Thriving is not just surviving!

In 2008 I moved from Tucson, Arizona to Pensacola.  I’d spent 20 years in the Sonoran Desert, writing and photographing the beauty of the high desert with its myriad cactus sculpture which bloomed in psychedelic orange and magenta, brilliant red or pink flowers each winter.  From the driest, withered-looking plant, desiccated by the hot summer, emerge magnificent blooms that feed the birds, bats, and bees. It always seemed miraculous to me until I  understood how plants adapt to the dry lands.

The famous saguaro cactus is pleated so that on hot days a shadow is cast to keep the plant cool, and the structure is such that when it rains, the saguaro sucks up surface rain across a wide area through its shallow root system.  The pleated trunk expands like an accordion, gradually releasing the water to its cells over the dry season until the monsoon rains bless the landscape once again.

Dr. Mark Dimmit, Director of Living Collections at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum exclaims, “Desert plants do not just survive, they thrive through their seasons.”

How can we as a community living through hard times thrive instead of just coping, just surviving?  This is on my mind today as we set out into the year 2012.  How can we thrive?  There is something spirited about this approach—enabling us to bring forward all that is best in us, clever, joyful and resourceful.

What would that look like?  The new Admiral Mason Park storm water reclamation pond is a good example of what we can do to turn a site into a multi-use location with beauty and outdoor exercise tied into it.  Dedicated in 2011 adjacent to the Veterans’ Memorial Park, it now serves as a beautiful entrance to the city, a place to read, meditate, or just walk and bike.  As the eight live oaks grow and cast their shadows on the 3.5 acre pond, it will season into a place of beauty to honor our veterans.  After building the Aragon community the need to mitigate storm water became evident.  We combined ecosystem function with the human need for places of inspiration and physical exercise.

Another example of what we can do is the children’s recreation area at Lucia M. Tryon Branch Library.  Now that the playground, trees, and pond are in place, it will evolve into a natural habitat that attracts birds and bees and people to its lovely walking paths and to the many opportunities for kids to practice rock climbing, pretend play in the big pirate’s ship and watch fish and ducks through the tall reeds that line the pond.  It will become a place where children and parents are immersed in nature.

At UWF President Judy Bense is planning to build residential halls that are models of sustainable energy design with ecosystem services leading the design.  Living in an energy smart building is a teachable moment.  The UWF School of Science and Engineering was built to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.  Its design is the highest LEED standard for construction.  The environment stimulates creative thinking.

We might also think about going further by shaking off standard incremental improvement to design buildings that act like ecosystems.   Jason McLennan, architect at Kansas City-based BNIM Architects, is known for “living building” design.  To be certified as a living building (park or street) criteria in seven areas must be met:  site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty.  With Gulf Power’s support for geothermal energy designs, we have an opportunity to build something revolutionary next time we begin the design process.  We’ll save energy, restore environment, improve our health, offer good jobs to people who are most in need and involve students in learning futuristic planning while creating a surrounding that makes us feel great.  What could be better?

In 2012 I challenge myself and my fellow Pensacoleans to stop, wait and consider with each decision before us, how could we plan and act together to thrive- not just survive-in the New Year and decades to come?

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