After a fire in the Apollo 1 capsule took the lives of Gus Grisson, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, NASA undertook an investigation. Not so much to lay blame as to understand why the fire happened. With a clear understanding of why, it would be plausible to assume similar tragedies could be prevented in the future.
Frank Borman testified before Congress with the results of that investigation. Frank is no slouch. He would ultimately go on to command Apollo 8, the first mission to leave earth orbit, travel to another celestial body, orbit it, and return. That’s big stuff.
In his testimony he referred to a failure of imagination. The accident wasn’t caused by negligence or malice. It was simply the failure of engineers, technicians, administrators, and the astronauts themselves to imagine what the ramifications might be of a long series of variables.
Thanks to that investigation, to that dedication to professionalism, the Apollo program suffered no additional loss of life. Considering the complexity of their task, that’s amazing.
Here on earth, specifically, here in my adopted home of Winter Haven, Florida, there is a failure of imagination that is far less understandable, and considerably less excusable. I suspect the story will not be totally foreign to you, either. As unfortunate as that might be.
There is an abandoned orange grove immediately across a two-lane blacktop from Gilbert Field. It’s a fine piece of land, bordering the road and the airport on the north and west sides, and Lake Hartridge to the west. The lake will one day soon become the new home of the Seaplane Pilots Association.
It’s a beautiful piece of land in a very aviation-centric location. If you’re interested, intrigued, or involved with the industry in some way, it would be harder to find a more perfect spot to launch a business, establish a school of aeronautics, or expand the existing airport to the waterfront for the benefit of seaplane operations.
Conversely, if you are not interested, intrigued, or involved in the industry, it would be a very challenging place to settle in with something like…oh, I don’t know…private homes. And yet that is exactly what is happening.
With all the administrative levels the government operates, allegedly to serve and protect the public, the abandoned grove is slated to become a neighborhood of more than 100 single-family homes.
There is nothing about building a residential neighborhood next to an active airport that challenges the imagination. It’s been done before. Many times. And with the exception of a few cases where those developments have been marketed specifically as a fly-in community, the results hardly vary.
The new homeowners begin to complain. They don’t like the noise. The don’t like the pollutants. They don’t like the risk of imminent death they perceive to be an ever-present danger when situated near an airport. Ultimately, there are lawsuits.
It certainly can get ugly out there when the folks in charge of land use are asleep at the switch.
Add to all that built-in angst and paranoia that this particular piece of land will put private homes within a few hundred feet of a runway threshold, and a slightly shorter distance to an active fuel farm, and it’s hard to see how anyone could be so myopic as to say, “Sure, let’s rezone that piece of land from agricultural to residential. Who could have a problem with that?”
The answer to that question is, of course, anyone with a lick of sense.
We can reasonably theorize that nobody involved at the county level of government cared to give the thought much consideration, since they gave a green light to the rezoning. And the city officials who approved expansion of the city limits to include the development.
And to the amazement of people with fully functioning brains, the city is preparing to double-down on this lunacy by allowing an increase from 90 units to a significantly higher number of private dwellings.
It was explained to me only last week, by a high-ranking city official, the builder can fit more houses onto the land than originally planned because people don’t want big yards anymore. It seems they want small yards, big houses, and ostensibly, close proximity to large fuel tanks, running engines, whirring propellers, and the occasional turbine zipping overhead.
Is it just me, or does anyone else wonder how it could be possible that none of those officials saw any problem with the plan? They have given a clear signal to residents and business owners alike – high-density residential housing and airport fuel farms are a good fit. Putting a few dozen kitchens and living rooms within a few hundred feet of a runway is okey-dokey.
I can only wonder how many of those officials will be beating a path to the developer’s door to buy one of those homes? How many of them will take personal responsibility when the noise complaints come rolling in?
I’m trying to imagine exactly how many of those who gave a thumbs up to the development will show up in court to take a bow and explain the benefits of their vote when the homeowner’s lawsuits begin to show up on the court docket?
I’m betting that number is very low. Something in the neighborhood of zero.
Perhaps there should be mandatory vision testing for people who are in a position to make decisions that affect the rest of us. Not with an eye chart, but with a map, a handful of artists renderings, and a detailed description of what they think the outcome might be.
Give ‘em the same tools NASA used to take us to the moon and back. Imagination. Accept that errors will occur. But require that improvements be made as new information becomes available.
Sheesh. When will these folks stop shooting themselves in the foot? The fallout from their lack of vision is getting to be truly painful for the rest of us.