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Dylan Brown


Year: Fall 2010
Hometown: Orlando, FL
Major: Environmental Studies/Growth Management

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Costa Rica Field Study

June 14, 2010

Amazing field studies, such as the one I just returned from, are an example of the enriching opportunities offered at Rollins.

I took a trip to Costa Rica with Professor Barry Allen’s class, “National Parks and Protected Areas.”  Costa Rica is a land of exquisite natural beauty.  This country arguably contains more biodiversity than any other in the world.  For this reason, it is extremely important to protect and manage these fragile habitats and ecosystems in this amazing country.

Costa Rica has definitely taken a lot of initiative toward land conservation and managed use, especially through eco-tourism and non-profit and non-governmental organizations.  The conservation areas and national parks that we visited on our field study were: the Tirimbina Research Center, La Selva, Volcan Tenorio National Park/La Carolina Lodge, Rincon de la Vieja National Park, and Monteverde.  Each of these different conservation areas had a different and unique approach to managing the land and the land’s role in the overall sustainable development of the region.

Tirimbina Research Center is an internationally recognized, non-profit organization created to conserve the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica; provide environmental education to the local community, students, and ecotourists; and to accommodate scientific research.  Located within the rainforest and river environments of Sarapiqui, Tirimbina Research Center is a private wildlife refuge that protects 852.5 acres of mid-elevation, premontane forest, through which 5.5 miles of trails pass.  One-third of the forest is used for ecotourism and environmental education, keeping the majority of the reserve naturally intact.  Tirimbina Research Center’s conservation-education efforts and beautiful natural rainforest have made it a primary tropical science-research center, as well as a popular ecotourism travel destination.  At Tirimbina, we went on a night hike and a day hike to observe the different species that are active at both times. In order to do this, we had to cross a suspension bridge over the Sarapiqui River.  It made me a little bit nervous.  We observed many exotic species, such as the toucan, MotMot Bird, sloth, and Costa Rica’s most aggressive venemous snake, the Fer de Lance.  There was also an indigenous burial site and museum on the property.  There one can learn all about the indigenous cultures of Costa Rica and see a traditional indigenous dwelling of the area, upon which the lodges we stayed in were modeled.

La Selva was originally established in 1954 by Dr. Leslie Holdridge as a farm dedicated to experimentation on mixed plantations for the improvement of natural-resources management.  It was purchased in 1968 by the Organization for Tropical Studies and declared a private biological reserve and station.  Since then, it has become one of the most important sites in the world for research on the tropical rainforest.  More than 240 scientific papers are published yearly from research conducted at the site.  At La Selva, we saw indigenous species such as the cayman (cousin of the aligator), a lizard called the “Jesus Lizard” (because it can literally run over the top of the water), and a peccari (the Costa Rican version of the pig, which was brought from Spain).

La Carolina Lodge is a rustic guesthouse on the eastern slopes of Volcan Tenorio (an active volcano).  It is located in a less-traveled region of northwestern Costa Rica, amidst lowland rainforest and volcanic mountains.  The lodge sits on 170 acres, nestled in forest and fed by a freshwater river.  The property is surrounded by fields of macadamia.  The lodge itself is also a full-time cattle ranch and farm, exemplifying the strategy of combining ecotourism with more traditional agricultural pursuits.  The lodge is one of the closest accommodations for visiting Tenorio National Park and the Rio Celeste.  At La Carolina Lodge, we got to experience a horseback ride through the Costa Rican countryside, which was absolutely beautiful.  The waterfall that we hiked to in Volcan Tenorio National Park was absolutely stunning in beauty also.  The water coming from this waterfall is a flourescent blue color due to a chemical reaction that is caused by the hot springs that boil up in it, a result of the volcanic activity.  After the long hike up the volcano, it was nice to sit in the hot tub back at La Carolina. The tub is heated by a wood-burning fire and sits at the edge of the river that flows through the property.

Rincon de la Vieja contains an active volcano (the last major eruption was in 1991), mud pots, steam vents, and hot springs.  The park protects examples of four types of forest habitat.  It has excellent wildlife viewing and birding opportunities.  More than 200 species of birds have been recorded here.  Hacienda Guachepelin, bordering the national park, is a 100-year-old cattle ranch that has expanded into ecotourism.  There are several waterfalls on the property.  On our hike in Rincon de la Vieja, we got to see the local monkey species called the White-Face Monkey.  This hike was through a lot drier habitat than the others through rain and cloud forests.  This drier habitat is preferable to many lizard and monitor species.

One of the most diverse and important environments in Costa Rica is Monteverde.  Its extensive private and public reserves protect 250 species of butterflies, many species of bats, and many species of birds.  Forty percent of all mammal species in Costa Rica are found in Monteverde.  Monteverde’s economy is based on ecotourism since being “discovered” by George Powell, a University of California ornithologist, in 1970.  Visitation to the area has transformed the economy from farming to tourism.  Local residents soon realized that it was much easier to milk the tourists than to milk their cows.  Visitation to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve (MVCFP) alone has grown to 50,000 visitors per year.  The resulting demand for hotels, restaurants, natural history guides, and other services has resulted in a standard of living for Monteverde’s residents that is much higher than most other regions of the country.  This prosperity, however, is threatened by environmental impacts ranging from global climate change, to water pollution, solid-waste disposal, and deforestation, just to name a few.  In Monteverde, we caught a glimpse of the endangered quetzal bird, which was very sacred to the indigenous people of the area, as well as an endangered bell bird.  The highlight of the hike was probably the tarantula spider.  We also went to The Frog Pond, a building that housed all of the species of frogs in the area; the Bat House, a building that housed all of the species of bats in the area; and the Butterfly Garden, a building that housed all of the species of butterflies in the area.

