Pensacola is an old city.
And as we learned in the April flooding, our infrastructure on the ground has all of the flaws that the streets, sewers and storm drains of a community our size and age has.
But as the city and county fathers (and mothers) pursue money from the tax rolls, federal grants and FEMA to help improve those systems, another infrastructure issue is looming in the air.
Access to the wide, wide wireless world is something, for many folks, as necessary as oxygen.
All those young professionals and Millennials and GenXers we want to live, work, and play downtown, also want to tweet their fun at Gallery Night, share their Instagram photos at the Blue Wahoos stadium and update their Facebook status at the Pelican Drop.
But all too often they can’t.
Cell towers add capacity for our mobile devices, which many of us don’t leave home without.
Before us is a generation for whom every experience is shared. Our local governmental infrastructure is frustratingly slow to support that.
The latest tabling of the issue of whether to add a cell tower at the Pensacola Blue Wahoos stadium is, I fear, part of that concerning trend.
Verizon made one offer; now Jesta Towers is making another. And once again the Community Maritime Park Associates board has tabled the issue.
The CMPA, which needs to find revenue sources like Santa needs to find the naughty and nice list, is delaying — again — a decision that could create a revenue stream.
But that’s not the only thing that gives me pause.
I get the sense there is not much urgency behind improving our community’s wireless capacity. Which is troubling, especially in a downtown that is growing and trying to create residential density.
A project is in the works to build 300 apartment units at the corner of Romana and Jefferson streets that will cater to the ever-connected young professional who digs urban living.
Youth sports fields and additional housing are possibilities at the old Emerald Coast Utilities Authority Main Street property.
CBRE, the city’s professional real estate firm, advises putting a four-star hotel on part of the Community Maritime Park.
All of those things will bring people downtown, which we all want and need.
But with those people come their smartphones. And their Facebook feeds and their Twitter followers and their Instagram pictures.
They’ll want to share all of it. And unless we step to it, we’ll be disappointing each and every one of them.
City Council agreed to spend nearly $4 million to upgrade the aging Pensacola Energy natural gas infrastructure.
Voters recently renewed the local option sales tax, which generates millions of dollars for stormwater, sidewalks, parks, community centers and road projects.
The LOST penny also has built new schools, funded repairs to aging ones and helped the school system pay for capital improvements it needs to educate our children in a modern, efficient environment.
By the end of 2015, the ECUA will have spent $30 million toward rehabbing one of the oldest sewage systems in the state so that they can comply with a Florida Department of Environmental Protection consent order filed in 2012.
Broadband wireless Internet access is the infrastructure of our future. But there is no project on anyone’s LOST wish list that involves strengthening our community’s wireless network capacity.
If we truly are training our children to enter a wired world, if we really believe technology is the great equalizer, then a priority ought to be expanding and supporting the infrastructure of the future.
Those airwaves, my friends, are just as important as the asphalt beneath our feet.
Originally published Dec. 15, 2014