SRQ Daily: The Journey to Environmental Resiliency

SRQ Daily: The Journey to Environmental Resiliency

The following guest column by Phillip P. Lanham appeared in the Saturday, March 16, 2024 edition of SRQ Daily:

Gulf Coast Community Foundation has a unique way of keeping the pulse on emerging opportunities in our region.

Sixty-five members of our community, hundreds of survey responses, and 30,000 discussion notes helped set the course of impact for our 2023 Regional Scan. Gulf Coast has identified affordable housing, water quality and access to green spaces, and mental health as our three priority areas to focus on from the results of the scan. These vital themes set an ambitious agenda for our regional philanthropic work and guide us in developing transformative initiatives to address them.

Seven regional scans have been conducted since 2009 and only one issue rose to the top in all seven — community stakeholders prioritize protecting our natural environment. In 2018, Gulf Coast’s Board of Directors created an Environmental Initiative based on the regional scan data. The initiative’s mission is to create a region known for protecting its natural environment and educating its citizens on the benefits of a healthy planet.

I’m proud to say at Gulf Coast we recognize that water quality supports future generations, our quality of life and our local economy. We will advocate for revisions to stormwater and facility maintenance, utility assessment fees and methodologies to focus on long-term water quality. We will also continue to share strategies from our Community Playbook for Healthy Waterways (Water Quality Playbook) at conferences locally and nationally and with governmental decision-makers. The digital Playbook, a living document that is updated regularly with the most up-to-date data, is a direct response to the 2018 prolonged red tide that devastated our region. The Playbook outlines actions that everyone can take to have a measurable impact on water quality.

We have supported The Bay Park, our one park for all, since its inception in 2013. Our Board recently approved a $1-million grant amplified by anonymous Gulf Coast donors, totaling $2 million in matching dollars available for The Bay Park. This milestone is a challenge match to you, our community and philanthropists, to raise a total of $4 million by Dec. 31: www.thebaysarasota.org/support-the-park. One of Gulf Coast’s many contributions to The Bay is a denitrification trench, an enhancement that uses natural processes to filter and clean rainwater that falls on the site, neutralizing nitrogen pollution before it seeps into the bayou and Bay. The Bay Park is a model for how philanthropy and the community can turn a dream into a thriving outdoor space for everyone.

I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight Gulf Coast’s connection to the Legacy Trail. Our Foundation catalyzed the vision of our communities being connected by a beautiful bike and pedestrian trail. Through initial surveys and engineering, to grants to Trust for Public Land and advocacy work, Gulf Coast has supported the Legacy Trail every step of the way. If you haven’t experienced it, I highly recommend a walk or ride with your family on one of these cooler mornings.

The Venice Urban Forest improves stormwater management, reduces air pollution, and provides a habitat for wildlife under a 1.75-mile-long tree canopy. Gulf Coast has contributed $500,000 in grants for the Urban Forest, which was matched by Venice Area Beautification, who created and maintain the forest. I invite you to discover the hundreds of native trees and various species of birds when you visit the forest.

With Earth Day approaching in April, together we can create solutions to improve our environment for the benefit of all. I look forward to seeing you at one of these community and environmental gems.

To read Gulf Coast’s 2023 Regional Scan, click here. To learn more about our Environmental Initiative, including additional partners, click here.

Phillip P. Lanham is president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.