Our last two days consisted of a strenuous hike down to the San Gerardo Biological Station.  It is located in an area that was set aside as a natural preserve called the Children’s Eternal Rainforest.  From this station, one can view the active Volcan Arenal, which is a “perfect cone” volcano, as well as Lake Arenal.  At San Gerardo, we went on a night hike, during which we saw a “forest crab” and other exotic species. The next day, we performed a “service project” by raking the dead leaves off of one of the main trails.  The hike back up the mountain that day was extremely steep and difficult.

Overall, the Costa Rica field study with the National Parks and Protected Areas class was well worth it.  This was a great learning experience.  Since I returned, I have decided to take this class further and do an independent study with Professor Allen into Non-Profit Conservation and Ecotourism Organizations in Costa Rica.

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The Struggle To Create the National Parks in America (Contd.)

June 4, 2010

In the last post, I left off with John Muir’s struggle to designate the Yosemite Valley a national park. The legislation would be signed in 1890 by President Benjamin Harrison to make 900,000 acres of the Yosemite Valley into the Yosemite National Park.  Then, in 1891, Congress enacted the Forest Reserve Act, empowering presidents of the United States, without consulting Congress, to set aside parcels of public land as national forest reserves.  By 1896, a succession of chief executives had exercised that authority, but there was no consensus on what should be permitted in the forest preserves and how, or even whether, they were different than national parks.  John Muir considered forests sacred places of contemplation and communion with nature, and wanted them treated as parks: protected by the Army, with logging, grazing, and hunting prohibited.  That view wasn’t shared by Gifford Pinchot, who would serve with Muir on the National Forestry Commission.  Pinchot’s view was that forests should be protected, but he believed that the best way to go about doing this was to manage their use, not leave them alone.  Pinchot’s saying was “the greatest good for the greatest number.”  To put it more simply, John Muir was a “preservationist,” while Gifford Pinchot was a “conservationist.”  This difference in views on whether national parks should be preserved or managed through conservation would become a very defining theme in the struggle for the creation of the national parks.

President Roosevelt and John Muir in Yosemite National Park

Soon after, in 1894, President Theodore Roosevelt would give his famous speech on the importance of setting aside lands for national parks.  After his speech, Roosevelt would head to Yosemite National Park where he would spend an evening camping with John Muir at the base of an old Sequoia tree.  Within three years of this occasion, the California Legislature and the United States Congress approved the transfer of the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove back to the federal government.  Yosemite National Park then encompassed almost everything that John Muir had been fighting for.

Grand Canyon National Monument

Roosevelt would champion the idea of national parks often in the face of fierce congressional opposition.  He was the first American president to use the term “conservation” in an annual message to Congress, and the first to use what was called the Antiquities Act, a bill that provided that historic landmarks and prehistoric structures could be set aside as national monuments on the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”  In his presidency, Roosevelt would create 51 federal bird sanctuaries, four national game refuges, 18 national monuments, 100 million acres of national forests, and five new national parks.  In 1908, Roosevelt would use the Antiquities Act to set aside 806,400 acres of the Grand Canyon as a national monument.  Arizona politicians were outraged and threatened to challenge the president in court.

Gifford Pinchot

Soon after, in 1908, perhaps the biggest battle for national parkland in American history would occur.  It involved an area of the Yosemite National Park known as the Hetch-Hetchy Valley.  The city of San Francisco was looking for a new source of fresh water to nourish its residents, and the Hetch-Hetchy Valley appeared to many to be the place to get it.  To John Muir, though, this valley was a sacred part of Yosemite National Park, and the proposed damming and flooding of the Hetch-Hetchy Valley would set a dangerous precedent for the future.  An old nemesis of Muir’s soon stepped forward on behalf of the city of San Francisco – Gifford Pinchot.  Pinchot stated that “I will stand ready to render any assistance which lies in my power,” and believed that if San Francisco needed a new water supply, Yosemite National Park was a good place to get it.  John Muir immediately took his case to his friend, President Theodore Roosevelt.  Unfortunately for Muir and the preservationists, the great earthquake of 1906 rocked San Francisco. Pinchot and other politicians found this to be just another valid reason to dam Hetch-Hetchy by claiming that, if they had had that source of water, the fires could have been put out faster, and many more lives could have been saved.  President Roosevelt did little to stand in the way.  The damming of the Hetch-Hetchy Valley was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913.  In this case, conservation and commerce would win out over nature and preservation.

President Carter is Burned in Effigy for Creating Protected Lands in Alaska

And so let’s fast-forward to the year 1978.  In that year, President Jimmy Carter used the Antiquities Act that was created by President Roosevelt in order to create 56 million acres of protected lands and national parks in the state of Alaska.  However, the stakes in Alaska were very high due to what was under the ground: oil.  For creating these protected lands in Alaska, President Carter was burned in effigy by some of the Alaskan people.  Some citizens in Alaska even equated President Carter’s signing of these protected lands into law to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Many shot their guns in protest.

Arctic National Park, Alaska

The battle for control of minerals and resources in “protected lands” would become another defining factor in the struggle for the creation of the national parks and protected lands, as we still see today in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where many would like to drill for oil.

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The Struggle for the Creation of the National Parks in America

May 12, 2010

Waterfall in Yosemite Valley

The struggle for the creation of national parks in America has been a long and arduous one.  Considered America’s best idea by some, a national park system was definitely not supported by all. 

The struggle for the creation of national parks in the United States really began in 1864 with Sen. John Conness’ bill proposing that a large tract of natural land encompassing the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees be set aside for the future enjoyment of all citizens.  The land was to be transferred to the state of California, on the condition that the land never be opened for private ownership and instead be preserved for “public use, resort, and recreation.”  

