Sometimes, the columns just write themselves.
I walk around town, talk to people, read, think, and then I have to sit down and write them out. But the recent events we have all experienced, and about which I have written in the last couple columns, make this piece both inevitable and self propelled.
As a Realtor-leader, I have a responsibility to change people’s lives for the better, and do what I can to make the world (or our corner of it, anyway) a better place. It’s not all about the quartz counter tops and the size of the master bathroom, after all.
Here in South Florida, we are dealing with the after-effects of two major hurricanes. We took a hit from Irma which could have been worse but was plenty bad enough. And many of our family members, friends and fellow citizens remain in dire straits after Maria.
Somehow I doubt that if a state like Iowa or Arkansas were decimated, 90 percent without electricity, potable water a rarity – that we would be hearing pronouncements from “High Places” about the Federal Government’s loss of patience. And everyone knows this. Humanitarian aid and relief must remain the top priority for some time, contrary to 45’s opinions.
But like many of You-Know-Who’s tweetstorms, there is a kernel of truth. Yes that truth is surrounded and drowned out by copious amounts of baloney, but there is a question hiding in the muck, and it is the question I have been asking in the last couple columns:
What can we do to mitigate risk in the future and ideally build a better society in the process?
It is not just a question for the Islands. It is salient here on the mainland also. Many have asked, for example – rightly, in my opinion – just why is it that in a hurricane prone region, the vast majority of the electric lines are not buried?
Online petitions are circulating, politicians are opinionating. At least we have a window where people’s attention is focused (until the next season of Real Housewives, anyway). But while interest is piqued, let’s look at the bigger picture, here and in the Islands, and apply a bit of common sense and a lot of vision.
Everyone knows it would cost a fortune to bury all the power lines in Florida. I have not found an estimate; however, the state of North Carolina (which is about 20 percent smaller than Florida) looked into this and determined that in their state it would cost about $40 billion (with a B) and take decades to accomplish.
That this has not happened already, is such a catastrophic failure of leadership and vision that everybody who has been involved in state government over the last 20 years has some Serious Explaining to do. As the climate goes through a period of change, as sea levels rise, our quality of life here (as well as our property values) are placed into jeopardy. And, regardless of whether you are a Realtor, nobody got time for that!
Yet amplifying a mistake with another mistake will not be a cure. We have a glorious opportunity here to look beyond the present circumstances and ask ourselves what kind of future we want to have. Instead of spending $50 billion or more to bury existing lines and perpetuate the current structure, why not spend those billions to leapfrog past today into the future – with distributed energy generation, vast increases in efficiency, and use of renewable sources like solar, wind and waves?
Do you honestly expect the current power structure among the Republicans (and yes, regrettably, even the Democrats) in Tallahassee – beholden to every special interest lobby imaginable – to be thinking this way?
The same principle applies to Puerto Rico and the Islands. No, Mr. Trump, we should not be there forever. But let’s consider the opportunity beyond the crisis. I have called for the creation and capitalization of an Islands Corporation. Instead of restoring the status quo ante to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and other places, let’s turn them into shining cities on a hill, with the best infrastructure and new construction techniques – places where people will want to relocate to instead of flee from. Already Elon Musk of Tesla (and other ventures) is discussing this new future with the local government in Puerto Rico. More leaders must join him.,
It will take vision, optimism, political will, hard work and financial capital. Transformation is never easy, but we have to start somewhere. What leaders on the local, state and national level are willing to take a stand, and say the future is now? Do you really think Donald Trump and Rick Scott will be among them?
James Oaksun, Broward's Real Estate Geek(SM), is Broker-Owner of New Realty Concepts in Oakland Park. In addition to having degrees from Dartmouth and Cornell, he is a Graduate of the Realtor Institute (GRI).