Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

Celery Fields Mount Oct. 26, 2010

Celery Fields Mount Dec. 31, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An initiative in Broward

Creative Broward 2020 is an effort to blend economic and cultural development into a 'Creative Economy Business Association,' or a 'Cultural Chamber of Commerce.'

Read about it in detail here.

Monday, December 27, 2010


We know that "civics" derives from the Latin word for "city." But what is a city?

A physicist named Geoffrey West felt something key to our understanding of cities was missing:
“We spend all this time thinking about cities in terms of their local details, their restaurants and museums and weather,” West says. “I had this hunch that there was something more, that every city was also shaped by a set of hidden laws.”
West and others now aim to reduce the concrete metropolises spread across the globe to abstract equations, says the New York Times:
West and Bettencourt discovered that all of these urban variables could be described by a few exquisitely simple equations. For example, if they know the population of a metropolitan area in a given country, they can estimate, with approximately 85 percent accuracy, its average income and the dimensions of its sewer system. These are the laws, they say, that automatically emerge whenever people “agglomerate,” cramming themselves into apartment buildings and subway cars. It doesn’t matter if the place is Manhattan or Manhattan, Kan.: the urban patterns remain the same. West isn’t shy about describing the magnitude of this accomplishment. “What we found are the constants that describe every city,” he says. “I can take these laws and make precise predictions about the number of violent crimes and the surface area of roads in a city in Japan with 200,000 people. I don’t know anything about this city or even where it is or its history, but I can tell you all about it. And the reason I can do that is because every city is really the same.”
In terms of the language of Civics 101, this has implications:
It suggests, for instance, that modern cities are the real centers of sustainability. According to the data, people who live in densely populated places require less heat in the winter and need fewer miles of asphalt per capita. (A recent analysis by economists at Harvard and U.C.L.A. demonstrated that the average Manhattanite emits 14,127 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide annually than someone living in the New York suburbs.) Small communities might look green, but they consume a disproportionate amount of everything. As a result, West argues, creating a more sustainable society will require our big cities to get even bigger. We need more megalopolises.
There's a lot more to the article and the thinkers it features, including this insight from Jane Jacobs: The city wasn’t a skyline — it was a dance.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Resource Stewardship and Conceptual Models

Consider this post a placeholder - I hope to develop it more when time permits. The most striking elements of Civics 101 for me related to the two areas noted in the header. (Note: the images used here are merely illustrative, not drawn from course materials).

First, folks intimately involved with the daily operations of infrastructure - water, landfill, sewer, rescue, transportation, land - spoke most intensely when discussing the limits on priceless resources, the costs of operating the systems that use them, and the reasons and methods of real sustainability. I think about the energy involved in delivering a gallon of water to my faucet in ways I hadn't before.

Second, it was enormously instructive to hear various department heads lay out the thinking that informs their work. The conceptual models now in use by Planning, Environmental Services, Parks, Traffic and more. The thinking is often innovative, interdisciplinary, drawing upon advanced global research and pragmatic approaches to prudent stewardship of public goods. It was eye-opening to learn the ways in which Sarasota County is a leader in key areas, and a place where others come to learn.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Legacy Trail Open House, Health Dept. Volunteers

Friends of the Legacy Trail logoFriends of the Legacy Trail are having an Open House

Join the Friends of the Legacy Trail at an Open House on Tuesday, Jan.4, 2011, at the Phillippi Estate Park. Preview the upcoming programs, events and Legacy Trail improvements. (MORE)

Season of Sharing: volunteers contribute over $5 million in service hours
In this "Season of Sharing," the Sarasota County Health Department (SCHD) recognizes the contributions of its 251 volunteers who serve at seven sites throughout the county. Additionally, the SCHD has oversight of the Senior Friendship Centers' medical and dental clinic volunteers. Collectively, these volunteers provided 29,623 hours in essential roles over a one-year period, saving taxpayers $5,334,025. (MORE)

Public Art Intersections Installation Completed

Sarasota, FL: The twelfth and final piece of the ‘Intersections’ public art project will be installed Friday, December 17, 2010 at 1:00 p.m. at Selby Five Points Park. Eleven other pieces are now strategically placed at prominent locations throughout the downtown to encourage people to visit downtown as a destination and take a walking tour of the art pieces included in “Intersections”. The Public Art Committee is collaborating with the Sarasota County Arts Council and the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau to market “Intersections” as another interesting attraction in downtown Sarasota.

