A Well­ness Checkup for Our Is­land

Like peo­ple, com­mu­ni­ties need to prac­tice healthy habits

Times of the Islands - - Contents - Dr. Ran­dall H. Niehoff first wound up on Sanibel in 1991.

If you don’t know where you’re go­ing, you’ll end up some­place else. — Yogi Berra

Awell­ness exam of­ten be­gins with the doc­tor ask­ing the pa­tient, “How are you do­ing?” or “How are things go­ing?” Sim­i­larly, to be judged as healthy, a com­mu­nity needs to be clear about what it is do­ing and where it is head­ing. The late econ­o­mist Al­bert O. Hirschman ob­served that firms and in­sti­tu­tions of all kinds, even when pres­sured by com­pe­ti­tion, do not re­lent­lessly im­prove. Like in­di­vid­u­als, they tend to do what be­comes com­fort­able—just enough to get by. And that’s not healthy. Be­ware the sit­u­a­tion where it can be said of an or­ga­ni­za­tion that it has no more sense of di­rec­tion than a bunch of fire­crack­ers. Hirschman’s sci­en­tific in­sight re­vealed the sur­pris­ing re­la­tion­ships be­tween eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and po­lit­i­cal democ­racy. His most mem­o­rable work spoke of three ways clients, cus­tomers or city res­i­dents can re­spond when in­sti­tu­tions be­gin to de­cline: ex­its, voice and loy­alty. First, with re­gard to Sanibel is­lan­ders “vot­ing with their feet,” the ap­pro­pri­ate di­ag­no­sis would be no ex­its. Any typ­i­cal day dur­ing peak sea­son demon­strates that both na­tives and vis­i­tors are all present and ac­counted for. Thou­sands of cars cross the cause­way each day, and there is a con­tin­u­ous flow of bi­cy­cle and pedes­trian traf­fic along Sanibel’s 24 miles of share­duse paths. Even in the less-trav­eled sum­mers the to­tal num­ber of vis­i­tors is ris­ing ev­ery year. Mean­while, the beaches beckon, the na­ture trails de­liver seren­ity, the sun­shine and wa­ters are clear and re­fresh­ing, and the dark skies are star-stud­ded all night long.

Sec­ond, when it comes to voice, the writ­ten language of our in­spi­ra­tional, much-copied Sanibel Plan is re­peated out loud ev­ery day—in be­hav­ior more than in words. In fact, its cen­tral man­date to pro­tect ecosys­tems can be de­scribed as a bold, sweet theme song play­ing on the sound­track of our sanc­tu­ary is­land “movie.” Among the singers are the four full-time bi­ol­o­gists in Sanibel’s De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Resources. Coun­ties typ­i­cally may have one such spe­cial­ist on their staff, but al­most no city has such a high pro­por­tion of life-sci­en­tist pro­fes­sion­als.

Third, as to loy­alty, out of the 410 ci­ties in Florida, Sanibel is one of the few with a city coun­cil and mayor who are: (a) vol­un­teers; (b) non­par­ti­san; and (c) elected to rep­re­sent all cit­i­zens (no wards). Such loy­alty means that in times of de­cline “cus­tomers” don’t aban­don the in­sti­tu­tion overnight, thus pro vid­ing a com­mu­nity time to re­pair it­self. Proof of such heal­ing is demon­strated by the high per­cent­age of is­lan­ders who lead and serve as vol­un­teers in a wide range of civic and char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions.

To pro­vide ther­apy means to serve and to attend. Folks who live on, work on and visit our is­land, who give voice to its mis­sion and who loy­ally pay at­ten­tion to the needs of its flora and fauna (civ­i­lized and wild) are keep­ing things mov­ing in the di­rec­tion of health

and well­ness. We don’t in­tend to wind up “some­place else.”

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