The Mariposa Grove of Big Trees

Sen. Conness’ proposed bill would be unprecedented in human history.  To paraphrase transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau: If the Kings of England had forests to shelter game for sport and food, why should not we who renounced the King’s authority, have our natural preserves in which wild animals would not be civilized off of the face of the Earth, but protected for inspiration and our own true recreation.  Or, shall we like villains, grub them all up, poaching on our own national domains? 

Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

Already at the time, though, there was a sad example of what America’s greatest natural wonders could become if left to private ownership and business.  This place was called Niagara Falls.  By the 1860s, every overlook on the American side of the falls was owned by a private landowner charging a fee. Many who visited there found the atmosphere ”closer to a carnival than a cathedral.” Europeans were publicly belittling Americans for allowing such a majestic work of nature to become blighted by overdevelopment.  Hence, Niagara Falls stood as an example of what could happen if America’s greatest natural features were not protected in some way.  Soon after, legislation was passed that made Yellowstone National Park the first national park in the United States (and the world), with the idea that if the legislation was not passed, Yellowstone would become another Niagara Falls.  This struggle of nature versus commerce epitomizes the struggle for the creation of national parks to this day. 

John Muir in the Yosemite Valley

Then came a man by the name of John Muir.  Muir moved to the Yosemite Valley in order to take up an offer to work at the Mariposa Estate.  There he quickly fell in love with the place, and became the favored tour guide, considered by many another “curiosity” because of his eccentric behavior.  He eventually had to leave for family reasons, but made his way back in 1889.  When he returned, “he was distressed at everything he saw within the Yosemite Valley.”  Beyond the boundaries of the Yosemite Grant, and therefore unprotected by the vigilance of the state, the headwaters of the streams leading into the valley had been left to the mercy of the lumbermen and sheepherders.  Muir spoke passionately about what he had seen. “The harm that the sheep do goes to the heart,” he exclaimed.  Then he predicted that if the destruction continued unchecked, without the trees and grasses of the High Sierra to trap and hold the winter snows, the springtime melts would become swifter and more destructive, the clear streams would become muddy with silt, and, by summertime, the valley and the waterfalls that nourished it would become dry.  Soon after, Muir’s colleague Robert Underwood Johnson suggested that the high country of Yosemite be set aside as a national park, using the same legislation as was used for Yellowstone.  However, vested interests and local politicians in California feared that once the surrounding high country was put under federal control, pressure would mount to take Yosemite Valley away from the state and make it into a national park also.  They launched a counteroffensive questioning Muir’s motives, publicly impugning his integrity, and even lying about his past.  These kinds of attacks would become common in the processes of the formation of the national parks. 

To be continued …

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Building Toward Sustainable New Urbanist Development

April 22, 2010

In Baldwin Park, the Publix is surrounded by townhomes so that people can walk to the grocery instead of driving.

Recently, a new community was constructed in the city of Orlando called Baldwin Park. The property that this community sits on was once a U.S. Navy base that eventually shut down and was demolished.  Of course, when the city decided to shut down and demolish this old Navy base, many different ideas and proposals were formed for what the property should be, and what should be constructed there.  What it has turned into is definitely something new and different for Orlando and this region in general, where urban sprawl and automobile-dependent development has reigned supreme for so long.    

Downtown Balwin Park is mixed-use development with condos over storefronts.

Baldwin Park is a walkable community, meaning that one who lives in the community is within walking distance of almost anything that he/she could possibly need to purchase.  There is a large Publix grocery store near the center of the community.  The main street is filled with shops and restaurants, and even contains a post office within a store.  Usually, in this region, all of these land uses are separate so that one must drive to get to all of these separate land uses, but in Baldwin Park, all of these land uses are condensed near the center of the community so one can walk to get to them.  There, one will find mixed-income housing where small townhomes are sitting next to large single-family homes.    

The post office inside of the store in downtown Baldwin Park.

The developers of Baldwin Park even struck a deal with the Audubon Society so that the majority of the shoreline of the lake that the community is on, Lake Baldwin, could be restored to its natural state, making it a prime habitat for nesting birds.  No motor boats are allowed on the lake. In some ways, I think that is unfortunate because it would enhance the area’s recreational offerings. But it is important for making the lake a good natural habitat.  Together, these elements are what make Baldwin Park a Sustainable New Urbanist community.  This is the type of community development that we will be seeing a lot more of in the future everywhere in the United States — and the world, for that matter — mostly because of environmental reasons.     

The Model Of the Design Plan For The Community of Windsor In Vero Beach, Florida.


A trip with my Traditional Town Planning class to the community of Windsor in Vero Beach, Florida, was very interesting.  Windsor is a Sustainable New Urbanist community that was designed by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk.  It is truly an amazing place.  The architecture of the buildings is predominantly what is called “Anglo-Caribbean.”  Because it is a country club, the community does have a golf course, and it even has a polo field and croquet courts.  Although Windsor was designed to be an exclusive country club, the design of the community still incorporates many Sustainable New Urbanist concepts that can be applied to any new community development, even in lower-income areas.    

This could be a townhome next to a single family home, but one could not tell the difference from the outside.


What I found to be most interesting in Windsor is that whether the houses were townhomes or single family homes, one could not tell by looking from the outside. This is a concept that could definitely be expanded to areas where segregation of class and income is obvious and apparent.   

An alley behind the homes in Windsor, as you can see very nice and clean.