Twelve artists were selected by the Public Art Committee to display their work at high profile locations throughout downtown. The installations began in October and the pieces will be on display until November 2011. At that time, the City Commission with input from the Public Art Committee and the community, will choose one sculpture to become part of the City’s permanent art collection.

For more information about "Intersections" contact Dr. Clifford Smith, public art staff liaison: 941-954-4195.

City of Sarasota on Twitter:!/cityofsarasota

Advisory Board Applicants for City of Sarasota Needed

Sarasota, FL: The City of Sarasota is seeking individuals who are interested in their community to serve on City Commission Advisory Boards. The following positions are now open:

Board of Rules and Appeals:
- One seat for a mechanical contractor
- One seat for a fire alarm contractor

Bobby Jones Golf Course Advisory Board:
- One seat for an individual with a financial services background
- One seat for an individual with experience managing a recreational facility
- One seat for an active user of the Bobby Jones Golf Course facilities

Citizens With Disabilities Advisory Board:
- Two seats with no seat requirement

Civil Service/General Personnel Board:
- No seat requirement

Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) Advisory Board:
- One seat for an individual involved in planning or design in the Downtown Redevelopment Area
- One seat for an individual involved in construction development in the Downtown Redevelopment Area
- One seat for a representative of the Economic Development Board
- One seat for an individual involved in finance or banking

Human Relations Board:
- One seat with no requirement

Newtown Community redevelopment Agency (CRA) Advisory Board:
- One seat for a representative of the Economic Development Board
- One seat for an individual involved in planning or design
- One seat for an individual involved in finance or banking

Nuisance Abatement Board:
- Two seats with no requirement

Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Advisory Board:
- One seat for an individual who is a City resident

Preference is given to people who live or own property within the City of Sarasota. All positions are voluntary and are appointed by the City Commission of the City of Sarasota. To apply for an Advisory Board position, visit and click 'Citizen Advisory Boards' or visit the Office of the City Auditor & Clerk, 1565 First Street, during regular business hours.

For more information contact City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Weather alerts - the newsletter

Here's a weather update from Scott Montgomery of Sarasota Emergency Services, who spoke with Civics 101 about hurricanes and other emergencies. Scott mentioned that he sends out alerts via email. If you wish to be added to his email list, just drop him a note at

Latest Severe Weather Alert
For: Sarasota County Emergency Management -- Sarasota County, FL

Condition Yellow

Issued: 12:25 PM EST Wed, Dec 15, 2010.

Valid: 06:00 AM EST Thu to 09:15 AM EST Thu

Temperatures30 - 32F

For tonight, areas near the coast will stay above freezing early Thursday morning, but inland areas could see a light freeze. A low of right near or just below the freezing mark is anticipated inland of the coast.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

County News via Community Connections

roundabout signNorth Sarasota neighborhood enhancements

The Sarasota County Commission Tuesday awarded a nearly $2.2 million contract for the construction of neighborhood enhancements, including sidewalks, road widening and roundabouts, in the north Sarasota area. (MORE)

RinglingCounty approves $1.75 million grant for Ringling College

County approves $1.75 million grant for Ringling College Sarasota County's venture into the film industry advanced Wednesday, Dec. 8, as county commissioners approved a grant of $1.75 million to Ringling College of Art and Design to develop a post-production facility on the campus. (MORE)

EDC logoResource One Plans Relocation to Sarasota County, 36 New Jobs
Resource One Inc., which manufactures and distributes environmentally friendly cleaning products, plans to relocate from Largo, to Sarasota County and add 16 jobs in 2011, according to company President Duncan Yull. (MORE)

no watering"Skip a Week" of irrigation this winter
The Southwest Florida Water Management District is encouraging residents who irrigate their lawns to "Skip a Week" of watering during the cooler months of December, January and February.(MORE)

Connect with Community Connections.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lighthouses and autopsies

Here's an NPR story about what is a "public good," which is defined for the story as: "something that we all need, that will make our lives better, but that the market will not and cannot provide."

For example:
... autopsies and lighthouses are useful examples of what economists call a public good — "something that we all need, that will make our lives better, but that the market will not and cannot provide," says Charlie Wheelan, who teaches public policy at the University of Chicago. More - with some intriguing comments.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

San Francisco completes massive solar project

From AP -- Of interest given our discussion and tour of the solar array at Rothenbach Park:

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco is now home to what city officials say is California's largest municipal solar installation.

