Lovelips and I are staying with my parents in Sarasota,Florida right now. We’re having a good time. Today we’re going to the Sarasota County Fair, having gone out for breakfast this morning. Last night we went to the house of some friends of my mom, and the night before we went to see Euripides’ Bacchae. I’ve also gotten in a good walk every day, usually for a couple of miles or so every day.

    Mostly we’ve been hanging out by the pool, and swimming, getting some sun and doing creative stuff. I’ve been working on making maps, and lj user=Lovelips> has been beading. Mom is making a quilt, while Dad is off playing tennis. Tonight we may go to a poetry reading at a Thai restaurant.

    Does anyone know of any other poetry readings in Sarasota? I’m here until Thursday, even though lovelips goes home Sunday.

    One of the things that’s on my mind these days is how much of the landscape is given over to automobiles. Mom’s condo is located within a larger enclave of condos, about 750+ units. When they were built in the 1970s, environmentalism wasn’t nearly the ‘powerhouse’ of thought that it is today, but even so their construction policies were ahead of their time. Most of the trees were left standing, and many more bushes and other ground plants. The buildings were cleverly nestled in amongst pockets of greenery and estuaries which help funnel water out into Little Sarasota Bay.

Little Sarasota Bay, unlike is turquoised-water neighbor to the north, Sarasota Bay, has brown and muddied waters. In the early 1980s, a businessman and real estate developer closed Midnight Pass, a natural tidal passageway between the Gulf of Mexico and Little Sarasota Bay. The Bay began silting up, and the waters turned brown. Without the tides to regularly renew and clean the water, the Bay began filling up with gunk washed downstream from farms and developments on land, and with material swept south from Sarasota Bay along the Intercostal Waterway.

There is a massive political movement down here to re-open Midnight Pass, but it’s both expensive and a major technical challenge, and there are numerous wealthy and powerful individuals and groups on both sides of the debate.

What does this have to do with cars, you ask?

Here in this relatively green enclave of housing on the Florida coast, the residents are worried about the runoff from their driveways and parking spots into Little Sarasota Bay. A brief walk around the neighborhood (yes, it’s a gated community) reveals that about one in five cars has a bumper sticker demanding the re-opening of Midnight Pass. When the community was designed, channels down the lanes directed water toward the Bay. Of course, this is contributing to and exacerbating Little Sarasota Bay’s environmental woes. How to fix it?

Every apartment here has one car slot, under a corrugated iron carport roof. For every five or six units, there’s a guest parking spot. There are also a number of one-way streets and loops designed to bring people to these parking spots. That’s 900+ parking spots. A parking spot is about 100 square feet, so there are about 90,700 square feet of parking in this complex. This is about twenty acres, or six football fields. And that’s not including the lanes which connect all these parking spots to the outside world through a single gate. Nearly all of the roads are wide enough for two cars to pass each other; some are wider. I’d bet that there are another twenty acres of this complex which are under pavement, as well.

All these cars are leaking oil and transmission fluid and gas and other noxious chemicals. Plus, there are guys going around after this morning’s thunderstorm, cleaning up fallen leaves on the roadways with hand-held leaf-blowers which are both noisy and polluting. Plus they need repaving every few years. Plus there’s the actual investment cost of the asphalt and concrete. Plus there’s the energy costs of the air conditioning in many of the condos, because the rooms are too hot (in part because there is not enough shade overhanging the houses).

Across the street from this housing complex is a large strip mall. The strip mall consists of a front row of shops with a block of parking spots and parking lanes in front of it. The mall has eight or nine smaller stores, one large anchor, and one small anchor. There are two ‘faster food’ restaurants (a Denny’s and something else), one at each end of the mall, as well. In addition, there is a smaller row of professional offices behind the main mall, with a couple of doctors’ offices, a laboratory of some sort, and an engineering/planning firm. The whole structural complex is bare of trees and shade, and dismayingly, only four of the stores in the complex seem to be full — a Linens and Things, a Dillard’s outlet, a tanning salon, and a rather trashy looking card-store.

There is, between this residential complex and this commercial complex, parking for easily 2500 vehicles, and hardly any of it is in use. Meanwhile, the black pavement is generating heat, blocking water from reaching the soil (did I mention that Sarasota County is in the middle of a dry-as-tinder heatwave?), and preventing plant and animal bio-diversity from helping out. It’s all very awkward. I’m actually thinking about a novel in response to it all.

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