Another great concept in planning that is incorporated into the design of Windsor is the use of alleys and “car courts” for parking in the rear of the houses and buildings.  This design feature keeps the front of the houses and buildings from having the typical two-car garage as a main feature in the front facade.  This allows for a lot more aesthetically pleasing building, where the front facade of the building facing the street showcases the architecture of the building rather than a garage door as the main feature.  This feature of alleys in the rear of the houses and building is also more practical for disposal of waste (garbage cans), and things of this nature.  Instead of rolling the garbage can and recycle bins to the curb in the front of the house, with alleys in the back, one can instead put these things behind the house or building where they are, for the most part, out of sight. Usually, when one thinks of alleys, it is not of a very pleasing place, but not in Windsor.  These alleys are as nice as the streets in this community.  The streets themselves are very narrow, with no curbing, and the houses are offset 10-20 feet from the street.  This design feature gives the community an “organic” look and feel, while also serving the practical purpose of slowing down the traffic and making the community more pedestrian-oriented.  Windsor is definitely one of the nicest places that I have ever been, and I look forward to going back.     

Another area that is about to see this Sustainable New Urbanist type of development is in and around the new Medical City in the Lake Nona area of east Orlando.  The Burnham Institute recently completed a new medical research facility there.  The University of Central Florida and the University of Florida then built medical-research facilities close by for medical students in training.  Also, there is a new Veterans Affairs hospital being built there.  All of these elements combined means that there will be a lot of high-wage earners in the area (doctors and medical technicians) who need places to live nearby, as well as college students and lower-wage workers.  This means that this area will definitely be a “mixed-income” area.  This area’s head of development has spoken to our Traditional Town Planning class, and it appears that some great things are about to happen in this general area as far as community development is concerned. We really have an opportunity here to work with a fairly “clean slate” in order to build a true Sustainable New Urbanist community of the future that will contain some of the brightest minds in medicine as well as planning and development.  This could really turn into an area and community where a diverse group of bright and progressive people collaborate and learn from one another.  Although the community development has not yet started in this area, I find it to be very exciting and think that it would be worthy of the attention of anyone who might be reading this.

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On the Move with High Speed and Light Rail

March 12, 2010

Central Park in Winter Park, where passengers will get off the commuter rail.

As many have heard, President Obama has approved federal monies for high-speed and commuter-rail systems in the Central Florida region.  This is a huge leap for the future sustainability of this region.  In fact, one of the planned stops for the new commuter-rail system will be within a quarter of a mile from where I am writing this blog — Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.  The reason that high-speed and commuter rail are so important for sustainability is that they will get people out of their cars and into rail systems for their commute, which will, in turn, keep those people who ride these rail systems from burning the fossil fuels that they burn in their commute. That will, in turn, reduce carbon and greenhouse-gas emissions per capita drastically.  This will then reduce the effects of global warming due to carbon and greenhouse-gas emissions from automobiles.


The existing train tracks that commuter rail will be running on.

Here in the Central Florida region, development historically has happened in a pattern where all land uses are separated, and, therefore, completely automobile dependent in order to get from one land use to the other (for instance, to go from one’s residence to the grocery store to the post office, one must drive in order to get to each one of these separate land uses). As property costs were lower the farther away one got from the urban core, and automobiles made long commutes possible, it caused a development pattern that is very spread out from the urban core and automobile dependent. This is known as urban sprawl.  This automobile-dependent, urban-sprawl type of development has contributed to many societal problems.  The cost for providing infrastructure and basic services for urban-sprawl development is far higher than in denser areas closer to the urban core.  The next most obvious problem is congestion and traffic.  These traffic problems then lead to other problems, such as road rage, violence, and even health problems such as obesity and hypertension.

To put it simply, the more time per day people spend in their automobiles, the more angry and less healthy they become.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  The more that people are required to drive their automobiles, the more carbon and greenhouse-gas emissions they spew into the atmosphere, which is drastically warming the planet.  This is especially so in rush-hour congested traffic in urban areas, where one is doing nothing more than sitting in one place, burning fossil fuels, and releasing carbon and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  A good example of this is on Interstate 4 in Orlando.  Every day the traffic on I-4 slows to a complete stop during the rush hours, where one can find oneself completely surrounded by sport-utility vehicles, and going nowhere and doing nothing but becoming stressed out, angry, and breathing gas fumes.  One must ask oneself, “What is wrong with this situation, and how can it be solved?”  The answer to this question relies heavily upon high-speed and commuter-rail systems.  In fact, the route for the new high-speed rail system in Central Florida is set to be along the side of I-4.  Soon, the option will be available to people who commute in this rush-hour, I-4 gridlock to take high-speed rail instead.  If they choose this option, it will drastically speed up their commute time (by at least half), while drastically reducing their carbon footprint (how much carbon is spewed into the atmosphere by activities such as driving an automobile) — not to mention all of the money that person will save in fuel and automobile costs.

The commuter rail will have the same effect, only on a smaller (or possibly comparable) scale.  The new commuter-rail system in Central Florida is set to run down already-existing railroad tracks and infrastructure.  Soon, if one would like to visit a friend or go shopping on the other side of town, that person will have the option of not having to take his or her automobile, and taking the light rail instead.  One could even use the new commuter-rail system to get to Rollins because, as I mentioned, a stop is planned within a quarter-mile of the college.  Again, this commuter rail will have all of the same benefits that were spoken of with the high-speed rail.  This could even make it possible for a person to not have to own an automobile at all, saving that person all of the costs of owning an automobile.


The old and, in my opinion, ugly train station in Winter Park that will be replaced by a newer, nicer one with commuter rail funding.

Now that these new high-speed and commuter-rail systems are about to be under construction, this also opens up great opportunities for new urbanist, sustainable type of development along these rail routes.  Instead of all uses being separated, the new development along and near these rail systems will be mixed-use, where one can live, work, shop, dine, and play all in the same community.  These new developments will also be pedestrian- and bicycle-oriented so that people can walk or bike to get to where they need to go and buy what they need to buy.  If residents would like to go farther outside of that community for any reason, they can jump on the high speed or commuter rail to get there.  This would completely eliminate the need for owning an automobile.  Our saying, as new urbanists, is that we are not asking every person to give up his or her automobile and driving altogether, but we are asking for each person or family to at least reduce the number of automobiles they own and drive by at least one.  The high-speed and commuter-rail systems, along with new-urbanist development, will definitely make this possible.