Mayor Gavin Newsom on Monday announced the completion of the Sunset Reservoir Solar Project, which has almost 24,000 solar panels covering an area the size of 12 football fields.

Officials say the installation generates 5 megawatts of renewable energy daily, more than tripling the amount of solar power used by the San Francisco government.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will buy the electricity from Recurrent Energy, which built, owns and operates the project.

Officials say the Sunset Reservoir will help the city move toward its goal of generating all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wilson House Open for Free Tours

Guided tours of historic Wilson House available in December

The historic home of one of Sarasota County’s first practicing physicians, Dr. C.B. Wilson, is open for free guided tours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30-11:30 a.m. in the month of December. Located at Urfer Family Park, 4000 Honore Ave., Sarasota, the home built in 1906 was recently reopened after a yearlong remodeling.

Staff and volunteers from the Sarasota County History Center will conduct the tours and talk about the exhibits that chronicle the life of Dr. Wilson and the early history of Sarasota County.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sandhill Dance

From an Audubon posting on Facebook:

So, you know how we're going to be building a nature center at the Celery Fields? The sandhill cranes are dancing for us! Check out this recent video by Darryl Saffer. Sooo cool.
This "performance" of sandhill cranes was filmed at the Audubon Celery Fields in Sarasota County. Video and music by Darryl

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New Blog for the SO

The Sheriff has a new blog:
Following the May launch of the agency's new web site, we wanted another communication tool that will allow us to further connect with citizens. We will be providing news and notes that don't necessarily warrant a press release but are still informative and interesting!

We also hope it will be a place for good, honest discussion about hot topics here and beyond Sarasota County, so your comments and questions will always be welcome!

The Sheriff's Office blog is here - additional press info here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

McCarthy to focus on recreational tourism

We heard John McCarthy talk about the potential synergies of intelligent park stewardship and the ways and means of green, smart economic development - a prime example was the developing rowing resource at Benderson Park. Now, from the Friends of Sarasota County Parks newsletter comes this news:

John McCarthy, General Manager of Parks has been appointed to focus full-time on product development linked to recreation tourism. "As Jim (Ley) shared with the board, this is a natural evolution for me, and builds upon the success that many of you have helped to develop. Rowing, eco-tourism, volleyball, swimming (and recreational opportunities we have not yet discovered) all have the potential to grow our local economy." Congratulations to John and FOSCP stands by to help in any way possible.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Nature Walks and Talks in December

To see this in a larger frame, do a right click and hit "open link in new window":

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Class 10: Community Gardens

Gail Harvey and fellow gardener Barbara (didn't get last name, sorry) offered a wealth of information as well as a tour of the Nokomis Community Garden. There are actually four community gardens in Sarasota County, with more on the way. Besides the one in Nokomis (234 Nippino Trail East), there are the Orange Blossom at 18th and Orange, Bayou Oaks Community Garden at Old Bradenton Rd. and 35th Street, and Laurel Community Garden in Laurel Park, 509 Collins Rd, Laurel. See this page for more about them.

The gardens ask a $30 registration, and $20 a year to be a member. Many other communities have their own gardens: churches, schools, neighborhoods. Land has been donated for a public garden near the Mall in Turtle Rock.

For more about green initiatives in the county see this page; for more about the Extension Service's support for community gardens, click here.

Typically, plots in community gardens here are 10' X 20', are fenced, and have water, mulch and some tools readily available. A certain amount of trading of produce goes on as each gardener might have an abundance of one thing and less of another.

The American Community Garden Association has a website rich in resources and info. Gail and Barbara recommended its clear explanation of how to start a community garden.

Update: A link to another local source for growers: The Sarasota Fruit & Nut Society.

Upcycling on

Those who enjoyed our session on garbage may find two interviews on the radio show "To the Best of Our Knowledge" of interest:

Annie Leonard talks about findings in her book, The Story of Stuff. She tracks products as they are manufactured by low-pay workers abroad, shipped and used in the US, and then shipped out to India, Africa, or another remote locale to be broken down (by hammers in some cases) and dumped.

Tom Szaky is the founder and CEO of a company called TerraCycle. His book is "Revolution in a Bottle: How TerraCycle Is Redefining Green Business." Szaky tells Jim Fleming how his company turns candy wrappers and juice bottles into pencil cases and backpacks sold at Walmart stores. Also, Mark Frauenfelder is co-creator of the weblog BoingBoing dot net and the author of "Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World." He talks with Anne Strainchamps about some of his DIY (do-it-yourself) projects from vegetables to cigar box guitars.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Spring 2011 Civics 101 applications now being accepted

If you're interested in signing up for Civics 101, the contact person at the County is Vickie French. She does a great job coordinating a ambitious, highly varied program. This info comes from the County's site:

The spring session for 2011 starts March 10, 2011. Applications are now being accepted.
Civics 101 is a class designed to provide a toolbox of resources on Sarasota County operations and services. This class provides an in-depth and behind the scenes introduction to operations in Community Services, Emergency Services, Financial Planning, Health and Human Services, Planning and Development, Public Communications, Public Works and much more.

Civics 101 has two sessions - Spring and Fall - both of which are held on Thursday night each week for 10 weeks. You must also select one of the three tours scheduled. Twenty-five residents are accepted each session on a first-come, first-served basis.

Civics participants will graduate at a Sarasota County Commission meeting upon completion of the requirements outlined in the schedule. The new schedule for 2011 has not been finalized but the program will be very similar to the one posted for fall 2010.
Civics 101 Application 
Civics 101 Fall 2010 Schedule 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Class 10: The NEST Program

Class 10: NEST and Community Gardens
Place: Nokomis Community Center

Robert Wright of the NEST program:

NEST stands for Neighborhood Environmental Stewardship Program - it's a volunteer citizen partnering program concerned with preserving and restoring shared water resources.

Watersheds: There are large and small watersheds. Rebuilding wetlands slows down the amount of runoff and fresh water that goes to the bays - for the creatures in the bays, salinity is an important factor for survival.

Venice has virtually no stormwater treatment - older system. Stormwater goes straight into the Gulf.

For homes there are various Low Impact Design (LID) Concepts that work with nature:

  • Permeable pavers, gravel, instead of concrete.
  • Bio-swales - use concrete blocks with holes that allow grass to grow through them.
  • Rain Barrels - a new twist on the ancient practice of cisterns.

Move to Native Yards. "The largest non-edible crop in Florida is grass."

  • Lawns use fertilizers that run off into ponds, leading to excessive nitrogen.
  • Using plants at the water's edge of ponds can reduce erosion and runoff. See more here.
  • Plants can thus buffer ponds and protect them as well as the soil around them.
  • For appropriate plants, talk to the Florida Native Plant Society.

Rainwater does not reach the deep aquifer from which we get our drinking water. The water we consume comes from far deeper, and flows west from the state's Central Ridge, which is in the Orlando area. It costs 1 KW of electricity to move 1 gallon of water from the aquifer to your home. Keep this in mind when you're using it. 59% of drinking water is used to irrigate lawns.

Rob Wright
NEST Program Coordinator
1001 Sarasota Center Blvd.
Sarasota, FL 34240

Phone: (941) 861-0929

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Urfer Park: Civics in Action

Urfer Family Park at the corner of Bee Ridge Rd. and Honore embodies the spirit of Civics 101 by mingling playgrounds with nature trails, boardwalks with wetlands, and Sarasota history with current operations of the Parks department.

Urfer just celebrated its first birthday, and also opened the newly refurbished C.B. Wilson House, a historical landmark building on the park property, which will serve as offices for Parks & Rec as well as a resource for trail maps and historical information.

Did you know Urfer Park is dog friendly? Here'as a map to a large swath of the park where dogs on leashes are permitted.

Here's a slideshow of events at the opening (still going on as this is typed):

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tales of Sarasota Online

Lynda Seidl suggested a site for our sidebar - and it's a good one: Sarasota History Alive. Lots of excellent material, photos, journals, stories from the county archives, plus info on upcoming tours, and a blog entitled Tales of Sarasota by Pete and Diane Esthus.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Utilities of this blog: Sharing, Extending, Responding

