By Cathy Salustri
My mother is a master planner. I don’t have hard proof but I’m almost entirely certain 3M invented the Post-It with her in mind. Every now and then I’ll find one of her notes when I’m at their house: “Dog to groomer. Wal-Mart. Ask Cathy to brush her hair.” I wish I were joking. She even has to-do lists of separate to-do lists she needs to make. She makes her budget in a green ledger book and, trust me, if you’re moving, this is the woman you want unpacking and organizing your spices. Stephen Covey and his seven habits have nothing on my mom; she’s so efficient she only needs two habits: planning and Post-Its.
Me? Well, I have no hard proof but I’m fairly certain I’m adopted. Oh, I try. Honest. I have a Google calendar; I even use G-mail’s “Tasks” with limited success. Planning just isn’t my thing; I’ve always had a spur-of-the-moment approach to life and, honestly, other than not being a travel writer for National Geographic yet, my strategy (such that it is, or is not) has served me well. I live on the beach, I spend more than my fair share of time on the water, and I make my living writing. My seat-of-my-swimsuit approach does all right by me. I am a fan of the Kierkegaard quote “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Or, as Mater said in the movie Cars, “Ain’t no need to watch where I’m goin’; just need to know where I’ve been.”
While that’s working out great for me, I think it’s a lousy way to run a city. And right now, I’m looking at not one but two cities – Gulfport and St. Pete Beach – that could use a few Post-it Notes here and there.
Credit Gulfport councilwoman Jennifer Salmon for this line of thought. At last week’s council meeting she told everyone Gulfport couldn’t choose what type of businesses came into the city; in effect, she said, Gulfport must take what it can get.
I’m not so sure about that. The city has laws preventing bars in our downtown area; we have codes that keep adult bookstores out of other areas. We have laws that don’t allow nightclubs, pawn shops or gun dealers. In fact, we, as a city, talk a lot about what we don’t want. It seems to me we can pick and choose.
Let’s not leave out our sandy sister to the west. St. Pete Beach doesn’t want tall buildings (unless, of course, you’ve accepted campaign contributions from Save Our Little Village, as Melissa Lattman’s reporting revealed last week) and it doesn’t want rehab housing. Apparently the $13 prostitutes are also a no-go. St. Pete Beach knows so much what it doesn’t want that a few attorneys may retire on the legal fees. While some say those lawsuits resulted from trying to plan, I’m not entirely certain that’s the whole story and, quite honestly, I suspect the city’s using it as an excuse to do nothing.
See, neither city talks about what they do want. All I hear is that we don’t want tall buildings or box stores. Fine. Do you want a walking district? Why not talk about how you want things to look? Maybe write up a little plan, run it by a few residents, perhaps talk to the ones who are vocal about what they think won’t work. You know, sometimes people who aren’t elected officials, lifelong bureaucrats, or arrogant weekly newspaper columnists have good ideas, too.
Look, I’d love to see Gulf Boulevard with a golf cart/taxi/scooter/bike lane and less traffic and palm trees down the median. I think Gulfport should put in a small daytime restaurant at the marina. Of course, no one’s asking me. I bet other residents have ideas, too, but no one’s asking them, either. So the only choice you leave your residents, and I mean the ONLY choice, is to wait until someone presents a plan–any plan at all–and then they can voice their opinion on that plan. I can relate, because that’s totally my style, which works great for writers, but for cities? Well, if I were a city using this strategy I’d be homeless and living under the 275 overpass, clutching a can of Mad Dog 20/20 in a brown paper bag.
Why not instead try thinking about what we would have if we could have it all? Can we have it all? Probably not. Can we make Gulfport into Key West? Doubtful, but I’d wager we can make the shelters in front of O’Maddy’s not look for all the world like they were about to collapse. Can we turn St. Pete Beach into St. Armand’s Circle? I don’t think so, but we can vet desirable types of businesses. We can force business owners to maintain property standards.
Of course, we’re too busy with rules and lawsuits to do this. You‘re very busy, I suppose, making sure we follow the rules and don’t get sued. But if that was all we needed from our leaders, we’d elect kindergarten teachers and set out a tub of paste, safety scissors and some crayons at each city meeting.
You guys are supposed to lead. Do it. Make a plan. Trust your staff to make sure you don’t break the laws and start earning your poverty-level politician’s wages.