Making a Better Future

STAR TREKI’m a big fan of Star Trek. I like the notion of a high-tech, idealistic future with attractive architecture and clean streets. So I do wonder, occasionally, what it will take to get there and whether specific policies enacted now can make that future happen. Or, if not THAT exact future, something like it.

Politically it seems like most of the folks interested in making the environment clean are on one side of the political spectrum–but their primary political methods for ensuring that we get that clean environment are coercive: more government rules, regulations, and taxes. Such policies interfere with economic growth and even freedom in some cases, causing many folks to resent the policies even if they result in a better environment for everyone.

On the other side of things, we have capitalism, which depends on continual growth, which means continual expansion of products and services, which in turn means we must extract more resources and very often create more pollution. Many people believe that growth can continue unchecked without any consequences.

This endless hostility between environmentalism and economic growth doesn’t need to be permanent. There have to be policies that can be pro-economic growth that also support the environment. I’d like to see cleaner streets, self-driving electric cars, clean air and water, trash heaps used for resources or fuel, and more greenery in cities and towns.

  • Why not talk tax breaks (not subsidies, which are direct payments of taxpayer monies) for such technologies?
  • Why not streamlined regulations to bring newer, safer nuclear power plants online?
  • Why not treat space as an economically undeveloped area (“enterprise zone“), where space-based solar power and asteroid mining can be developed tax-free for 20 years until the space above our heads has an economy strong enough to produce growth?
  • Why not zoning laws that set aside space for and encourage greener technologies?
  • Why not capitalist-based incentives to develop carbon sequestration or other technologies?

bosco-verticale-on-the-move-upScience fiction author David Brin calls these technological efforts TWSBDA (Things We Should Be Doing Anyway). If you find a way to provide incentives for building world-improving technologies that lead to profit (without direct government spending), you might eliminate some of the political friction in the climate change debate. We can do all these things–create a better, growing economy with more clean energy and more technology–without coercion and without sticking it to “the system.”

Or perhaps I’m just being too optimistic again. Jeez, I hope not. I really want to see someone build a starship.

Urban Planning in Orlando

Traffic on Interstate 4 in Southwest Orlando--the usual mess.
Traffic on Interstate 4 in Southwest Orlando–the usual mess.

I have no idea who handles urban/civil planning for the City of Orlando or Orange County in general, but whatever process(es) they’re using are guaranteed to promote two problems:

  • Sprawl
  • Traffic


Here’s the reality about how people get around southwest Orlando, which is where I live and spend most of my time: the locals find the unused roads and do their best to avoid Interstate 4. Eventually, of course, the city planners realize, “Hey, look! We’ve got a lot more traffic on Blahblahblah Boulevard! We need to expand the road!” So they expand two-lane roads to four-lane divided highways to handle the increased traffic load. Naturally, the next stage in the process is that real estate developers will note the wider, more accessible road and will start selling more property on said road–commercial and residential. Businesses are built, people move in, the street becomes a “destination” area and once again the locals try to find “the road less traveled.” Here’s a crazy idea: next time you find a road that has high traffic that flows at reasonable speed, leave it alone!


The worst traffic in SW Orlando is Sand Lake Road, from its western end at Apopka-Vineland Road all the way to Kirkman Road. The stretch between Dr. Phillips Blvd. and Universal Blvd. is particularly bad, but that area of high traffic is about to be extended by adding a Trader Joe’s on the north side of the street between Della Drive and Apopka-Vineland. I have no gripe with Trader Joe’s per se. The problem with most of the Dr. Phillips commercial area is the lack of adequate parking. This is hardly a new problem. Trader Joe’s, undoubtedly a popular chain, failed to provide a decent amount of parking for their new Winter Park store, with similar ensuing congestion.

What this results in is people driving around and around the streets (or parking lots) looking for a decent spot. A couple other crazy notions here:

  • Increase the amount of space allotted for parking
  • Reduce the number or size of new commercial properties
  • Increase the number of turn lanes
  • Improve public transportation (light rail would be a good fit if we have room for it)
  • Leave the land alone?

I am not a civil engineer, so I’m throwing myself on the mercy of those of you out there who are charged with designing streets, ramps, and parking lots made to support commercial properties. Please: stop what you’re doing. Update the equations that you use to estimate traffic flow by comparing estimates vs. reality…especially along Sand Lake Road. Do something different. Your processes for “growth” are increasing density where it’s least wanted and forcing more and more people to head out to the suburbs to fill up the empty space and avoid the congestion messes you’re creating.