The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 40 - July 18, 2012

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Sustainable and authentic Florida: Exploring Herb Hiller’s “Sense of Place”

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Pine Avenue with its low density, ultra-green, and “Old” Florida
ambiance dovetails with Anna Maria Island’s “Sense of Place.”

I was first introduced to Herb Hiller at a conference of the Society of American Travel Writers in Orlando a few years back. The theme of the event was the new digital landscape including Facebook, Twitter, and applications for the iPhone and the Android cell platforms. The conference explored the opportunities the new technology held for journalists and photographers. It was a fascinating event with presentations by some of the “pioneers” that were using these new technologies online and through digital publications. Although he was present for all of the conference presentations, Hiller (a past president) didn’t address the group until the end of the event. When he did he riveted those present (and this writer in particular) with a talk on the real meaning of the Florida experience.

I’ll never forget how he chided the group when he stated that he hadn’t once heard the conference address what he referred to as the importance of “A Sense of Place.” He followed with an impassioned presentation on the importance of not forgetting the natural wonders that brought people to Florida in the first place. He mentioned how the tourist industry has been too intent on just “putting heads in beds,” in effect taking a place, building hotels and flying people in to fill the space. Very little attention had been paid to highlighting and preserving the natural place that had attracted people in the first place. Having spent the last 30 years enjoying the fishing and natural resources that surround our local islands, Hiller’s message really resonated.

Two years later during lunch with Caroline McKeon of Florida Journeys Communications I mentioned Herb Hiller and the impression he had made on me. That’s when I heard that they were friends and working on a project that was to be called “Sustainable and Authentic Florida.” When Herb came to town a few weeks later we all had lunch together at the Mar Vista where I introduced Herb and Caroline to Ed Chiles. The meeting led to the inclusion of Anna Maria in an exciting conference scheduled for Oct. 17-19 on Anna Maria Island. I welcomed the opportunity to see our unique area serving as an example of what a sustainable and authentic Florida should, and could be.

The conference will include presenters from a broad spectrum including business, education, the arts and community planning. Also represented will be leaders in the field of civic advocacy, tourism, conservation, retirement and nonprofit management. The conference is organized around five featured presenters, a facilitator, and teams from four Florida regions. Each team will work to instruct participants on how sustainability and authenticity defines a community thereby affecting the places citizens live, work and play.

I wasn’t born in Florida, but I’ve lived locally for over 30 years. It’s encouraging to see people attracted to Anna Maria and the surrounding areas because it reflects a “Real Florida.” Low density, restorations like the Robinson Preserve, developments like Anna Maria’s Pine Avenue and awareness in general of the environment are good news for the future of business and fishing too.

For information on the Sustainable and Authentic Florida Conference and a schedule of events, go to

While you’re there you might want to become a sponsor and support a great idea.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper