Fear of Flying

By Hannah Wallace January 31, 2008

As someone who savors nostalgia’s sweetness and familiarity’s comfort, I’m also stimulated by tomorrow’s changes. Not change for the sake of change, but change for progress. Not wanting to grow is a contradiction to everything an advanced society is all about.

Yes, I’m referring to the passage of the supermajority ballot item in last November’s Sarasota city and county elections. Requiring a four out of five vote on matters pertaining to development has not only redefined the democratic principle of majority vote, it also defies logic. The building development torpor that began in 2006 is now into its second year, dramatically affecting our total economy. Eventually this slump will end and we’ll be back in a growth mode—unless, of course, it’s perpetuated by the anti-growth message emanating from the voting booths. Why did so many people vote against growth?

I’m not an economist or a home industry professional. But I can smell fear when it’s in the air. I truly believe that once again Sarasota has been victimized by the politics of fear. A minority of people, either out of conviction, fear or self-interest (including “I’m in Shangri-La, and I don’t want anyone else to come here and change it”) scared enough other people to create a voting majority. It also happened with the elected mayor issue several years ago. Marketing tactics using a Boss Mayor slogan frightened enough voters to defeat a motion that so many people are clamoring for today. Amazingly, the purveyors of fear convinced enough people that “strong” is a bad adjective preceding “mayor.” A mayor is OK as long as he or she is weak. What a concept!

In 1933, FDR galvanized a Depression-terrorized nation with the words “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” People then at least had a reason to be frightened. What are we afraid of? Runaway development? No one wants that. Careful planning should produce orderly, attractive growth. And the marketplace itself provides a natural inhibitor of too much. Today’s slowdown is surely a good example of how effective that marketplace is. It doesn’t need any help.

It’s the fear of growth that we truly must fear, since no growth has the real potential of seriously damaging our economy long-term. I wonder if all those who voted yes in November would do so today if they were made aware of the potential economic implications of their votes. Getting this issue back on a ballot as soon as possible should be a priority. And we must simultaneously develop a more informed understanding of growth.

Ultimately, we need to send a friendlier message to developers and businesses who want to invest in our community. It’s our choice: embracing growth, which leads to economic health, or fearing it, which leads to decay.

Filed under
Show Comments