Looking for a new place to walk I remember an old neighborhood in Pensacola, Florida—my hometown. I drove to one of our family owned markets, parked and headed on foot toward the bay side of Scenic Highway which wiggles its way along Escambia Bay to Downtown.
As soon as I was one block from the main drag I began to hear a chorus of birds and saw my first robin of the springtime. A canopy of old oaks greeted me as I turned down the narrow streets. It was degrees cooler and flowers and trees were in bloom in the asymmetric yards and thoroughfares.
Camellias are a signature blossom in this City of Five Flags: they came from Asia probably on ships that brought international goods from all over the world to Pensacola’s famous deep water port. Here is a beauty blooming in one resident’s yard:
When you walk in older neighborhoods the first thing that is noticeably different is the diversity in homes, plantings, economic strata, and biodiversity. Far from a groomed look that we find in the modern developments in Pensacola, there is brush, tall grasses, undulating yards, and all sorts of individual touches from owners: tree swings, sculpture, bubbling ponds or water fountains, colors and textures of siding; shape and sizes of the homes and lots.
As I passed one home, up a dark trunk scampered a fat white squirrel—perhaps a protective totum for endangered neighborhoods. Why endangered? I happened upon an old friend, a poet, who was out canvassing the neighborhood with a clipboard and information. A proposed change in codes would make a large stretch of land, a path to the bay and marshes, off-limits to everyone, essentially giving one lot owner in that area private property without paying a dime.
Real neighborhoods are like climax communities in nature: they take a long time to develop into the kind of rich interrelatedness and diverse habitats that Pensacola Heights can boast. Take a look: