Seeing Green: My Vision for Clearwater
By Liz Drayer
To green or not to green? As a former EPA attorney I know it's not a choice - achieving sustainability is a necessity for the planet.
I've lived in Clearwater and raised my family here for the last 13 years, and devoted hundreds of volunteer hours to the community. I care about my home, and it's distressing to see Florida's natural beauty and wildlife under siege. Strip malls and condos gobble up wild and rural areas. Global warming threatens to drown the state. Oil drilling fouls our waters and coasts. We need to change how we live if we want to reverse this damage, and change now. The place to start is in our local communities.
Clearwater's done much in recent years to become more environmentally friendly. It's increased energy efficiency, expanded recycling, instituted paperless archiving, purchased hybrid vehicles. It turned Kapok Park, a former mobile home community, into a green oasis where imperiled birds find sanctuary, where photographers and residents flock to see great horned owls nurture their chicks in a stately old tree. This is the kind of progress we need in our city, and we need much more of it.
Coastal high rises have ruined the beauty of our beaches and harmed wildlife, but we don't need to accept the status quo. As these buildings age and new construction replaces them, let's create a new eco-friendly waterfront. We can build energy-wise, low-rise structures that blend with nature, and surround them with vegetation that helps attract wildlife back to our shores. Scores of tourist towns have built their success on nature, recreation, the arts, and history, and we can be one of them. Glitzy hotels and strip malls are not the only path to prosperity. We can morph from Miami to Sanibel if that's what we want.
There are dozens of ways Clearwater can become more sustainable: creating green space and protecting it from development; landscaping with native plants; expanding the tree canopy; solar and wind power projects; neighborhood centers to increase walkability; hybrid car and bike sharing programs; community gardens. Our nation's most progressive cities and towns are working on projects like these.
A city commissioner recently joked that we could raze the Harborview Center and plant grass. Plant lantana instead, add a winding path of crushed shells and it's a winning idea. When a structure's outlived its usefulness why not give the land back to nature? Our air and water will be a little cleaner, flood control improved, and residents will get a leafy respite from downtown life. It's not all about the tax base.
We can't afford to slip back into the old destructive mode. Plans like the proposed Clearwater Christian College expansion, which brings more people, cars and concrete into a sensitive coastal area, are not what our city needs, and threaten to wipe out gains we're making in other areas. I hope the college will look for ways to accomplish its goals in a manner consistent with good stewardship of the land. Its unique location provides the perfect chance to teach students about protecting Tampa Bay and its resources. The college can do tremendous good by seizing this opportunity.
Clearwater can reverse the mistakes of the past and become a green leader. Our future and that of our children depend on a sustainable world, so let's be sure we're doing our part here at home.
Return to Current Edition