A commuter-rail stop here in Winter Park will help make the area more beautiful than it already is.  There is going to be a new train station to replace the old — and, in my opinion, ugly and run-down — one.  There is going to be more park space created around that train station.  This commuter-rail stop will also improve commerce tremendously in the area, eliminating some of the current vacant storefronts and bringing real, small, local businesses back to the area.  For me, as a student of this new type of development at the college close to where commuter rail is coming, this is all going to be an exciting, hands-on learning experience.

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Religion and the Environment in the Americas

February 9, 2010

It is widely disputed who the first Europeans were to arrive on the North American continent. Many say that it was Christopher Columbus and his crew; many say that it was the Spanish Conquistadors; and many say that it was Norse Vikings, along with many other theories. Many were Catholics, Protestants, and Quakers, but no 0662matter what denomination, most of these Europeans came to the Americas with a belief in the Holy Bible and Judeo-Christianity ingrained in their psyche. In the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1, Verse 26 states, ”Then God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let him have dominion over the fish in the sea, and over the birds in the sky, and over the cattle, and over all of the Earth, and all of the creatures that walk or crawl on the Earth.” Although interpretations may differ, this is what the Europeans believed, and was the sort of attitude they brought with them to the Americas: that man must dominate nature and the Earth as it says in the Holy Bible.

Well, no matter what group of Europeans or other people came to the shores of the Americas first, there was already an indigenous population inhabiting these lands. Today we call them Native Americans, American Indians, or the First Peoples of the Americas. Indian is actually a “false” term that was derived from Christopher Columbus’ crew, because they thought they had arrived in India and the Orient, when, in fact, they were in what is today known as the Caribbean. Hence Columbus’ crew coined the term “Indian,” for the people they believed were of India. The name of the Caribbean was actually derived from the local Native American tribe that inhabited this area of the world called the Carib. These peoples who populated the Americas before the l_3e0f857b306b4dd59674328cce960284arrival of the Europeans had their own spiritual beliefs and religion, which was nature-based. These people had never heard of or known of Christianity before the arrival of the Europeans. In their book The Gift Of Power, Erdoes and Deer of the Lakota Sioux Tribe explain that the main fundamental difference between Native American spiritual philosophy and beliefs and Judeo-Christian spiritual philosophy and beliefs is that the Native American people don’t believe that their creator gave them dominion over all of the creatures of the Earth and the Earth itself. Rather, they believe that humans are equal to all other living things and processes on Earth, none necessarily greater than the other.

When the Europeans arrived and settled on the shores of the Americas, they knew that this land was a vast wilderness frontier that would have to, in some ways, be tamed if they ever were to survive the often harsh conditions. As the people American history students know as the Conquistadors came to North America from the Southwest and Southeast, and the people we know as the Pilgrims came to the Northeastern shores, there was from the beginning a clash of these fundamental philosophies and beliefs between the indigenous population and the Judeo-Christian Europeans. The Judeo-Christians believed that anyone who wasn’t a Judeo-Christian was destined to some type of purgatory and/or hell, while the indigenous people felt that the Judeo-Christian philosophies and beliefs were flawed because they specifically say that man is to dominate nature.

Although the story varies depending on whom you ask, this mixing of cultures and beliefs led to such historical events in North America that are still celebrated as holidays today, such as Thanksgiving. The reality, though, was often bloodier. In many ways, neither side would budge or give in as far as their religious philosophies and beliefs were concerned, which led to many battles and conflicts all over the Americas, some of the more well-known of which were the Battle at the Alamo and the Battle at Wounded Knee. No matter what side or stance one takes on these battles and conflicts today, the simple fact is that it is an undeniable part of our history here in the Americas.

And so came the European descendants’ idea of “Manifest Destiny.” While the majority of the European-descended population lived along the Northeastern 047coast of North America, they looked at the great expanses to the West. They began to send exploratory parties such as Lewis and Clark to map out the West and to bring back the stories of what was out there that they had never before seen. With their Judeo-Christian philosophies and beliefs, these people of European descent set out to conquer the West, to have dominion over all of the nature, all over North America. This was meant to be. It was, in their minds, their destiny. Then came the Oregon Trail and the Gold Rush, and the great migration was on.  They brought with them their European farming techniques, their paper currency, and their ways of doing things. They took from the Earth whatever they could profit from, damming great rivers all along the way. Of course, by this time there were many people of other races, origins, and religions arriving on the shores of the Americas also.

Unfortunately for the indigenous people, the people of European descent’s belief in Manifest Destiny included the belief that anyone who was not a Judeo-Christian would have to be forced to conform to European Judeo-Christian philosophies, beliefs, and ways of doing things. This usually meant forcefully gathering the indigenous people onto a prearranged portion of land known as a reservation, where many have suffered and died for their beliefs and religion. The indigenous people were then forbidden to practice their own religion in any way. Still today Native American speaker John Trudell says that Native Americans still wonder who this “God” is that the European-descended Judeo-Christian man speaks of.  He says that the European-descended people always said that it was God’s will, and that the Native American people have heard so much of this “God,” but have seen very little.

