I Have Seen the Future
and it is seriously weird !     More Tales by Paul

An English View of 2 weeks in Florida by:

Paul Buttle who is the author of several Walking Guides to the Lake District. Cumbria, with its fells (mountains), and the Lake District are near England's West Coast, across from Ireland.

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Despite its name, Palm Beach Gardens is a town, or at least it's what passes for a town in south-east Florida. It's known as a PUD: a planned urban development - although to my eyes there seemed very little planning gone in to it . It was a system of huge squares bounded by fearsome highways developed any way the acquiring developer chose to develop it. Most of them seemed keen on developing golf-courses. Golf courses are pretty important in Palm Beach Gardens. There was a golf bag on the town crest. Some crests have a knight holding a sword but in Palm Beach Gardens it was a man with a wife and two children holding a golfing bag as if to indicate the golfing bag was as important as the wife and two children.

The golf courses weren't just golf courses they were also Private Communities - that's why there were so many of them. Around their edges overlooking their bunkers and peaceful lakes was housing - opulent housing, spacious bungalows, some with swimming pools. The private community I became most familiar with was called PGA - Professional Golf Association, an unusual name for a community but it did have five golf courses - and all told about five thousand people living between and on the edges of those courses. It was relentlessly delightful, not a blade of grass was out of place. Each day a whole army of Latin Americans came in to mow or trim or hack at the vegetation to prevent it reverting back into swamp.

On the face of this earth I am quite certain no other town makes better provision for pedestrians than does the town of Palm Beach Gardens. Pathways often as broad as an English country lane lined both sides of each busy highway. The only problem being there just aren't any pedestrians - well hardly any. I spent a good many hours walking these pathways - or cycling them - and on average I would meet a pedestrian about once every three miles - cyclists were even less common. Meanwhile, while I was walking or cycling all these miles, I would be passed by thousands upon thousands of cars. Conservatively, I would say at any one time there are about five thousand cars moving about Palm Beach Gardens to every pedestrian so doing. If you were therefore to divide the cost of providing these pathways by the actual mileage walked on them I'm fairly certain it would work out higher than the cost of roadways divided by the motoring mileage covered on them.

Walking in Palm Beach Gardens wasn't even favoured on the golf courses. I had always thought hitherto that walking to where you'd hit your ball so you could hit it again was one of the main reasons for playing golf: it was a form of exercise, (though personally I've always held to the opinion you can gain far more exercise by just simply walking and not stopping to hit a ball every few minutes.) Well, in Palm Beach Gardens whatever aerobic attributes the game of golf normally has, have been abandoned; players journey from one scene of enswipement to the next in buggies. In fact they have to, so I was told. If they walk they take up more time and less people can get round the course.

There were, of course, a small minority of people in Palm Beach Gardens who missed walking, who wanted to get out their cars and off their buggies and use their feet; an heroic few - so they walked round in circles. Early morning was the best time to see them when, with their Walkmans clasped over their ears and togged out in well creased shorts, you would see them striding confidently out around their local jogging tracks. In Palm Beach Gardens more people walk round in circles than actually walk to get anywhere.

This may be accounted as somewhat bizarre - it is - but even more bizarre are the gyms. I saw only one but it was enough. It was next to a supermarket. No frosted glass or strategic drapery hid the interior of this establishment. It was all laid bare to view through its broad high windows. Inside was a cannonade of walking machines, although only one was in use. A short stocky man was using one. His stumpy legs pumping up and down like pistons. They had such walking machines in the last century, of course, though they were somewhat cruder - they were then known as tread mills.

I can't, however, reproach Palm Beach Gardenites too much for walking so little. Getting anywhere on foot in Palm Beach Gardens is a daunting prospect - everything is so far apart. On foot in England I can visit a post office, travel agents, bookshop, bank, bakers and local library in the space of an hour, in my home town. In Palm Beach Gardens such an itinerary would be a full day's expedition. There are hardly any quiet walkways solely for the walker to use. It all has to be done following the highways - highways that are straight as a die. This straightness tricks one into thinking one has much further to walk than is actually the case. When you can see a set of traffic lights a mile away they still seem a mile away when you get half way there. Together with the constant stream of traffic pouring along these roads, it all makes for tedious walking. I discovered just one main road in Palm Beach Gardens that was curved. The traffic along it was lighter too, maybe because of the curve. It was the one road I didn't mind walking along. I used to use it in preference to using directer routes. Its existence demonstrated that Palm Beach Gardens could have been a lot different had it been planned better: planned for humans that is, instead of the motor car.

Like most of south east Florida, Palm Beach Gardens has developed entirely within my lifetime - over the last fifty years. It was the advent of air-conditioning which lead to this. That is to say Americans only really began flocking to the sunshine state when they could have houses cool enough to protect them from the sun they were all flocking to.

Constantly encapsulated in their cars and air-conditioned homes and air-conditioned shopping malls, it's a strange artificial world Man has created for himself in south east Florida. I have the terribly feeling though, half of Britain would be out there if they could. But here's the good news - its totally unsustainable. Once oil gives out south east Florida will revert back to being a swamp again, it will be once more the domain of those elegant long legged birds, nameless to me, I saw so often walking sedately and imperiously across all those immaculate golf greens.

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