At the confluence of the economy, the environment and education
“It’s been a decade since a room filled with artists, educators and local business owners gathered to found a nonprofit designed to be the advocate voice for a region of North Florida that’s been known for hundreds of years as a living Eden. Since then, we’ve worked to establish Florida’s Eden as a model region for sustainability and innovation by helping our communities identify and leverage their natural and cultural assets in order to achieve sustainable economic prosperity.”Annie Pais, Executive Director, Florida’s Eden
The Creative Economy
Our mission in founding Florida’s Eden was to develop the creative economic potential of North Florida. Gainesville was a natural home base, serving as a central destination hub, innovation center and premier cultural venue. Located as we were in the urban gateway to Florida’s freshwater springs district, it was natural for us to realize that we lived in Florida’s Eden—a name with deep historical roots and one that we honor prominently as the brand for all of North Florida.
We knew from the outset that our indigenous resources—our talented population and the remarkable place itself—were not only our defining natural and cultural treasures but also our prime economic assets. Many of us who feel a sacred connection to this region of artesian springs and exotic flora and fauna realized that great changes were coming to our neck of the woods. We had watched the mistakes made in other regions and vowed to learn from their devastating consequences. We contributed our best efforts to influence the coming changes by proactively moving forward with a creative economic development plan.
In 2002, we formalized our ideas when the Florida’s Eden Feasibility Conference identified the environment—specifically, water—as critical to North Florida’s economic success. We crafted a comprehensive plan to grow a creative economy, one that valued water and our unique springs region as our defining natural characteristics and the core of a vibrant and sustainable economy.
We enlisted the help of our large cultural community by opening Florida’s Eden memberships and starting a database network of creative local businesses. The Florida’s Eden Source was born and now, with several hundred members, it serves as a shopping resource for locally produced products and services.
Florida’s Eden quickly became the voice for a bigger comprehensive vision for our region. How might North Florida benefit from understanding itself as one bioregion? How could we brand Florida’s Eden as a unique cultural destination for aware visitors, people seeking experiences in places where locals valued and cared for their place? How might we reframe the very nature of education by combining science and humanities in a place-based curriculum, thus preparing our young citizens to compete in the new 21st-Century workforce? How could we encourage urban and rural areas to partner in mutually beneficial ways? How might our region carve out an economic position as a prosperous and sustainable place to invest, locate and live well?
To our surprise, even in our early stages we garnered national recognition. In 2004 the economist Richard Florida, author of The Rise of The Creative Class, met with us here and endorsed our comprehensive plan. He identified Gainesville as a potential creative economy hot spot, and the Florida’s Eden Plan as an international cutting edge model for creative economic development. We were thrilled to learn that our plan successfully navigated the common pitfalls that plagued even the largest creative economic initiatives. How? What were we doing differently here that could catapult us onto a world stage?
From 2008 to 2010, Florida’s Eden worked in seven adjacent counties to identify and enhance local economic assets; we then published The Heart of Florida and Pure Water Wilderness scenic guides to those counties.
You may view the flip-page versions of both guides on line at FloridasEden.org/trails
These guides became the unofficial recruitment and welcome materials for our region and opened the door for GainesvilleConnect.com, this creative web portal for our community. Just as we had done with the guides, we asked locals to contribute writing and photography for GainesvilleConnect.
In 2005, Florida’s Eden helped shape the strategy of Culture Builds Florida, a new effort spearheaded by Bank of America and the State of Florida. Culture builds Gainesville too, and last year we created and produced Primavera, a month-long celebration of the peak of our spring cultural season. In its debut year, Primavera delighted everyone with over 200 events happening in more than 60 venues in neighborhoods across Gainesville and in small hamlets and villages throughout the county. This countywide collaboration of our entire cultural community was unprecedented, and set the stage for our cultural sectors to partner with our technology sectors in the creative economic development plan. We look forward to growing Primavera 2013, March 20-April 22. Put it on your calendars now!
A decade after Florida’s Eden was founded, we’ve evolved into an exciting model with partnering arms in science, education, culture, and technology. We now find ourselves at the core of crafting a new economic path for Florida’s best future. As conveyed in our early descriptions, our vision of Gainesville as the headwaters of Florida’s creative economy is becoming reality with the enthusiasm and inclusive support of the entire community.
Different regions and different cities emerge at different times to lead our country toward greatness. We envision that our unique community is now poised for that kind of leadership role at precisely the time when such leadership is most needed. The 21st-Century economy—with its global workforce, creative skill sets, natural resource challenges, innovative potential and sustainable awareness—is our stage. We are intent upon networking and partnering the Florida’s Eden model with other global models.
The state of Florida has all of the necessary ingredients to serve as an international model for embracing an economy that values talent, celebrates diversity, engages sustainable methods and reveres protecting Florida—the remarkable place itself—as our prime asset.