For some men of European descent, though, such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, their belief was that nature was not something to be dominated by man, even though they did consider themselves to be Judeo-Christian men. Like the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis in the Holy Bible, they said that nature is something that has spiritual and intrinsic value.  Therefore nature should not be seen as something only for man to profit from and exploit in some way. This was a somewhat new concept to the North Americans of European descent in that time and day. As these people began to see and experience for the first time natural wonders such as what is today known as Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and the Grand Canyon, they stood in awe and began to describe these places with religious terms, such as “natural cathedrals” and “God’s magnificent work” and quoting scriptures from the the Holy Bible. Emerson stated that “God is more easily found in nature than in the works of man.” They began to question thl_6d4a7544c70e437daea5fa0784135bafis belief in Manifest Destiny, man’s dominion over nature, and what man was doing to the Earth: cutting down whole forests, damming rivers, killing animals for profit and fun. This all just couldn’t be right in their minds. It was out of these men’s beliefs that the movement in literature called romanticism and the push to preserve  lands in their pristine natural state in North America were born. These men foresaw the damage that man could and would do to the environment. They believed that, because nature has intrinsic and spiritual value, it should be preserved just for that reason alone, regardless of the scientific reasons for the protection of habitats and ecosystems, etc. And so these men founded what some consider to be a new religion: the belief in nature and the environment as intrinsically beautiful and spiritually valuable, no matter what religious background one is from. This new religion was known as Transcendentalism.

Today, what many of European descent are realizing is that maybe man has dominated nature too much for too long(and the reader might notice that the feminine aspect is generally missing here). Just maybe what our Native American brothers and sisters have said all along, that man dominating nature too much and not seeing himself as being equal to and a part of nature is a problem in itself, might just be true and right. Although the religious divide is still there for many of the world’s religions, what many are realizing is that, indeed, like the Garden of Eden, nature does have an intrinsic value and spiritual quality to it. People are waking up to the fact that nature does need to be preserved in its pristine natural state in many places on the Earth in order for the survival of future generations. It is my opinion that this is a fact that transcends all religions.

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Practicing Sustainability in a Major Way

January 14, 2010

Miami, where my family is from

As a child in elementary and middle school, I always wanted to be a marine biologist when I got older.  Being born in Cape Canaveral, I grew up near the ocean and have always felt a close personal connection to it.  I learned to surf at an early age, so I was always paying close attention to the ocean and weather cycles (the tides, swell, currents, wind direction, high- and low-pressure systems, etc.)  When I was a child, my family always took a vacation trip to the Florida Keys every summer.  My father was big into boating, fishing, and diving (he grew up in Miami and the Keys as a child).  We usually would stay at a hotel called the Sugarloaf Lodge in Sugarloaf Key that had a water pen with a pet porpoise (dolphin) in it.  They let me feed her a few times during the shows they had, and that was always exciting for me.  This is why I always thought that Marine Biology would be a good field for me to be in.  One of the things that really saddens me, though, has been to watch with my own two eyes the steady depletion of the coral reefs in the Florida Keys since I was a child.  When I dive the same reefs today that I explored as a child, there is hardly any of what I used to see.  The bounty of sealife is just gone; coral bleaching is common; the coral reefs are simply dying due to pollution and runoff, predominantly originating in Miami.


Pollution and runoff originating in the city of Miami is causing the coral reefs in South Florida to deteriorate

As I got to be high-school age, money became more and more of an issue.  I began to formulate business plans in my mind, and try to carry them out.  The restaurant business looked attractive to me, as well as the business of watersports, and the like.  I always wanted to run a successful business doing what I love to do, whatever that might be.  So, I decided by the time that I graduated high school that I was going to change my career plan from Marine Biology to International Business.  That sounded exciting and successful.

Well, I went to the community college here in the Orlando area, where I enrolled in classes such as accounting and economics.  I’ll just say that those classes weren’t “my cup of tea” at the time.  OK, I hated those classes.  I decided that there is just no way that I would be happy being an accountant for a business, or anything like that, for the rest of my life.  And economics, well, it’s good to know, but maybe not all for me as a career.  If you think that it is for you, that’s OK.  Rollins College has one of the best MBA programs in the country, and in the world, for that matter.  In fact, as I get older, I am starting to understand it more, and leaning in that direction a little more again.

So, after my community-college experience, and serious personal conflict over which direction to go in my life as a career, I landed a job in the land-survey business (more out of necessity than choice).  It’s hard work, and often dangerous, trudging around in the Florida swamp with alligators and snakes.  I’ve done pretty much all forms of land survey: topographical, mortgage, construction layout.  I’ve done big projects, from the laying out of property lines before the purchase of the land parcel, to the layout of the development, and straight through to the final mortgage survey of the completed buildings.  While doing this job, I learned a lot about things outside of my specific job of land survey.  There is a lot of politics involved in all of it.  Civil engineering is the larger field of work that you would be involved in as a land surveyor.  I worked for a civil-engineering firm for a time.  I saw the land owners, planners, developers, and engineers collaborating and such.  Even politicians.  Of course I was often surrounded by other workers in different areas of the construction field. It was interesting.

All the while, though, I knew that I still needed to advance my education in order to advance myself in the larger world outside of my specific job of land survey.  In talking with people in and out of my field of work, the environment seemed to be a more and more pressing issue.  There is also something that happened to me personally while doing land survey.  I began to realize that I was directly and indirectly responsible for the destruction of the environment.  As a part of my job duties, I used to choose which trees, if any, were going to stay standing in a planned development, and which would not.  Usually, the preferred method was just to wipe them all out, and maybe plant a few when the development was finished as an afterthought.  I carried around a personal sense of guilt for doing that.  I knew that this just couldn’t be right, and that things could not continue in this way.  We just can’t do this.  I can’t do this.


