As I wrote earlier this week, the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s two-part Pockmarked Paradise series was an exceptional look at perhaps the most intractable issue of our generation: The complete economic and social stagnation of our once vibrant beachside.
But did it go far enough?
Our local newspaper of record has many internal and external challenges – but there is no denying that the crew over on Sixth Street excels at in-depth investigative reporting.
Anchored by the remarkable journalistic talents of Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, the News-Journal’s Tarnished Jewel series was benchmark reporting and served to expose the waste and perpetual ineffectiveness inherent in redevelopment efforts on our beleaguered beachside.
That outstanding exposé was the impetus for several SRO town hall meetings and other public awareness efforts which ultimately resulted in the Beachside Redevelopment Committee.
The piece moved us. It angered us. And it stirred many to grassroots action and political involvement.
Unfortunately, what it didn’t do is jettison those bureaucratic lumps with direct responsibility for fostering and managing desperately needed revitalization efforts – people who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – yet continue to fail miserably in this important role.
We keep the same senior redevelopment staff, perennial politicians and administrative hacks and blowholes – all while expecting a different result.
Now, Ms. Zaffiro-Kean has hit it out of the park with the hard-hitting series, Pockmarked Paradise – a grim look at the economic and social impact of hundreds of vacant and dilapidated properties along the spine of our core tourist areas from Ormond Beach to the Shores.
These deep dives into the continuous cycle of blight on the beachside have left many of us wondering how the same people can remain at the controls of a rudderless redevelopment apparatus – a process designed exclusively to funnel huge sums of public funds to political insiders – while our main draw in a tourist economy continues to openly rot.
After reading the first installment, I took a swipe at our ‘movers & shakers’ who contributed their comments and opinions on “what to do” about the situation we find ourselves in.
My frustration results from the fact that many of these individuals have been in positions of public and private power for years – literally sitting in ivory towers looking down as this steaming squalor permeated once vibrant neighborhoods – and looked away as over $100-million in redevelopment funds was squandered or evaporated.
In reading Pockmarked Paradise, we saw terms like, “First and foremost,” “We need to,” “Got to be a solution,” “We’re trying to make it a family-oriented place,” “You’ve got to get it going,” “I think that things are turning around,” “Some people are scared to come,” etc. – phrases that were followed by general suggestions and observations with no cohesive plan for progress.
Add to that the complete disconnect between area politicians – each with near identical problems, but obviously no collaborative effort to address these common issues – and you begin to see the core issue more clearly.
In short, I thought it was a great two-part series, and I sincerely hope it serves as an ignition point for positive change.
However, in my view, Pockmarked Paradise still missed the mark on what I believe is the ultimate contributing factor for the obstructionism and lack of vision on our afflicted beachside.
A recent editorial in the News-Journal, “Stop spinning wheels on A-1-A,” served as Cliffs Notes on the Pockmarked Paradise series for our powers-that-be who still cannot read critically, form an independent opinion, or think for themselves:
What’s needed now is “Leadership.”
In my view, there can be no strong political leadership in our oligarchical system, where a few uber-wealthy insiders consolidate incredible power through massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates for public office, then use that influence as leverage to control everything from redevelopment to infrastructure projects to the local marketplace – even the elimination of our heritage of beach driving.
I believe this represents the crux of the issue that no one – especially not the Daytona Beach News-Journal – wants to talk about.
So long as our government processes are openly manipulated by a handful of powerful political insiders – whose common trait is a voracious appetite for public funds to fuel private projects – nothing, and I mean nothing, will substantively change on the Fun Coast.