What “Quality of Life” in Indian River County do we want?

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
February 2009

What do you like about living in our community? We’ve often described it as living in paradise…but is it really? Are there actions we could undertaker to make our community even better?  Are you worried it won’t be the same paradise in 10 years?

Riki Ott, Ph.D. a noted marine biologist, states that what people want can be classified into three big categories (with some examples in parentheses):

  • Social Wealth: (safety, friendly neighbors, affordable health care)
  • Economic Wealth (affordable homes, financial security)
  • Environmental Wealth (clean air and water, lovely parks and natural habitats)

To ensure all of these are adequate, we need to work together as a community to make these things happen.  Some of you are in land development, education and businesses that you want to thrive.  Other folks are looking after our health, safety and service needs.  Our community will flourish if we make sure our quality of life is high for all of us in all three areas. Yet the county continues to suffer from traffic congestion and sprawling development, a dying lagoon, depleted water sources, loss of natural green and agricultural space, a future of wildlife habitat fragmentation, water pollution and jobs scarcity, wasted human potential, economic stagnation, continued crime, and individual alienation.

Where do we start to work on improving our quality of life?  We are proposing a new project to raise our community’s awareness by identifying and measuring ‘Quality of Life’ indicators to serve as guideposts to indicate where the county is towards achieving the goal of a future that is environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable.

What will Quality of Life Indicators do? They will…

  1. establish a baseline of values that will let us know where we are so we can determine whether our county is improving and making progress
  2. identify what areas our county values the most
  3. identify priorities to guide budgets, encourage business development, and seek funding
  4. guide county and city officials in making decisions to build the community that we all want
Zebra Longwing butterflies by Bob Montanaro.

Project activities include developing a rationale to define a community vision, setting goals and measuring progress.  We believe citizens, community groups and governments often work at cross purposes without consensus on a vision, and without sustainable community goals and ways to measure progress towards those goals.  We propose to take the initiative to establish an inclusive, community-based process to devise ‘quality of life’ indicators to guide the county to an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable future. National Audubon has given us a very small grant of $1,000 allowing us to begin the first phase – that is, to get the community behind this project and find supporters to help fund this effort (approximately $60,000 needed).

By getting diverse community stakeholders involved, we hope to get the community behind this project using professional help where appropriate.  So far we have asked the following agencies and institutions to be involved and work together on this project: Indian River and Sebastian Chambers of Commerce, Gifford Progressive Civic League, Cultural Council of Indian River County, Indian River Neighborhood Association, Tierra Verde Builder, Designers and Consultants, Indian River County Schools, Indian River State College, St. Johns River Water Management District, Florida Atlantic University, Indian River Ministerial Association, Marine Resources Council, Sexton Ranch, Mandala Development Group, and Treasure Coast Builders Association.  Others are welcome to participate.

Projected time line:
1st Year 2009:

  •  Convene the partners as a working group representing all county interests to refine the category list and start to select likely indicators for our community’s needs
  •  Convene six focus groups to discuss ideas for a community vision to refine the indicator list based on community values
  •  From these discussions refine the list of ‘quality of life’ indicators
  •  Construct a suitable community-wide ‘quality of life’ indicators questionnaire

2nd Year, 2010:

  • Conduct a statistically valid, countywide telephone survey to determine indicator priorities, values, and preferences
  • Based on the questionnaire, select ways to measure the ‘quality of life’ indicators
  • Build support from the county commission, community leaders, and media to adopt a vision and agree on these indicators for future use
  • Gather data conducted by professionals, high school, college faculty and students to establishing a baseline

3rd and Future years:

  • Achieve support from the county commission, community leaders, and agencies based on the data indicators, to set priorities
  • Encourage community actions to improve the quality of life by implementing projects, laws, and ordinances consistent with ‘quality of life’ indicators
  • Re-measure progress towards achieving our goals by using the Quality of Life indicators on a regular bi-annual basis and make adjustments

We will need additional funding and professional involvement besides the small start-up grant from Audubon as well as volunteers to help and of course participants in this grand project.  This brings us to my question to you…Can you help? What are you willing to do to bring about change to make our community really a paradise? If so let us know.

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