amendment 4 proposes to give voters a voice in how their neighborhoods, towns and communities grow and develop. But even more importantly, approval of Amendment 4 will cause businesses and developers to make smarter decisions about what land they buy and develop long before the public becomes ever involved, leading to better and smarter projects. Instead of being driven but what is the cheapest land to develop, developers will have to decide what is the best land to develop. This will lead to smarter growth in Florida.
Now the opponents of Amendment 4 have a clear political strategy to try to defeat this ballot measure: to confuse the issue and try to scare you. They are saying approval of Amendment 4 will cause Florida to lose jobs but we’ve already lost tens of thousands of jobs. They are saying approval of Amendment 4 will cost Florida’s economy billions of dollars but our economy has already lost billions of the dollars. They say approval of Amendment 4 hand power over to special interest lawyers but our dysfunctional system is already dominated by special interest lawyers lobbying on behalf of landowners and developers. They say approval of Amendment 4 will mean higher property taxes but that’s only because our homes have lost so much of their value due to their reckless development practices. The opponents of Amendment 4 want cheap land because they are poised, even eager, to make the same mistakes all over again because they know how to exploit cheap land and leave you the bill for the next time the bubble bursts. It’s ironic, on one hand, the opponents of Amendment 4 are trying to confuse you into believing approval of Amendment will not really change anything and, on the other hand, they are trying to scare you into believing the solution to our current problems is more of the same. Do you really want more of the same?
Americans built this country by being explorers and pioneers; by dreaming of a better tomorrow and then daring to make it a reality. I urge you to do the same by voting YES on Amendment 4 this November 2nd and daring to dream today of a better Florida, a smarter Florida for you and your family tomorrow.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a guest editorial in support of Florida Hometown Democracy originally published in October 2010 on the online magazine, Metro Jacksonville.
EDITORIAL: VOTE YES ON AMENDMENT 4
Voting Yes for Amendment 4 this November 2nd is a vote for a better, smarter Florida. Our real estate and development industry is a dinosaur; equally dull in its collective wisdom and just as extinct. Over the last 25+ years, our real estate development industry has been driven by one arrogant and fatal assumption: this is what makes us the most money therefore this is what the people really want. It’s akin to offering a man dying of thirst in the desert a shot of bourbon to forget his troubles (“oh, and here’s a Golden Calf to help you pray for help”). The dying man wants… needs water. But the profit margins on bourbon and golden calves meet the quarterly profit projections of Wall Street. Now Amendment 4 comes before the voters this November 2nd to offer water in the desert. Predictably, the entrenched, moneyed interests in Tallahassee and town halls across the state have risen in opposition to Amendment 4. In the wilderness of the desert they proclaim, “Don’t drink the water! Water has a 100% mortality rate! Anybody who has ever tasted water has died!” But the voters know better. Amendment 4 proposes to make amendments to local comprehensive plans subject to voter approval. And this will lead to real change in how Florida develops and grows, for better and smarter development, in the future. Once the inevitable economic recovery appears, our real estate and development businesses will still make money (a lot of money, in fact). But the “this is the way we’ve always done it” business models they have relied for the last 25+ years will have to adapt when the voters approve Amendment 4 this November 2nd. Americans are optimists. We believe a vote can change our world. In 2006 and 2008, we voted to change direction after the Republican Party betrayed its core principles. Now, in 2010, we are once again preparing to vote for unprecedented change after the disappointment of the last 2 years. The media pundits and talking heads are pontificating about “the angry voter”, as represented by the enthusiasm of the Tea Party movement. But people don’t get angry and enthusiastically go out to vote unless they are optimists. The optimist votes because we still believe our vote matters and we can change things for the better. We stubbornly cling to our optimism despite being bombarded by the ‘conventional wisdom’ of cynics who prey on the fear we can never change a corrupt system dominated by moneyed interests, lobbyists and entitled self-serving incumbents (of both parties). I urge you to exercise your optimism by voting Yes on Amendment 4 this November 2nd for a better and smarter Florida.
Mark Major, AICP was the Chair of the First Coast Section, Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association from 2005-2008.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is an opinion piece written in support of Amendment 4 and published in the September 10-16 issue of the Jacksonville Business Journal. The opposing opinion piece against Amendment 4 was written by The Honorable John Peyton, Mayor of the City of Jacksonville, Florida.
Why are you for Amendment 4?
The way we have planned and managed growth in Florida since adoption of the 1985 Growth Management Act has failed. It has led to an unsustainable, energy-inefficient, suburban sprawl nightmare built on over-inflated property values. It has led to our real estate market being Ground Zero for a global recession. It has led to widespread unemployment, massive home devaluation, and record levels of foreclosures and bankruptcies. It has led to the worst economic downturn in our country since the Great Depression. Approval of Amendment 4 is an opportunity to change the dynamics of how we grow in Florida for the better and to make smarter decisions about growth in the future.
Why do you think the arguments that opponents have to the Amendment regarding unintended consequences are false?
Florida Hometown Democracy was never going to achieve what its supporters originally intended; namely, to stop growth. However, the arguments that opponents of Amendment 4 make about unintended consequences are disingenuous because what they really mean is they will have change the way they do business. But it is ‘business as usual’ that is the problem. Approval of Amendment 4 will lead to businesses making better and smarter decisions about what land is best to develop rather than what is the cheapest land to purchase. The most crucial calculations about a development are made long before it enters the regulatory process and approval of Amendment 4 will alter those calculations.
How do you think growth will evolve after the amendment?
Approval of Amendment 4 will promote the potential of already-entitled urban land, in-fill development, and reclamation of brownfield properties. It will also benefit traditional urban cores like Downtown Jacksonville. It will place greater demand on the design skills of planners, architects and urban designers because property owners and developers will want to maximize profit in the horizontal and vertical dimension of their projects. Over time, this will lead to development patterns that make public transit alternatives (such a trolleys and rail) more economically viable for cities like Jacksonville.
What would its failure mean?
Failure to approve Amendment 4 will mean more of the same. Our real estate market, our properties, and our homes will remain trapped in a cycle of ‘boom and bust’. More importantly, the solution opponents of Amendment 4 are offering is ‘more of the same’. They are poised, even eager, to make the same mistakes all over again because that is “how we’ve always done it”. But ‘more of the same’ is not a solution. Voting YES for Amendment 4 this November 2nd is a step in the right direction for a better Florida.
Mark David Major, AICP is the immediate past chair of the First Coast Section of the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association.