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Quality of Life

In This Section:
Community Character | Noise | Light Pollution | Crime

�[O]ur ordinary surroundings, built and natural alike, have an immediate and a continuing effect on the way we feel and act, and on our health and intelligence. These places have an impact on our sense of self, our sense of safety, the kind of work we get done, the ways we interact with other people, even our ability to function as citizens in a democracy. In short, the places where we spend our time affect the people we are and can become.� --Tony Hiss

�It is as important to understand the design of the human habitat as it is to understand the ecology of a wetland.� --James Howard Kunstler

What is �quality of life"? In the context of land use, quality of life depends on how our surroundings affect our well-being, which is determined by such things as:

  • the balance between public life and privacy
  • how we are affected by changes in familiar landscapes
  • how the qualities of our environment and our relationships with neighbors affect our comfort, security, and happiness
  • how our lives are made better or worse by the spatial arrangement of homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, roads, sewage treatment plants, factories, parks, wild lands, and all other land uses
  • big changes, such as the new interstate cutting your neighborhood in half
  • little changes, such as your neighbor�s recently installed crime light shining in your bedroom window
How you define quality of life is a good thing to ponder next time you watch a sunset from the dock or get stuck in traffic.

Community Character

�If you do not know where you are, you don�t know who you are.� --Wendell Berry

�We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.� --Winston Churchill

Places, like people, have personalities. Each has its own, and each is unique. What makes Quincy Quincy? What makes Bristol different from Panacea? Once you get to know a particular place, you can name things that make it what it is, that give it personality. These things usually cannot be measured or counted or otherwise quantified, but they are nevertheless vital to preserving a community�s character.

Community character is strongly influenced by how people in a place make their living. Forestry has dominated the economy throughout the ARROW region, along with agriculture in the northern counties and commercial fishing along the coast. Imagine what Marianna would be like if there had been a big oil strike in Jackson County. Would it look and feel like Houston, Texas? And what if the paper mill had been built in Carrabelle instead of Port St. Joe? Playing these what-if games can help you focus on what gives your neighborhood its own particular character.

Travelers say that much of the United States is getting to look the same: same stores, same signs, same architecture, same parking lots. This increasing uniformity is in itself a type of community character, but it can obliterate the unique combination that makes a place one of a kind. Why live there when the same thing can be found in a larger town with more opportunities?

Community character is very easy to lose. As the ARROW region's economy shifts from forestry, fishing, and farming into building houses and providing services for new residents, the character of the region's communities changes too. The more new residents move in, the more commercial development will move in, too. Places will lose the character that attracted all those new residents in the first place.

Although land-use planning should consider community character, it often fails to do so. Traditional planning and zoning rules and procedures do not consider community character. Citizens must make their opinions and preferences known during the planning process. By getting involved in planning efforts in your city or county, and by voicing your opinion on zoning issues that affect your neighborhood, you can help to shape the future character of your community.

Call your local planning department and get the meeting schedule for the groups that make decisions affecting you and your community. Then go and speak your mind, or write a letter or an e-mail.

Teton County, Wyoming, has a good plan for protecting community character.

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The word "noise" is derived from the Latin word "nausea." Noise is unwanted sound. Each of us makes noise in one situation and suffer from the same noise in another situation. A couple of examples:

  • We use cars and boats to get to our favorite spots for hiking, fishing, hunting, or birdwatching. But once we are there, we may need peace and quiet. Noise from boats and cars can ruin our fun.
  • You may appreciate the labor-saving virtues of your leaf-blower, but the noise may drive a neighbor crazy.

Noise can also affect health. Extreme noise causes temporary hearing loss, which becomes permanent with repeated exposure. Noise can interfere with sleep and metabolism, and it has been implicated in heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and violent behavior. Chronic exposure to noise can decrease our productivity.

Noise is a very common form of pollution, especially in cities, where noise comes from roads, airports, factories, and construction sites. In rural and suburban areas, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, boom boxes, barking dogs, and crowing roosters may disrupt the serenity of your local neighborhood.

So what can be done about noise pollution? On an individual level, being a considerate neighbor is probably the best thing. Reduce the amount of sounds emanating from your yard that might be considered to be noise by your neighbors. For instance:

  • Run your power mower and leaf blower only during business hours on weekdays and after 9 or 10 a.m. on weekends.
  • If your dog barks when left alone, take your dog to a kennel or a friend's house when you are away.
  • Turn down your music after 9 p.m. so it can't be heard outside your house.
  • If you are going to throw a loud party, invite your neighbors -- or at least give them advance warning.

Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting with your neighbors to talk about problems before the situation gets out of hand. There are certain things that government officials can do to limit problems with noise pollution. These include:

  • Noise abatement techniques, such as building a wall between a highway and a housing development, can reduce noise levels but rarely block the noise entirely.
  • Local governments can adopt building codes that require a certain level of sound insulation.
  • Ordinances can restrict the hours of operation for noisy activities such as truck traffic, building construction, and loud music, and they can provide penalties for annoyances such as barking dogs.
  • "Noise maps" estimate the zone of annoyance created by land uses such as airports and highways. During the planning stage of such noise-generating land uses, they can be situated away from residential areas, schools, hospitals, and other land uses where quiet is important.

The Northwest Florida Greenway may generate noise pollution once it is operational. This project will maintain a mixture of agricultural and public lands between Eglin Air Force Base and the Apalachicola River. The air space above those lands will be used for military training and testing, which will entail sonic booms and low-altitude flights.

For more information:
World Health Organization Noise Fact Sheet
Guidelines for Community Noise (1999)

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Light Pollution

"More of our children, and their children, should be able to look up at night and see that the Milky Way isn't only a candy bar."
--David L. Crawford

Badly placed and excessive outdoor lights obscure our view of the stars. Can we preserve the view and simultaneously use outdoor lighting? Yes!

Light pollution is a concern in the ARROW region because outdoor lights confuse migrating birds and hatchling sea turtles. These animals rely on the moon and stars to guide them. Bright artificial lights can disorient them. Hatchling sea turtles may end up on a road instead of in the ocean.

Other reasons why excessive outdoor lighting is a problem include:

  • The International Dark-Sky Association estimates that about 30% of the light cast by mercury vapor lights is entirely wasted. This wasted light goes straight up in the air or is cast sideways, creating a nuisance to neighbors.
  • According to the same source, the energy wasted by bad outdoor lighting costs about a billion dollars a year, 6 million tons of coal, or 23 million barrels of oil.
  • Poorly placed outdoor lights cross property lines and detract from the neighbors' quality of life.
  • Glare from poorly placed or excessive lighting can temporarily blind drivers, leading to accidents.

What about security lighting? Studies by the US Department of Justice and the National Institute of Justice show no conclusive evidence that lighting prevents crime. Bad lighting creates dark shadows where thieves and others with bad intentions can lurk.

Lights at night (photo courtesy NESDIS/National Geophysical Data Center)

Good outdoor lighting enhances night vision, security, and safety, while simultaneously conserving energy. Such lighting

  • shines only where needed,
  • minimizes glare,
  • shines downward (rather than upward, which wastes energy), and
  • uses energy efficiently, thus saving saves money.

Using outdoor lighting wisely can save money, enhance safety, and ensure that migrating animals can find their way. It can also help preserve the view of the stars for us and for our children.

For more information:
International Dark-Sky Association
Campaign for Dark Skies

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Crime is the most insidious threat to quality of life. One of the best ways to prevent crime is to know your neighbors, to know what's going on in your neighborhood, and to know what to do if you see something peculiar. Yet the fear of crime can isolate people and make them afraid to take action.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement collects annual statistics on murder, sexual offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. Data are available at

To compare the problem in different counties, crime rates are calculated as the number of crimes committed per 1,000 residents. Compared to the crime rate for entire state of Florida, crime rates in the ARROW region much lower.

Crime and crime rates for the seven ARROW counties and for Florida, 1989-2003 (graph constructed with data from: Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Crime in Florida, Florida uniform crime report, 2003 [Computer program]. Florida Statistical Analysis Center, FDLE, Tallahassee)

You can help prevent crime. An approach called �Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design� (CPTED, pronounced Sep-Ted, for short) promotes architectural and landscape designs that increase safety, reduce opportunities for crime, discourage criminal behavior, and encourage people to keep an eye on things around them. A few design suggestions from CPTED include:

  • Eliminate hiding places, especially near doorways
  • Use landscaping to mark the boundaries between public and private spaces
  • Make doors and windows visible from the street or from neighboring buildings
  • Ensure that locks on exterior doors are at least 40 inches from the nearest window
  • Clearly mark the entrance door, and make the street number and/or business name easy to spot
  • Design stairwells and elevators with plenty of windows

For more information on crime prevention:
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design
Peel Police, Ontario

Sources of quotations:
Berry, Wendell T. Quoted by Wallace Stegner in The Sense of Place (1992, Random House, New York).
Churchill, W. Speech to the House of Commons, 28 October 1943 (
Crawford, D. 1989. Theft of the Night. National Academy of Sciences. Reproduced at
Hiss, T. 1990. The experience of place: a completely new way of looking at and dealing with our radically changing cities and countryside. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, p xi.
Kunstler, J.H. 1996. Home from nowhere: remaking our everyday world for the 21st century. Simon & Schuster, New York, p. 173.

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This page was last modified on : 03/10/2005

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