Thursday, April 9, 2009

Annals of Innovation, I: The Football Lineman and the Solar City

As I mentioned in an earlier post, humanity faces quite an array of problems, ranging from global warming and terrorism to illiteracy and the threat of asteroids from space. It is a real joy to see someone doing something about one of these problems, in an innovative way. I am talking about the former football lineman and the solar city.

Time magazine reports on its website today, in an article by Michael Grunwald, that a former NFL lineman has made an innovative proposal for Babcock Ranch, a solar-powered city to be developed in southwest Florida (near Fort Myers, roughly halfway on a line between Miami and St. Petersburg). This would feature what would be the world's largest photovoltaic solar power plant.

After the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, when the volume went up on developing renewable energy sources, one argument against solar power was that 'the science isn't there yet.' It surely is now. The Florida solar power plant presumably would look and function something like the photovoltaic array at Nellis Air Force Base (Nevada), currently the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in North America (pictured above, from the Wikimedia Commons). The Nellis array, when fully developed, will supply over one-quarter of the power used on this base, which is home to more air squadrons than any other U.S. Air Force base in the world, including four air wings attached to the United States Air Force Warfare Center. Somehow, solar power is good enough for one of hte largest and most important bases of the U.S. Air Force. It should be good enough for much of the rest of the United States.

This idea for a solar city in Florida--what Time is calling the Sunshine City in the Sunshine State--is the idea of Syd Kitson, who, after six years playing as an NFL lineman for the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys, turned many years ago to real estate development. As Kitson put it in Grunwald's article, "The time has come for something completely different."

Kitson's proposal for his solar city includes details that would make his development sustainable and self-contained, with a green orientation that is unprecedented for a community of its size. That would be a major change of orientation for Florida, where communities typically are not sustainable, do require a car to do anything, and do carry an enormous carbon footprint per person. (I lived in Florida for over eight years. Sorry, my friends and former neighbors. I'm not saying that New York City, where I live now, is any better, either.)

My point in describing all of this is two-fold. Sure, I am promoting green ideas. However, beyond that, I am promoting innovative thinking. Here's a guy who played pro football for years. However, when that career ended, his thinking and ambition did not. He was willing to think outside the box, and to apply his intelligence to addressing some of the significant problems that our society faces: how to design sustainable communities, with renewable power, so as not to make our current environmental crisis even worse.

May his tribe increase. And may we each follow this example: each of us, in our own way, applying our intelligence in innovative ways to address the problems of the world. Yes, we can. Yes, you can. An innovative orientation like Syd Kitson's is definitely On The Mark.


  1. A "reflective perspective"? Great entry, of course, but the fact that your blog is "from a reflective perspective," and the first time I come upon it I find a photo of shiny new photovoltaic solar panels. I'm still chuckling...

  2. Jessica: Good heavens! How could I have missed this? Thank you for the chuckle.


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