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Land Developers and Planetary Emergencies

Terry Mock, SLDI Co-founder

By Terry Mock
Follow Terry on Twitter: @SustainLandDev

September 2008

Isn’t it ironic when land developers can provide practical solutions to problems that have been debated among experts for decades?
Recently, more than 120 scientists, engineers, analysts and economists from 30 countries hunkered down once again for the 40th annual conference on “planetary emergencies” in Erice, a pre-Medieval town built over the ages on a bluff jutting nearly a half mile above the azure Mediterranean in Sicily. The panoramic view presented of this large island west of Italy’s “toe” speaks volumes about some enduring, troublesome human habits. Sicily has been largely deforested for thousands of years, and fittingly, the issue of desertification has been one of the experts’ fifteen identified “planetary emergencies” for some time. There continues to be contentious debate among analysts about what might be done to arrest or reverse the environmental and economic impacts of desertification.

The daunting nature of the problems did not seem to blunt the experts’ determination to look for answers far and wide. “What option do I have?” said Richard Wilson, a Harvard physicist and an expert on nuclear power and environmental risk. “I could go down to Hilton Head (S.C.) and take a little club and knock a ball around the course, but I don’t find that a very attractive thought.”

That’s too bad Dr. Wilson, because I respectfully suggest that you might have learned something about the practical solutions to desertification and sustainable development if you had. In contrast to the denuded Sicilian town of Erice, where the scientists and analysts repeatedly meet and debate, the Town of Hilton Head Island is well known for its “eco-friendly” development. The town’s Natural Resources Division enforces the Land Management Ordinance which minimizes the impact of development and governs the style of buildings and how they are situated amongst existing trees. As a result, Hilton Head Island enjoys an unusual amount of tree cover relative to the amount of development. After being extensively logged and farmed before the Civil War, by the 1950s, Hilton Head Island was extensively covered with second-and third-growth forest. The stage was set for what became a model for modern residential development on barrier islands.

Utilizing land his family owned, a young developer named Charles Fraser began implementing a plan to create a community on Hilton Head where homeowners could live side-by-side with nature, a major innovation for developers at the time. Charles Fraser was a committed environmentalist who changed the whole configuration of his Hilton Head Island marina just to save an ancient live oak. It came to be known as the Liberty Oak and Fraser was buried next to the tree when he died in 2002.

Five golf courses on Hilton Head Island have all achieved designation as a “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary” by Audubon International – a SLDI member and partner. To reach certification, a course must demonstrate that they are maintaining a high degree of environmental quality in a number of areas including environmental planning, wildlife & habitat management, outreach and education, integrated pest management, water conservation, and water quality management.

Your participation and comments are welcome.


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