I imagine at least three purposes for this blog -- there are doubtless more, but these occurred to me right off:
  • At the end of each session of Civics 101, we were asked to "review" the session and to say how we intended to share the information we received. I kept saying "I'll blog it," so that's one thing I'll do here: try to provide summaries of some of the splendid presentations, with links where possible, so that someone coming to this material fresh will, one hopes, find something useful.
  • I'm sure some folks will be taking information presented and run with it -- the fascinating information about gardens, water, libraries, health, traffic control, public works, land conservation, parks, budgets, purchasing and more -- offer many paths to follow. It will be interesting to see where they lead us.
  • A third purpose would be to respond to what we've been exposed to. The rich store of information about how things work was superb; meeting some of those who make them work was terrific; but now what? What thoughts, observations, questions, responses does all this information prompt? If we ask, what are we to do with all this transparency, perhaps one response would be to utilize social media to turn monologue into dialog. It might be your turn to speak.
These are some of the purposes that occurred to me for a Civics 101 blog. All those attending Civics 101 are welcome to post here - just email Tom at and I'll make you a co-author here. Or if you'd prefer, just send along what you write to that address, and it'll be posted here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A sampler of Civics 101 voices

Please see the first post below for a brief introduction. Over the 10 weeks in Fall 2010 our group heard from many specialists across the spectrum of Sarasota County services and facilities. Part of the fun was picking up odd facts and useful tips from those best in a position to offer them. Here are a few:

Liz Klaber, Deputy Tax Collector: An early Florida flag offered the welcoming motto: "Let Us Alone."

Karen Rushing, Clerk of the Court: The County Court handles almost 12,000 cases a year - "the largest percentage used to be divorce -- now it's foreclosures."

Bill Furst, Property Appraiser: "Look at your home's square footage - you could be overassessed."

Tezra Felix, Web services: "A Sarasota County FaceBook site is in development."

Scott Montgomery, Emergency Rescue: 206 neighborhoods have completed the Neighborhood Homeowners Disaster Plan.

911 Center: The first 911 line in the U.S. went live in 1968 - in Alabama. Sarasota's first 911 service started in 1985.

Sarah Blanchard, transportationThe per-passenger cost of a SCAT trip in 2009 was $4.76.

John McCarthy, Parks & Rec: Parks can be a  key driver of economic development.

Theresa Connor, Environmental Services: 
  • There are 106,000 acres of contiguous protected lands from the Gulf to the Peace River in Sarasota, Manatee, and Charlotte counties.
  • The Harvard Business Review says sustainability will drive us out of the recession.
  • Bio-mimicry: studying natural systems then imitating them. E.g., learning from butterflies how wings can be self-cleaning.
Tom Franklin, Environmental services: 
  • The first known law about garbage is traced to ancient Athens, around 500 BC - garbage could not be disposed of within one mile of the city.
  • 190,000 tons of garbage were buried in 2009 in Sarasota County -- down from the peak of the economy, which saw and buried 270,000 tons. 
  • 18% of garbage is food waste.
Jack Merriam, Environmental Manager: 38% of US fresh water is used in power plants; 39% is used in agriculture.

That's a small sampling of the range of topics, interests, and concerns raised in the first five sessions.

Repeatedly a number of the speakers offered to speak to homeowners' associations, and to work with them on projects. One exceptional form of help is the Sarasota Neighborhood Environmental Stewardship Team, or NEST. They'll work with neighborhoods who wish to remove invasive plants, mark stormwater drains, do plant surveys, monitor bodies of fresh or salt water.

To reach any department or agency in the county, call 861-5000.

(Note: These are from notes taken on the fly - if there are factual errors, they are almost certainly the inadvertent result of this blogger's error, rather than of the speakers.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Civics for the rest of us

I've just finished the highly popular and well thought of Civics 101 course in Sarasota County. The course consisted of ten weekly "classroom" sessions -- each focusing on a different function within local government -- and several field trips.

The county has a good story to tell, because for the past decade or more, it's been run intelligently -- there was a good deal of fiscal prudence, so that now, as the economy flounders, important systems like the Sheriff, Fire/Rescue, the courts and the parks continue to operate without tax increases.

The county also has the benefit of very bright, energetic and creative people who are tapping into some fascinating thinking about sustainability, community, and nature. It may be that one of the benefits of taking a course like this is, we --  the 25 lucky residents who signed on -- have begun to think more broadly about how nature and technology can be understood as elements in the fabric of a larger whole: the sustainable community. The more we learn about nature's methods of doing things, the more wisely we might be able to support, nurture and govern our human habitations.

A few images from our trips are below. In order of appearance they include the wastewater plant, public works, traffic control, emergency services (including dogs), the T. Mabry Carlton Preserve, the water treatment plant, and a visit to the Celery Fields with guides from the Sarasota Audubon Society.