The Beal Maltbie Building, where most of the Environmental Studies classes are held

So, it occurred to me many years ago, long before “sustainability” and “green” were the new “catch phrases,” that much more attention needed to be paid to the environment, habitat, and ecosystems as a whole, and that development was going to have to be much more “sustainable.” (That’s what they call it these days anyhow; I always called it saving the trees when I did land survey.)  I have a lot of friends who call themselves “hippies” and “tree huggers.”  Sometimes I think that they’re kind of humurous.  I’ve never necessarily called myself a “tree hugger” or a “hippie,” but I do care about the trees.  And the coral reefs, for that matter.

Eventually,  I figured out that I could combine all of the career paths that I’ve wanted to go down, and have gone down in the past, with an Environmental Studies/Growth Management degree from Rollins College through the Hamilton Holt School.  Not only that, but there’s a bonus: It’s the morally right thing to do, in my opinion. And there’s another bonus: It is a blossoming and very promising field (there’s money in it, and it will be steady work).  In fact, as far as I can tell, society at large does not have a choice but to adopt more sustainable practices such as are taught in the courses with this degree because of serious pressing issues such as global warming and pollution.  By choosing this degree and career path, I can address the problem of coral reefs dying in the Florida Keys (and fix it), I can help the dolphins, and I can save the trees through more sustainable development, all while conducting international business by helping other countries develop more sustainable practices.  I might still even own a restaurant with sustainably produced foods and be in the watersports business some day.  Sweet!  That’s why I chose the Environmental Studies/Growth Management major.

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Lots of Work, Lots of Learning

December 15, 2009

An Introductory Video

My Field Botany Class On a Field Trip (I'm On the Far Right)

My Field Botany Class On a Field Trip at the Seminole County Environmental Center (I'm On the Far Right)

So, my Fall Semester is coming to a close.  I’ve been working on my final project for Environmental Planning class and studying for my final exam for that class.  There is always plenty to do and study at finals time.  The three classes that I took this Fall semester are: Environmental Planning, Field Botany, and Humanscapes — the Urbanization Process.  It has been a lot of work, but I learned a lot that I did not know before.  When I told my professor for Environmental Planning class, Professor Bruce Stephenson, about my new e-journalist and blogger job, he told me to make sure that I write and say plenty about the city planner John Nolen. So here we go.

John Nolen was a city planner who was Harvard-educated and trained by some of the best minds in the planning field in the late 1800s and early 1900s, such as Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted created Central Park in New York City and planned the city of Portland, Oregon, which is still today the most sustainable, “greenest” city in the United States.  Nolen was a major proponent of the “Garden City” concept — a city with a density of 12 units per acre, with an interconnected greenway and park system for beauty, aesthetics, recreation, natural habitat, and connecting important ecosystems in and/or around the city.  These Garden Cities were to be planned around the natural contours of the land, and important habitats and ecosystems of an area were not to be developed.  This would also ultimately add value to the adjacent lands.

My Environmental Planning Class On a Field Trip To the Genius Preserve In Winter Park, FL(Our Historic/Natural Preserve Project)

My Environmental Planning Class On a Field Trip To the Genius Preserve In Winter Park, FL(Our Historic/Natural Preserve Project)

In the early 1900s, Nolen moved to Florida to help in the planning of new cities at the time, such as St. Petersburg.  If anywhere in the world had the potential to have a beautiful garden in and/or around a city, it was in the subtropical and tropical regions of Florida.  Nolen’s plan for St. Petersburg to become a Garden City was unfortunately thrown out the window when land speculators realized that they could purchase and sell land for fast profits as throngs of Northerners began to head South for the “Sunshine State.”  These land speculators would have nothing to do with Nolen and his plan, and could only see the land for what it meant to them in terms of quick profit. Due to this intense land speculation and dealing, natural systems were completely ignored, and many areas were either dredged or filled to create more land to sell for profit.  And so we get what we have today in St. Petersburg: a concrete maze of strip malls, condominiums, residential development,  apartment complexes, and roads, with no grand design or master plan, excessive pollution and runoff, and deterioration of natural habitats and ecosystems, which then negatively affects local industries such as fishing (St. Petersburg once had the largest commercial fishing industry in the state of Florida, but today there is hardly any).

Now, 100 years later, planners and developers are realizing that we have to do things differently.  What they are ultimately being forced to realize regarding development and the environment, though, is everything John Nolen said we should do 100 years ago.  So, there’s my John Nolen speech for Professor Stephenson.  I hope he’ll be proud.

Another important component of this class was the 50-Year Plan.  The 50-Year Plan laid out the projected development patterns of Central Florida if we continue on the current path of “Urban Sprawl” type of development, and the costs that this will incur.  Then it lays out a more “sustainable” approach that development should take over the next 50 years.  Again, this would involve everything that John Nolen spoke of  100 years ago. Mass-transit systems — such as “light rail,” monorails, trains, trolleys, and streetcars — will also play a defining role in this more-sustainable development pattern, and much of the new development should and will be built around mass-transit systems rather than the automobile and roads.  This is crucial in order to get people out of their automobiles, which is a major contributing factor to carbon emissions and global warming.

Field Botany was an interesting learning experience.  It definitely involves a lot of memorization of scientific plant terms, which can be difficult at times.  Many of my Saturdays were taken up by field trips for Field Botany class.  Seven o’clock comes early on a Saturday morning.  We really had some treks through the swampy Florida jungle, that’s for sure.  Professor Bill Grey will definitely get you out in the field to teach how Field Botany applies to an Environmental Studies degree.  The different species of pine trees are difficult to decipher one from another, but this is important to know for determining soil and habitat types.  Some habitat types are protected from development in the state of Florida, such as wetlands habitats.  Many animal species such as frogs depend on these wetland habitats to complete their life cycle. So, it is important to know what plant species define these endangered and protected habitat types.  This is essential for protecting important ecosystems and endangered wildlife.

