Forget losing weight, taking up jogging or finding the love of your life. After the year that just ended, from the plunging real estate market to that nasty political campaigning (“pole dancer” ended up being one of the nicest things candidates called each other), it’s time for some brand-new resolutions for 2007. In the interest of a better year—and maybe even a better Sarasota—here are 10 New Year’s resolutions we all should make.
1. Fix our broken election system. Any objective observer would view the huge Sarasota undervote this fall as the result of faulty machines—or worse; and supervisor of elections Kathy Dent’s defensive attitude, including dismissing those who reported the problems in the early voting as activists, was an insult to every voter and one more reason to make her office a non-partisan position held to the highest standards of competence.
2. Now, more than ever, support the Van Wezel. Whether or not you think executive director John Wilkes should have been fired, the Van Wezel remains Sarasota’s cultural centerpiece. Since 1970, it’s played a major role in establishing the character of the city, helping to lure sophisticated, arts-loving residents to Sarasota and bringing live performances to countless children through its outreach programs. Even if the city cedes control of it to a private foundation—and that issue deserves thoughtful, rather than hasty, consideration—it’s going to need private as well as public funding, and it deserves our continued generosity and interest.
3. Make the effort to meet local candidates. You certainly can’t learn much about them through their ridiculous advertising, and since they’re constantly speaking to everyone from trailer park associations to business groups, it’s easy to see them in person. Remember, it’s at the local level that we can most affect our future—and the cliffhanging results in several local races this fall emphasize what a difference a few votes can make. I thought I knew all about this year’s candidates from newspaper stories, but when I saw how they handled themselves and heard what they said live and in person, I was amazed how quickly I realized who was an empty suit (or empty head) and who was a normal (OK, semi-normal) human being with the smarts and people skills to advance a sensible agenda.
4. Lighten up already about those clowns! Those artists who keep complaining that TideWell Hospice’s clown statues are an attack against art and our reputation as a cultural capital might want to consider that art has survived a lot more serious onslaughts than a few brightly painted clowns. And guess what? Culture-loving Sarasota loves those clowns. They’re attracting crowds all over town; check out our magazine’s clown across from the Sarasota Opera House. We call her “The Clown Wore Prada”; she’s as chic as the magazine editor Meryl Streep played in the namesake movie, from her painted Chanel suit to her Prada clown shoes.
5. Save Riverview High School. This Sarasota landmark is one of architect Paul Rudolph’s most admired and influential buildings, and our plans to demolish it have sparked outrage around the globe. Especially now that the estimates for a new school have ballooned, it makes economic as well as historic sense to restore it. Riverview High School doesn’t just belong to the school board or even to Sarasota—it belongs to the world. (And speaking of treasured landmarks, did you know that the little 1920s houses and shops of Burns Squareone of the downtown’s most historic neighborhoods, do not have official protection and could give way to high rises some day? That might enrich a few property owners but would impoverish our city’s charm and character—can we please make this a community cause?)
6. Sample some Latin flavor. Hispanics accounted for 11 percent of the Sarasota-Manatee population in the 2000 census, and that number just keeps growing. Along with their skills and work ethic, they’ve brought new food, media and cultural energy to our once white-bread city. If you’re in business, this might be the year to tap into this growing—and growingly prosperous—market; in any case, you owe it to yourself to discover Nuevo Sarasota, from the tropical beat of all-Latin 92.5 FM to restaurants large and small that specialize in the cuisine of different Central and South American countries.
7. Prepare your business—or investments—for an economic slowdown. For the past few years, the Sarasota-Manatee economy, fueled by the housing boom, has been expanding by 6 percent a year, about 40 percent faster than the nation, says Sun Trust chief economist Gregory Miller. This year we—like the rest of the country—are likely to see 2 ½ to 3 percent growth; and though Miller says it should be a “soft landing,” he sees a slight risk of a recession—especially if we have a blow-up in the Mideast or an intense hurricane season.
The bad news: Investor-owned homes will flood the local market, slowing absorption of housing inventory and depressing prices (but only by 6 to 8 percent, Miller predicts); and consumers are finally going to feel the effects of rising energy prices and cut their spending. “Retailers are not in for a lot of fun,” says Miller, even in affluent Sarasota.
The good news: Tourism, professionals and business services should do pretty well, unemployment will remain low, and by 2008 we’ll “snap back” and again outstrip the national economy. In the meantime, smart businesses should consolidate debt and increase efficiencies and productivity, even if that involves some spending. And though Miller expects the stock market to do well, he says investors should closely watch economic indicators and allocate their assets accordingly.
8. Embrace young creatives. New College of Florida, USF, Ringling School of Art and Design and several other schools are bringing fresh talents and national attention—including through events like this year’s debut Ringling-presented International Design Summit—here, and we have more techies and young entrepreneurs here than we could have dreamed a decade ago. They’re making Sarasota (and our office) a livelier, smarter place, and anything we can do to create housing, studios and amenities to fit their budgets and interest will benefit us all. (Our genteel city’s sometimes-conflicted attitude towards young creatives came through in a recent Arts Council invitation, which invited them to a discussion of contemporary art—but forbade them to come in jeans.)
9. See Sarasota like a tourist. When was the last time you spent a Saturday strolling along the Gulf of Mexico instead of doing errands and household chores? Have you been to the Ringling to see the gorgeously restored Cà d’Zan, the dazzling new circus displays or the latest exhibit? People come from all over the world to see the Sarasota Opera, watch sharks glide by Mote’s aquarium or explore the tropical wonderland that’s Selby Gardens. But those of us who live in this city full of attractions often go years without rediscovering them. And don’t forget about wild Sarasota: the county offers free guided nature walks through beautiful, unspoiled public lands almost every week of the year. (Call 861-5000 and ask for Natural Resources.)
10. Do something about global warming. Scientists agree that accelerating climate change will threaten our prosperity and way of life—perhaps within our children’s lifetimes. And coastal Sarasota will see some of the first effects. A 2006 study by the National Wildlife Federation and the Florida Wildlife Federation concludes that sea levels could rise here by half a foot by 2050—“and that’s a conservative estimate,” says Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. “In a flat area like Siesta Key, it would be tremendous. No one wants to deal with this, but it’s not going away.” The rising sea would inundate barrier islands, wash away expensive homes and destroy freshwater habitats for fish and wildlife. In a community fueled by waterfront real estate and beach-loving tourists, it’s crazy not to take these warnings seriously—not to mention the little issue of the future of the planet. Most experts agree we have only a few years to address this impending catastrophe; now is the time to demand the necessary changes in public policies.