Had to go to Jacksonville to take care of some personal business the other day. The long and wearying drive over and back from Panama City, where I live, was to be considered a necessary affront (both to my back and the environment) to get to a city I had never visited before. Not that I wanted to go, but there was no getting around it. Sometimes governments, both big and small, place impositions on us, the citizens, that we’ll have no luck protesting, and will lose out on perceived benefits, even if we consider any protest we do mount as successful. At any rate, governmental bureaucracy, bloat, and short-sightedness have nothing to do with this diatribe. I’ve got other axes to grind (snicker).
So, I took the opportunity to use the day trip as an evaluation of ‘progress.’ If you haven’t read my Entropecology post yet, I hope that you will, as it provides the basis for much of what I share here. In short, what we, as Humanity, consider to be progress is, in fact, quite the opposite. It’s the steady and persistent ‘using up’ of our storehouse supplies, with no replenishment coming, ever, and with serious consequences that will be felt with increasing intensity for a long time to come. We can call the consequences pollution. We can also call them Climate Change. In the end, it’s all entropy in one form or another, and once piled up and piled on, very hard to get rid of.
The unabated growth I witnessed in many parts of J’Ville today is the very same animal running amuck here in PC. The similarities were striking.
I wouldn’t doubt that there exists this small, well-organized and deep-pocketed group of developer / investor / venturist types behind all this outrageous growth along Florida’s I-10 corridor. Starting over there in J’Ville and threading its way clean across our state until it exits around P’Cola (this shortening of city names is a habit of mine), I-10 continues boldly on all the way to the other coast (hmm…I wonder what excessive and ill-planned building projects are going on in those other states? I’ll bet I already know).
These guys and gals are experts at cobbling together the chunks o’ real estate they’ll need to bring in the massive building ventures guaranteed to turn any existing landscape on its head. Neighborhood? Habitat? Farmland? Community? Forget about it. Anything that invokes images of all those things that bind us together in some humanizing way are all tossed out with vigor, replaced unapologetically with more urban sprawl, more concrete jungle, more consumerism, more tired, worn-out franchised predictability.
Once their team is unleashed on your team, it’s very likely that they’ll wind up with most of what they wanted in their back pocket, and you’ll wind up holding the proverbial bag. What you thought was your quaint and quiet little community about two summers back now butts straight up against the backside of a shopping center that runs continuously, with no gaps, for several concreted and blacktopped blocks. The view is dire, and trending toward more of the same, since these projects typically run in phases, y’know. The bulldozers are already assembled on the property that lies diagonal to your own, and adjacent to the one where the parking lots start filling up around 7 or so (you’ve begun to notice), since consumers don’t spot the day’s deals as well on empty stomachs. The fast food chains start serving those yummy sausage biscuits as soon as the sun breaks the horizon. It’s all for a good cause—spending money.
Sidebar: I don’t make these statements casually. I’m witnessing what I’m writing about every day. I see neighborhoods that once existed among live oak and palmetto for as far as the eye could see now surrounded on all sides by strip malls, convenient stores, banks, and restaurants.
I drove past this guy the other day, squatting at the entryway of his very posh abode. He was smoking a cigarette, pointing a garden hose at the street, apparently thinking that blacktop grows better when it’s watered. He had this vacuous look in his eyes, like things hadn’t turned out quite as he’d planned. I could see why. His neighborhood was full of mini-mansions, just like his own, beautiful landscaping, large lots, decent amount of natural beauty left behind to give the whole neighborhood a sense of unity with its surroundings.
But something was unexpectedly juxta-positioned just across the street, where I’m pretty sure a bunch of undeveloped stuff had been when he purchased, all scruffy and uninhabited. Now it was stuffed to the gills with a big old shopping center that was truly a poorly designed project if ever there was one. The streets were too narrow, the parking spaces crammed in, very little plant life, lots of pavement and concrete, and everything plain and whitewashed with black or gray trim. The designer probably thought it would suggest elegance. To me, it suggested nausea.
Anyway, this guy puffed on his cigarette, watering the road, not even acknowledging me or my car as I passed only a few feet from his squatted caricature, I guess in a pose of what disillusionment looks like. I’m pretty sure he was crunching numbers in his head, wondering if he’d ever get his investment back. Who wants to live a stone’s throw from an ugly architecture with mostly unleased spaces? I guess that’s what we get when developers and zoning commissioners strike deals over dinner and drinks.
And about those shoppers able to find the deals better on full stomachs? As I type, I’m literally sitting in a parking lot, watching the people come and go. In the space directly in front of me, there is a van that contains two grossly obese women. One gets out while the other stays behind and eats something fried while she waits. The car next to hers holds the same—two females, both terribly overweight, and wearing brightly colored summer wear that should have been purchased two sizes larger, maybe three. The car on the aisle one over from my own just spit out two more people, the man really chunky, the woman only a little less so.
