New Urbanism and The VUE (by Jack)

A number of Sarasotans have raised concerns about The VUE (and the adjacent Westin hotel) that are being constructed at the corner of U. S. 41 and Gulf Stream Avenue. Mumblings have been heard in local bars along the lines of “the view for who?” and even my mild-mannered wife, Sasha, has likened the massive hulking structure to a Klingon Bird of Prey, saying that it casts a dark shadow of death on Sarasota.

But, like most things in life, there’s another side to the story. Back in April, Gretchen Scheider, general manager of planning and development for the City had the unenviable task of defending the building. Invoking the name of Andres Duany she claimed that the building was consistent with New Urbanism principles because New Urbanism recommended buildings that were closer to the street in order to create a more walkable feel and a better interaction between the pedestrian and the building.

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OK, stop laughing.

With all due respect to Ms. Scheider, she’s cherry-picking the part of New Urbanism she needs to justify a really bad decision to allow The VUE to be built using the design they are using. While it is true that New Urbanism recommends that buildings be closer to sidewalks, that principle only makes sense if many of the other aspects of New Urbanism are also present.

The essence of New Urbanism is to create attractive urban environments that nourish the human spirit, where the architecture creates a sense of place, and where buildings are built to human scale. To do this you should slow down the traffic on streets (even eliminate automobile traffic on some streets), have mixed use buildings, encourage the use of green transportation (walking, bikes, scooters, etc.), and link sidewalks with public spaces where diverse types of people (young/old, rich/poor, etc.) freely interact. The VUE violates all of these principles. But, wait! It’s even worse than that.

To really understand what is happening with The VUE I suggest you take a look at its own website (www.vuesarasotabay.com) to see what is really being planned. Behind that massive structure you will find an oasis for the well-to-do. Condos sell for between $1.5 million and $3.4 million. But, look what you get for your money.

There are beautiful green spaces, tennis courts, spas, an outdoor pool overlooking Sarasota Bay (elevated above street level so you don’t have to see pedestrians walking by), an up-scale fitness center, private meeting rooms, a pool-side grill, and even a rooftop doggie park. The idea is to wall off The VUE’s residents from the Sarasota riff-raff. Alas, this is far from New Urbanism. This is American development at its worst. The building alienates not just pedestrians but drivers as well, it walls off a segment of the population from interacting with others, and rather than connecting with public spaces it creates “counterfeit public spaces” behind enormous walls.

So rather than an example of New Urbanism, its sole defense seems to be:  it is within code! Which begs the question about the purpose of Sarasota City codes.

From the Salt Mines: Ridiculous Interview Questions (by Sasha)

          Remember that old feminist saying (originated by Irina Dunn) that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle?

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Well, given that the Sarasota employment market is so tough, those of us searching for a job need ridiculous interview questions thrown at us as much as …. well, you get the point. With so much “riding” on a 30 minute conversation, then, it is deflating to be faced with questions that are, well, just plain stupid. And even more distressing is that the person asking the question is serious. They want an answer.

So here are some of the most memorable ones I’ve experienced or heard about as people search for a job in Sarasota (followed by a variety of imagined responses).

(1) Is this your dream job?

  • Yes, I was hoping to earn 70% less and lose most of my benefits;
  • Of course. I have nothing else to do on weekends and I even look forward to spending every holiday working here;
  • Right on. Until I’m appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, this IS my dream job.

(2) Which day of the week do you bring your best to work?

  • Tuesday. Monday I’m recovering from the weekend; Tuesday I’m back to normal; Wednesday I’m tired; Thursday I’m recovering from Hump Night; Friday I’m busy making plans for the weekend, so yes, definitely Tuesday.
  • Sorry, but I leave my best at home.
  • I bring my best every day (isn’t this answer obvious?)

Continue reading “From the Salt Mines: Ridiculous Interview Questions (by Sasha)”

The Salty Dog: Good Karma in Sarasota

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I am a Tibetan Terrier (TT), an ancient breed. I am fierce. I was bred by the Tibetans to sit for hours on top of snowy mountain peaks and to use my keen eyes and sharp bark to warn my humans about invaders. I am a watch dog.

In Tibet, the members of my breed are referred to as “Little People” and as the “Holy Dogs of Tibet.” We were never bought or sold but given to guests as good luck charms. We were gifts; we were treasured.

We are not in fact terriers; the English named us and made a mistake. There’s no terrier in our bloodline. Our Tibetan name is Tsang Apso, or bearded one from Tsang. Our hair grows thick and long. The Dalai Lama named his own TT “Senge” which means Little Lion.  We are fierce.

The move to Sarasota, although good for my sun-loving human companions, has not been as good for me. Look at me now.