My third class, Humanscapes — the Urbanization Process, was more about urban planning for densely populated urban areas.  Professor Kevin Tyjesky is the head of the planning division of the City of Orlando and is LEED certified (Leaderhip in Energy and Environmental Design), which is a certification that I am also pursuing.  The main goal of this class is to teach students about the hazards of “Urban Sprawl” type of development, and how we can minimize the impact on the environment through new methods of urban planning such as “mixed-use” development, which is referred to as “New Urbanism,” and has been well defined by modern planners such as Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk.  We did a lot of reading on different planners’ and architects’ writings and visions of how a city or urban environment should be planned, and what it should look like.  Some, such as Le Corbusier, believed that a city should be ultra densely populated with high-rise buildings, and some, such as Ebenezer Howard, believed in a more agricultural “Garden City.”  Many perspectives on the city are taken into account in this class.  I am currently working on the final project for this class, which is to design a given space in the City of Orlando chosen by Professor Tyjesky, and to design this space with “New Urbanist” principles.

So, it has definitely been an interesting and fun-filled semester.  Who knows what the future holds?  Maybe a trip to Costa Rica to study the Cloud Forest ecosystem there! I’d better get back to work.  Soon I will be on to the next semester.

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Nature in Florida

September 9, 2009

brown016The best and most interesting semester that I have had here at Rollins College was my Spring of ‘09 semester. I had three classes that semester: Environmental Literature, Environmental History, and Land Use Control. Although this semester required far more reading than any other in my college career, this amount of reading helped me learn a lot of very useful information that I am sure will be used often in my career when I leave college.

Environmental Literature and Environmental History went hand in hand. It was basically the same class, just with different books and reading materials. There was a lot of reading of environmental literature every day. I learned a lot about the terms “conservation” and “preservation,” their similarities and differences. Conservation of land is mostly for mixed use of human activities and purposes along with wildlife and natural habitat. Preservation means preserving land in its 100 percent natural state.

John Muir was probably the most well-known preservationist. He fought hard for the preservation of Yosemite National Park and the Hetch-Hetchy Valley, of which the park was a part. He did lose the battle for the Hetch-Hetchy Valley due to the damming of the valley in order to supply water to the San Francisco area, but Yosemite Park is still one of–if not the most– beautiful natural preserves in this country today.

Then we have environmental fiction writers such as Carl Hiaasen, author of Tourist Season. Carl Hiaasen has been a reporter and columnist for the Miami Herald and mostly writes from what he has seen living in Miami and covering its news. It is almost non-fiction with fictional characters, I suppose. He was and is very passionate about the Florida environment, and this shows in his writings – sometimes serious but humorous at the same time. I enjoy his works.

I really enjoyed the writings of the early Florida explorers such as John James Audubon, for whom the Audubon Society is named. He did not much enjoy his travels in Florida, as one might expect. To him, Florida was a vast swamp full of mosquitoes and alligators; a place that was not aesthetically beautiful as others he had explored. He said that he could not wait to leave.

brown040There were other explorers and writers that enjoyed the nature and scenery of Florida, though, such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings who wrote books such as Cross Creek and The Yearling. Marjorie moved to Florida in order to make her way in the orange and citrus growing industry.  She absolutely loved every aspect of natural Florida.  John Muir, that I spoke of earlier, also enjoyed the nature and scenery of Florida such as is expressed in his book Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf in which he literally hikes almost the entire length of the state of Florida while recording his experiences.  He definitely had a few trials and tribulations on the way.

I especially enjoyed reading The Open Boat. It was a true story about a group of men who had been shipwrecked off the coast of New Smyrna Beach, Florida in the late 1800s. The author had a different view of nature than the romantics, such as Muir, who believed that nature is everything that is beautiful and pleasing to man. To the men in the Open Boat (a lifeboat), after they were shipwrecked off of the coast of New Smyrna Beach, nature just did not care and was totally indifferent to man. Some of the men in the story actually died by drowning before they made it to shore. There are a few different ways to view nature, I suppose.

My Land Use Control class was a little more political. Land Use Control, basically, is about the rules of development – where one can and can’t develop, and determining what type of development is to occur on a specific piece of land and for what purpose it is to serve. For an assigned group project, we could choose from different topics of Land Use Control. Our group got the Green Space and Park Lands project. We set out to determine how the City of Orlando could better utilize land for parks and greenspace.

It was pretty eye-opening. The fact is that there is a required amount of greenspace per capita in a city in the state of Florida, but the only way that the City of Orlando is meeting this requirement is by including lands such as golf courses and schoolground PE yards as parks and greenspace. I feel that this is not the proper way to handle parks and greenspace.

So, that is my experience in the Spring Semester of ‘09. I actually got two B’s, in Environmental History and Environmental Literature, and an A in my Land Use Control class. Hopefully, I can get more A’s this semester and bring my GPA up a bit more.

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Read more about... Dylan:

Hello, my name is Dylan Brown. I was born in Cape Canaveral, FL, but have resided in the Orlando area for about 15 years. I grew up around nature and the natural environment living on the shores of the St. Johns River as a child and spending a lot of time at the beach. I was always into camping out, boating, surfing and such. In the third grade I was labeled as “gifted”, and put into the gifted program. In this program, we studied and learned a lot about the environment, the causes of global warming, and the necessary steps that must be taken to stop this trend. I have known what I wanted to major in in College since, but it is not until relatively recently that these kinds of programs have been offered. I found what I have been looking for since elementary school here at Rollins College in the Environmental Studies/Growth Management program. I have had a great experience so far and am looking forward to what is to come. I will probably pursue the new Master’s Program being started by Professor Bruce Stephenson next Fall: Master’s of Planning and Civic Urbanism. It should be very interesting.

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