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Defining the sustainable good life in Florida

Are downtowns today's version of the attached suburban garage that once begat bands and Internet start-ups? With short prospects for success in the existing job market, are today's educated but debt-heavy college graduates ready to create their own alternative economy? Will these super-connected Millennials take on climate change by breathing life into "climate economies" they could own?

If middle class aspirants can no longer attain a suburban house with two cars (or don't want to), what then might constitute the good life? Or will the same-old, same-old — even if worn-out, worn-out — foreclose Florida's future?

These and other questions will focus a group of scholars on a different direction as we come out of recession. Their conversation, called Sustainable and Authentic Florida, will take place Oct. 17-19 in Anna Maria. It will suggest that authenticity — community shaped by strengthened protection for nonrenewable natural and cultural resources — is a commercially salable proposition that prefigures sustainability and opens a way for coping with climate change.

Fifty years after Silent Spring, we work at sustainable economies. Pesticide-free food is widely available; trails substitute for roads on short trips; local economies spring up to counterbalance globalism; and LEED certification is increasingly sought.

Cities discover authenticity with roots in our shared humanity.

Advocacy teams from four Florida places will be a catalyst for discussion. The four, all different, are DeLand, Miami Beach, portions of Wakulla and Franklin counties, and coastal Manatee County where the conference takes place. Consider how each is already reshaping tourism.

• Forty-one years ago, Disney captured the family trade from Miami Beach. Hotel companies urged casino gambling but the voters said no. Instead, when a visiting art historian discovered shabby Art Deco structures along the sea, young adults flocked in to restore the properties. Investors followed. Art Deco champions took over city hall. Its South Beach brand made the resort town world famous again.

• The DeLand Area Chamber of Commerce has attracted the headquarters of the Florida Bicycle Association. The regional tourism bureau has made bicycle touring a marketing focus. Stetson University resumes intercollegiate football next year at a city stadium alongside a bicycle trail six blocks from the town center, guaranteed to liven up downtown weekends. Together, these moves promise to keep this city of 29,000 talked of when in 2016 transit-oriented development will mushroom with the arrival of SunRail trains at a station 3 miles west of town. Bikes will ride free.

• Coastal Wakulla County is 85 percent publicly owned. Creative people moved in while Tallahassee was turning the north side of Wakulla into bedroom subdivisions. The Wakulla campus of Tallahassee Community College first introduced a Green Guide Certification Program that claims more than 100 graduates. Now comes a $4.5 million legislative grant for Florida's first Environmental Institute that will advance ecotourism from the Big Bend to the Panhandle.

• Coastal Manatee County essentially welcomes visitors to how locals live. No walled-off beach. Everything informal. A free Anna Maria Island bus reduces cars on the road. A prominent restaurateur campaigns to popularize plentiful mullet as Florida's sustainable fish. In 26 years, the county has acquired 28,000 acres of conservation lands for an elsewhere unmatchable $18 million in public money. Authenticity has inspired the county's new tourism brand:

Real. Authentic. Florida.

What happens after the conference? Technically, we will videotape all sessions and summarize informal interactions at breaks and meals, on walks, and during an evening on Sarasota Bay. More ambitiously, Floridians might realize that a multidisciplinary approach can help us take on issues like climate change without fear that we will diminish our lives. Instead, with the expectation that by accepting life itself we can redefine the good life centered on overcoming existential threat.

We face a door that we haven't yet entered, though we know that some places have already opened and that the young may push wide open and walk through. Going into the conference, we have questions. Coming out we may see answers. The conference should continue for as long as it remains vital.

Herb Hiller of DeLand is conference director. For details, including a list of speakers, and to register, go to www.sustainableandauthenticflorida.com. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Defining the sustainable good life in Florida 10/07/12 [Last modified: Sunday, October 7, 2012 5:30am]

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