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My coat has been shorn, not because I’m a shedder (because we TTs don’t shed), but because it’s so darn hot here. Really hot. All summer long. From June to September I walk around nearly naked. With this hair cut, I look like a goat. Put a clanging bell around my neck, and you’d never know I am a  TT. [This may be why some Tibetans called us “Rapso” meaning goat-haired.] But I don’t bleat. Grrrr. Even shorn, I am fierce.

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Instead of sitting atop a mountain, these days I guard the pool from my cabana.

Life is tough.

TTs are tougher.

Top 10 Things NOT to Do While Vacationing in Sarasota (by Jack)

There are lots of websites you can go to that will list things to do while you visit Sarasota and I can’t disagree with many of those recommendations. Indeed, Sarasota is a wonderful place to enjoy a wide variety of things, from the marvelous Symphony Orchestra, to the world-famous beaches, to some of the best Cuban sandwiches in South Florida. But even paradise has some dangers and some things to avoid. Below are 10 things I recommend you not do while enjoying the Sun Coast.

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1. Do not go wading in retention ponds. Sarasota has built a large number of retention ponds that help control flooding and mitigate the effects of storm-water run-off. However, since these ponds are freshwater and often connected to each other through a system of canals it is not unusual to find alligators in them at any particular time. It is not a good idea to go wading in these ponds at any time of the day or night, as Matthew Riggins would tell you (that is, if he was still alive to be able to talk to you). Riggins was a not too bright alleged burglar who was breaking into homes in Barefoot Bay when he was interrupted by the police. He fled and apparently thought it was a good idea to hide in a retention pond not far away. The police found him, or what was left of him, a few days later.

2. Do not ride a bicycle. Riding a bike anywhere in Florida is a dangerous proposition. Florida ranks second in the nation in bicycle fatalities. While the Legacy Trail is a wonderful 11-mile bike path between Palmer Ranch and Venice, avoid biking on our roads. Of the 2,300 miles of Sarasota roads only 313 miles have bike lanes. If you are one of those crazy biking Europeans and insist on biking, at least avoid Fruitville Road. For some reason drivers on Fruitville have a higher propensity for running down cyclists than drivers in other parts of the city. Continue reading “Top 10 Things NOT to Do While Vacationing in Sarasota (by Jack)”

Why FL and Every Vote Matters in Presidential Election 2016 (by Sasha)

Like it or not, here they come…

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As a swing state, Florida will be inundated with both political advertisements and visits from the Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R) campaigns. We will live for the next three months with ubiquitous efforts to convince us Floridians to vote in a decisive manner so that the hanging chads and hanging presidential election outcome of 2000 will not be repeated.

Florida is an important electoral state for several reasons:

First, because it takes only 270 votes to win the Electoral College (i.e., half of the 535 total votes plus one) and Florida holds 29 of those votes (only California at 55 and Texas at 38 and have more; NYS has the same at 29), Florida is a powerhouse state. Continue reading “Why FL and Every Vote Matters in Presidential Election 2016 (by Sasha)”

Salt and Snark: The Un-Vue (by Sasha)

Which is scarier, a Klingon Bird of Prey warship (courtesy of Star Trek)…

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or the Vue at 41 and Ringling Causeway (courtesy of unchecked development)?

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Consider the similarities:

  • Two huge wings;
  • An enormous mass that casts a dark shadow on those below;
  • A threat to life as we know it.

Okay, so maybe we’ll learn to love it once it is done. But it does raise the legitimate questions of:  A Vue for who? and How close to the road can a building be without requiring a driver’s license?

Read more here

 

 

 

Salt and Snark: My Nomination for Florida’s State Tree-an invasive species (by Jack)

The Florida state tree is the Sabal Palm, also called the Cabbage Palm. The palm has a single trunk and can grow as tall as 70 feet.

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But state symbols should capture the essence of the state and for this reason the Sabal Palm is a poor choice—its characteristics do not symbolize much about what makes Florida so unique.

However, there is one tree that towers above all the others because it more accurately represents Florida—the Australian Pine.

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Although the Australian Pine (Casuarina equisetifolia) is on Florida’s invasive specifies list, I believe it should be removed from that list and proudly declared the “Florida State Tree.” There are at least five reasons the Sabal Palm should be replaced by the Australian Pine.

 

First, the Australian Pine is an invasive species; introduced into Florida in the 1890s it has proliferated. This, by itself, makes it a strong candidate for state tree.

 

 

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Like the magnificent tree, people from other states, who originate primarily from New York, New Jersey, and the Midwest, have become Florida’s invasive  species to the tune of over 200,000 per year. Like the tree, they have proliferated, spending their Social Security checks on a variety of goods and services.

Second, the tree thrives around beaches. While it cannot grow directly in salt water it grows quite well near the water. This, of course, is also true of the human population of the state where over 76% of the residents of Florida live on or near the beach. Like the Australian Pine, Floridians cannot live in the water, but most thrive close to either the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico. Continue reading “Salt and Snark: My Nomination for Florida’s State Tree-an invasive species (by Jack)”