“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. . .”
–Strother Martin as “The Captain,” Cool Hand Luke, 1967
My wife Patti and I have been together for many years – more than half our lives (or so it seems) – and we still have trouble communicating on a basic level.
In fact, we have been together so long that we mostly make ourselves understood through a series of grunts, body language interpretation, or crude proto-cuneiform notes that only we can decipher – a weird marital telepathy that I get right about 40% of the time.
Just yesterday I was explaining some abstract concept to her about my plans to go to the grocery store – and she looked at me like I was speaking some obscure Běifānghuà dialect, an ancient Sinitic language not heard by human ears since the Great Yuan dynasty – and, without breaking her blank expression, said:
“What the hell are you talking about?”
I leaned in and clearly enunciated each syllable: “I-am-going-to-Publix-do-you-need-anything?”
And, through our impenetrable uncommunicative fog, my wife and I finally connected!
On this singular issue, for one brief moment, we actually understood each other – as it turns out, we needed milk. . .
In Volusia County, we have experienced a collective feeling of alienation – an almost mass miscommunication that has left many feeling unacknowledged on the important issues of the day.
When I sit on a barstool and talk local politics with the taxpayer sitting next to me or discuss mutual concerns with my neighbors on the street, most tell me that the malignant sprawl west of I-95 in the City of Daytona Beach is the single greatest threat to our quality of life.
A close second is their collective anxiety over the horrible mismanagement of our beach by a detached bureaucratic apparatus that has left our hard-to-access and overregulated strand looking like a haunted forest of wooden poles, plastic stakes, and do-this-don’t-do-that signage – all while our disconnected ‘powers that be’ continue to tell themselves that the price of a day at the beach is still within reach in a place where 40% of households do not earn enough to consistently cover basic living expenses.
When you add a growing sense in our neighborhoods that the individual has no real say in the civic direction of the Halifax area and beyond – a perception that the needs of families and the contributions of their struggling small businesses are ignored – there is a growing perception of marginalization as we watch those with influence openly access public funds to underwrite private profit motives and downplay those simple quality of life issues which are important to us.
When Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower ran for office against an entrenched insider who everyone who is anyone just knew was a shoo-in – he did something unheard of in local politics and took the time to listen to his neighbors – not while sipping chardonnay at flashy fundraisers sponsored by uber-wealthy powerbrokers, but at bar-b-ques, small gatherings in living rooms, and in those places where real people live, learn, work and play – and his campaign took on a grassroots importance – a feeling that he was interested in those issues the “average citizen” (read: you and I) find important in our daily lives.
It is almost like We, The Little People, and those we elect to represent our interests on the dais of power are on two different frequencies – a ‘bad connection’ that has left us unable to communicate on any substantive level.
It is part of why I abhor the overformal pageantry of things like the State of the County Address – where our elected Monarchy get dressed in their finery, luncheon among their “Rich & Powerful” benefactors, and spend a couple of hours talking down to their long-suffering constituents through stilted video productions leaving no legitimate way of sharing ideas, exchanging information, expressing our feelings, and gaining mutual understanding.
To add insult, what passes for ‘Public Participation’ in government meetings throughout Volusia County has taken on an insulting sense of unwanted formality – where our elected officials limit their audience to three-minutes and give off a palpable vibe they would rather be anywhere else than listening to the yakety-yak of concerned residents who took the time out of their day to be heard.
In my view, it is this fundamental lack of effective communication that has resulted in much of the dysfunction and distrust that has hampered substantive progress for far too long.
On Sunday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a frontpage feature by business writer Clayton Park entitled: “Fears of Volusia overdevelopment: Surge in new homes, commercial projects raises concerns over green space, water resources.”
It was clear that both sides of the very contentious issue of overdevelopment are speaking two different languages – distinct mindsets where one side sees the benefits of greenspace, protecting our sensitive ecology, and ensuring a safe supply of potable water for future generations – while those in the development and real estate industry never saw a virgin forest (or golf course, cemetery, etc.) that they didn’t at least subliminally consider how many homesites they could shoehorn onto it at the cheapest possible price.
For instance, while Chairman Brower was concerned about the “floodgates” opening on new home construction, apartment projects and commercial development throughout Volusia County – the effects of which we can already see, feel, and experience with our own senses – Carl Lentz, a former Daytona Beach City Commissioner and current managing director of SVN Alliance Commercial Real Estate Advisors, who, according to Mr. Park’s report, have brokered many of the land sales along the Boomtown Boulevard area of LPGA, would have us believe:
“The LPGA area was planned for this kind of growth,” he (Lentz) said. “People are getting sticker shock at seeing it all at once as opposed to gradually. Had it been gradual growth over the years people wouldn’t be complaining about it.”
Whose fault is that?
There is a reason the word “planning” typically comes before “development” – and given the pressure on our already overburdened transportation infrastructure and aquifer recharge areas – anticipating issues and preparing for them is something Mr. Lentz and his fellow elected officials had no apparent interest in when they served as rubberstamps for aggressive developers.
It appears like this breakdown is an almost strategic ignorance – saying one thing while knowing full well the destructive possibilities of the monster you have created.
Regardless, it is not “sticker shock” – because we had no say in the sale – rather, it is a well-founded fear among existing residents that we have permitted too much, too soon – and the adverse effects are beginning to show themselves areawide.
Perhaps now it is becoming clear why we were placed in this dangerous predicament in the first place, eh?
The more disturbing question is how deep into our municipal and county government processes does this strategic ignorance go – this intentional failure to communicate?
An entrenched system where ignorance serves as a productive asset and allows those in positions of power to plausibly deny culpability in the aftermath of this looming crisis.
Points to ponder while you are sitting in gridlocked traffic on Granada Boulevard this week. . .