I really do see obesity everywhere, spilling out of over-sized vehicles and waddling in to the over-sized shops. It’s really quite astonishing these proportions on display. Not only are the people big, but the vehicles, too. The trucks the robots are stamping out now almost require a step stool to scrabble up to that shiny chrome bar that will serve as a rung to get you to the floorboard, where you can then hoist yourself up by latching on real hard to the steering wheel, then swiveling over on the captain’s chair of your plush vehicular domain. It’s the best cardiovascular workout you’ll have all day. God help you if you fall, too, because your melon will go splat from that high up. (Please don’t think I’m poking fun while exempting myself—I’m part of that crowd I describe, sporting an expanding paunch just like the rest of us, enjoying the fried food and soda pop, too).
If the drivers and cars are getting bigger, the parking spots, as they must be, are small, so’s to pack in the most shoppers in the least amount of space. The massive shiny gleaming hunks of Hemi have to be sort of shoe-horned in (crank-the-wheel-hard…Reverse…crank-the-wheel-hard the other way, Drive…crank-the-wheel-hard…Reverse…you get the comical idea). Some of ’em just don’t give a damn anymore and will take up two spots, and screw you if you don’t like it. Yeah it’s five pounds of pure crap in a two pound bag…what about it?
I witnessed all the same stuff in J’Ville. As I drove into what appeared to be one of the very latest building orgies going on in St. John’s County, my jaw did not drop. Why not? Because it was as if I was staring at the same plot of over-developed land I had just come from in my (what used to be) sleepy little Panama City Beach, Florida. The same franchises. Same architecture. Same everything. Matter of fact, I can drive clean across America on Interstate 10 and I will see the same everything in every town I visit. Sameness. All of it. One great big Same. Welcome to the United States of Same. If you have at least one stop light in your fair little Podunk, look out because a Wal-Mart Super Center is looking at you hard (that is, unless you’re already shopping there).
In J’Ville, there was this place where the changeover was absolutely palpable. Farmland, riddled with unattended wide open spaces, dilapidated structures, and the fragrance of Nature running free and wild because nobody was mowing down anything so they could jam through the new infrastructure. Anyway, it had the signs of death written all over it, literally. The massive wheels of the earth movers, already visible here and there, looked like ravenous wolves gathering around their prey, anxious to begin the toothy work. Even the way previously undisturbed lands get violated in a very predictable evolution of sequential movements has that characteristic mark of…Same.
New mortgages dotted the landscape, and the bright orange surveyors’ flags and spray paint, like so much cryptic engineering graffiti, was on display on any flat surface that could be defaced. Pretty yellow ribbons were tied around old oak trees, a sign that their end was nigh at hand (sorry Tony Orlando and Dawn), and the temp plastic fencing defined perimeters that said, “Here’s what it used to be, now get used to what it’s about to become…Sameness.”
The big waste management companies had their roll-offs placed strategically for all that rubble that results from any project, big or small. Yeah, life was good and the slightly sour smell of money was steadily overpowering that cool, fine fragrance that wafts up from any place that’s green and lush, rather than black and hot.
Progress was rearing its ugly head and sneering. Another place where the elements of Nature might have enjoyed at least some chance at freedom were now being broke, tamed, corralled, hemmed in, penned up, sheared off, eviscerated. All the critters of the planet that weren’t human were in the ongoing and unfolding process of flight. What lives in a concrete jungle besides us, our pets, and rats?
Yeah, progress is all backwards. Progress is a heat engine. Progress is loss of habitat and bio-diversity. Progress is resource depletion. Progress is a slow demise. Progress is cheese burgers and thick crust pizza. Progress is a big belly and a weak heart. Progress is finding the closest spot in the parking lot to your favorite plastic crap vendor. Progress must proceed at breakneck speed or the house of cards buckles and the jig is up. Progress is a progression toward something totally undefined. Does anybody have any idea where this train is headed? Who’s the conductor, anyway?
Mostly, Progress must strike a balance. The world is a very small place, and with a storehouse that has borders and limits. Only so much can fit in any physical structure, and so much pulled back out of it. The world is that physical structure. We’ve been emptying out her coffers for quite some time now. Our continued existence has depended on it. Now our continued existence depends on us slowing down…way down. Progress eventually runs out of all the things it needs to keep going. We’re getting there. It’s just a matter of how fast.
Because I’m a skeptic by nature, and a bit of a doubter as a result of living fifty plus years in an industrialized society, I wasn’t surprised by what I saw. I wasn’t even disappointed. The view from yet another city where I’d never gone before was nothing if not predictable to an unspeakable degree. Urban sprawl sprawling more and more. Same thing the rest of America, and the world, is doing. I think the agreements our fearless leaders made for us in Paris in 2015 to cool this planet back down to a suitable temperature simply aren’t going to hold water. Too much progress still to be had out there.
In the meantime, I concluded that J’Ville was all jacked up on the stuff. It’s what I expected, but I guess I had to see it for myself to be sure.
Sincere thanks for stopping by!
“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.”
Albert A. Bartlett