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In 'Harmony' with the Environment - 2003-02-22

Orlando, the Central Florida city that's home to Walt Disney World, is not just one of the top tourist destinations in the United States. It is also one of the fastest growing regions in the country - 1,292 people come here to live every day.

With that exploding population, of course, has come a wave of construction of new homes, schools, roads and other infrastructures that has put heavy new demands on the natural resources in the region. VOA's Rosanne Skirble on a new town built on the outskirts of Orlando that is working to attract people and preserve its natural environment.

Greg Golgowski calls himself the environmental conscience of Harmony, Florida. "Harmony has a number of ambitions for doing environmentally sensitive development," he says. "So it is my job to watch over those, to advance those and see that they get accomplished."

Harmony, Florida, is a new town in Central Florida. It has two natural lakes, a golf course, an elementary school, a high school and homes under construction. But no one lives here - yet.

Greg Golgowski is the town's conservation director. His job is to protect the environment in the 4,500-hectare development, which was once a working citrus and cattle farm.

"Within that acreage we are planning on building a community that may have 15,000 or more people in it by the time it is developed, and we're looking at a 20-year building period for that. And, although we will have that kind of community, we are still proposing and planning on keeping about seventy percent of that 11,000 acres [4,500 hectares] in open space, either in purely natural areas, natural wetlands and woodlands and open pastures and fields or in some of the developed parks," he says. "We have quite a number of parks worked into the development plan. The entire project, even in the rural portions of it will be tied together through an interior network of transportation routes, and we are really hoping to focus on non-automobile connections within the community itself so that people can walk from their homes, for example, down to the corner store to the school or perhaps even to work."

Skirble: "You call yourself an environmentally intelligent development. What does that mean and how has the environment played a role in the design and construction of the town?"

Golgowski: "There are many things that can be done with a new community with ways of living, whether it is with home development or just your daily lifestyle that can be done more sensitively with just a little bit of forethought. I guess that is what we mean by environmentally intelligent. For example, we have street lighting within the community that is designed and constructed so that the lights from the street lamps shine just down on the ground, where you need the light. So many common street lights just throw light everywhere and it leads to the glow in the sky around metropolitan areas that erases any kind of views of the night stars. But with a little forethought you can design these things so you can put light where you need it and no where else and save as well in that regard in power production. And just by home construction design with overhangs to provide some shading from heat gain during the hot summers that we have or providing a little bit of extra insulation or more energy efficient appliances they would require about 80 percent of the normal house's demand for energy to operate it. Maybe that is a little bit more up front cost, although I am not sure that is the case. But, in the long run the homeowner will save on operational costs."

Skirble: "What about the location of the houses, and even the golf course?"

Golgowski: "Well, included in Harmony as community features are two very large lakes they are about 1,200 hectares entirely within the community. Now, it is real common in Florida just about everywhere you go where there is a lake you will see home sites around the rim of the lake. We're not doing that here. The lakeshore is entirely wooded right now, and we intend to keep it that way. In fact, along most of the shore, it will be parkland and access points to the lake. We certainly want people to enjoy the lake, but we want the whole community to be a part of it and enjoying it, not just the lucky few who can put up the money for a place right on the shore. To further protect the lakes, we are not going to allow any gasoline powered boats on them. They just inherently bring pollution with them. Additionally, we have a golf course we think is terrific. In fact we call it our golf preserve. We are ringing it with another park, a linear park around the edge of it where folks can walk and take advantage of that open space that the golf course offers. Beyond the park is a public street. Again, you can drive along and enjoy that kind of a vista and only then do you get to houses."

Skirble: "Mr. Golgowski, you have reviewed developments around the Orlando area for over 20 years. This was the job [you had] that you talked to us about previously. In your experience is this (focus on the environment) a new trend in developments in Florida that Harmony is part of?"

Golgowski: "As I have watched development over that roughly 20-year period it has gotten better on the whole. There is a general trend where developments, new communities that are coming in are being done more sensitive to environmental factors and community resources. But what struck me about this project was that it was trying to have a comprehensive view and do not just one nice thing on the environment and focus on that, but it was trying to be a number of different things and really create a balanced type of community. A big objective of Harmony is to be a demonstration project of how you can do the right and make money at the same time."

Greg Golgowski says Harmony is home to diverse plant and animal species, including otters, sandhill cranes, bobcats, ospreys, owls and even several threatened and endangered species. He hopes their presence will give the eventual human residents of Harmony, Florida a greater sense of, yes, harmony, with the natural world.