Nurturing Necessary Farsightedness
During the Christmas and New Year’s holiday, I had time to read Craig Nelson’s phenomenal book Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon. It was a fantastic and insightful journey through a period of history I was able to witness firsthand, growing up in Cocoa Beach, the son of a NASA engineer. The last chapter, a sort of, “Where do we go from here?” was a little melancholy, as America’s vision for a manned space program has been less than robust since that “One small step for man…”
However, Nelson made an important point recalling the answer Chinese dictator Mao Zedong made to Henry Kissinger’s question about the impact of the French Revolution, saying after 150 years, “It is too early to tell.” Though some believe this quote was an error in communication, the point is important. We look at things, like the impact of the Apollo Program on how it affected the next few decades of space ventures, instead of the next few centuries.
In a similar way, few areas require a more forward-thinking vision and are often met with more derision from the nearsighted than transportation projects.
I think of how the Central Florida Expressway Authority began so inauspiciously in 1963, with a budget of $10,000, which consisted of two $5,000 loans from the city and county for which it was named. The initial plan was to build the Bee Line (now Beach Line) expressway. One wonders where the Orlando International Airport or UCF would be without the foresight of individuals like Martin Anderson, the influential owner of the Orlando Sentinel, who helped spur this project and the ones that followed.
Speaking of impact, who hasn’t heard the story of Walt Disney flying over central Florida in a Lear Jet, looking for a place to locate his dream world and seeing the interchange of I-4 and the Florida Turnpike? According to contemporary accounts, he then landed in Orlando to explore more closely what was essentially swamp land south of that crossroad. That is but one of the unforeseen consequences of forward thinking transportation planning.
Not to belabor the space angle, but when Dr. Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry, published his A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes, there were a number of newspaper articles that were printed about it, early in January 1920. One of these appeared in The New York Times and the next day the Times also printed an editorial mocking him. It said, among other things, “Professor Goddard does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.”
Goddard responded to this and to his other critics with a statement that was released later that month to the Associated Press. To one reporter’s question, he responded “Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it; once realized, it becomes commonplace.” He would later add, “It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.”
Our region has the opportunity to demonstrate the impact of the most complete, well-planned and technologically advanced, multi-modal transportation network to the world. What is visionary today could be commonplace in the future.