This is Dave Brook from Portland. Dave found himself in Sarasota like many other tourists: visiting a retired relative. While Dave had a chance to visit the Ringling Museum and St. Armand's Circle, he contacted me because he heard Sarasota has some neat transportation innovation underway. Dave, you see, started the first car-share company in Portland, that later morphed into FlexCar, and then merged with Zipcar. Dave is a transportation rock star (his blog is here), and now goes around the world consulting on how to start vehicle share programs. Dave had seen enough Rococo art, and was ready for some solar-electric battery tourism.
I took Dave to CruiseCar, where the folks there rolled out the red carpet for a visit. Now, as Dave circles the globe, he will be talking about the mind-blowing things going on here with an entirely new type of electric vehicle production.
All of this happened by a lark. But is there a way to make this less of happenstance and more of an integral part of how we approach tourism? Not the sunbathing, golfing, umbrella in the drink, Tiki Hut kind (not that there's anything wrong with that), but brainy, show-offy, bragging rights tourism. At any given time, we have people who are tops in fields like engineering, architecture, foreign affairs, and the like. They get bored, tired of relatives, or encounter rainy days. What if we had a mobile GWIZ for grown-ups?
What could we do? There are two types - (1) passive self-directed tours, and (2) tours led by local volunteers or businesses. Examples might be:
1) Topical - Last month the Director of EPA's water program came to see what Sarasota was doing for water. She toured the Celery Fields and other projects. We also have loads of Low Impact and water conservation projects, LEED certified buildings and the Dearborn Street retrofit project in Englewood. While this may not float your boat (so to speak), these types of projects are catching on like wildfire across the country. People pay big money for mobile tours at national trade conferences to see local projects. Because Sarasota is not on the larger conference circuit, we need to figure out a different way to display local ingenuity.
2) Neighborhoods - Arlington Virginia sponsors Walkabouts, which are self-guided tours featuring historic properties and information on local parks to name a few topics. Laurel Park would be perfect for architecture buffs seeking older Florida styles, Low Impact Design, older alleyways, and even some of the older houses built to house circus performers.
3) Buildings - As you know, I love Citrus Square. One of the merchants, who also loves the building, mentioned a desire to have a little brochure on the building and its design. There are certainly other buildings and building types which have local champions, such as the Sarasota School of Architecture.
4) Business-Led - I am a design person, so I would leave it up to the community to brainstorm other types of tours and things to see business wise.