Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Searching for an Ark

The troubled Northwest Florida Zoo apparently is opting for a voters' referendum in hopes of establishing a special tax district -- more or less like the "MSBU" with which beach residents are familiar. If voters approve paying a few bucks a year, it would take the Zoo off life support and guarantee the future of an important cultural and educational attraction for the greater Pensacola area.

'Good luck with that,' the News Journal says today. We understand the newspaper's skepticism. As we have noted before, the Zoo is a jewel for its size. School children throughout the area frequent it. It's a unique cultural asset that elevates all of Northwest Florida. It's also a major tourist attraction.

But its survival has long been in doubt; partly, perhaps, for reasons attributable to past mismanagement and bad luck, but mostly because of a failure of community. The greater Pensacola area chronically suffers from three major drawbacks, as we see it. Two of them are a dismal cultural landscape and a callous, miserly voting electorate that sees every public expenditure, except for warships and guns, as a personal threat to their bourgeois life style.

These drawbacks feed on each other. The more numerous the "me-first, me-only" voters, the bleaker the cultural and educational landscape. The bleaker the landscape, the fewer well-educated, unselfish families who want to take pride in their community will reside, or stay, here.

Going to the voters, as the News Journal fears, is a gamble. If the referendum loses, the Zoo will disappear. It's that simple. Still, there is something to be said for squarely putting the matter up for a vote. The Zoo also cannot much longer continue a day to day existence, like a beggar hoping for regular handouts.

If the voters do their worst, as the News Journal expects, at least the issue will be settled: Pensacola really would be exposed as a torpid, soulless town where good ideas go to die. But if the entire community, for once, can join together and guarantee permanent sustaining support for the Zoo, it would redound to everyone's benefit -- now and for future generations.

Which brings us to the third major drawback in Pensacola: indifferent, often self-interested community leadership. In other cities we've lived in, the rich look for ways to share their good fortune with the community. In Pensacola, too often as it seems to us, the rich just look to get richer. If there isn't a buck in it for them, most of those who claim to be "civic leaders" turn away.

We needn't always look to the elite for community spirit, of course. Pensacola probably has more houses of worship per capita than anywhere this side of Muslimania. So, why not start with the churches? Imagine all the ministers, priests, rabbis, and such, ecumenically agreeing among themselves to lead the schools, civic organizations, business community, and regular folk in a campaign to rescue the Northwest Florida Zoo.

There is precedent for this, of course:
Then God said to Noah, "Go forth from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons' wives with you. Bring forth with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh -- birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth -- that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply upon the earth."
Are our many churches, synagogues, and temples up to the challenge?

minor edit
7/28 pm


panicbean said...

We have the same opportunity to save our zoo as Tampa had when they saved theirs.

Years ago the Lowry Park Zoo was saved by the community and it is now one of the best zoos in the country.

The success of our zoo should not be determined by the voters of Santa Rosa County alone, it should be an effort that is supported by the area, as a whole.

Where are our wealthy and well connected community leaders? Why have they not stepped up and started an initiative of their own to keep the zoo open, as well as see it improved?

Anonymous said...

I think it is now one of the best zoos in the country.Thanks for this great link link with nice post
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