Keynote panelists for the 2024 Urban Landscape Summit included City of Zephyrhills Councilman Lance Smith, left, FNGLA CEO Tal Coley, middle, and UF/IFAS Center for Land Use Efficiency Director Michael Dukes, Ph.D., right. | Image Courtesy UF/IFAS

Michael Dukes: No substitute for communicating face-to-face | Guest Column

May 3, 2024

There is no substitute for communicating with people face-to-face. I was reminded of this fact while speaking to a packed room at the 2024 Urban Landscape Summit.

Hosted by the UF/IFAS Center for Land Use Efficiency (CLUE) at the end of April, this year’s summit had the largest number of attendees in the history of the event. It brought together industry professionals, UF/IFAS research and Extension faculty, water management professionals, developers, builders, and city managers from across the state to address the issue of building water resiliency with Florida landscapes.

UF/IFAS researchers and Extension faculty presented the latest information on a variety of topics including water conservation through alternative groundcovers, landscape design, soil amendments, data to target high water users, and public perceptions of water restrictions. Expert panelists provided insights on the struggle for cities, counties, and communities to meet current and future water demands.

The open-forum format of the summit allowed for interaction between all groups, which continued during meals and breaks. One attendee told me she was “really impressed with the variety of industry, nonprofit, government, and university representatives in attendance.”

Another attendee I spoke with said that “engaging with builders and developers makes sense” as a way to move the needle on the issue of strategies to reduce excessive irrigation demand from landscapes, particularly with alternative landscapes. That attendee added that a strong and sustainable demand for alternative landscapes would “motivate the nursery and landscape industry to align their practices, products, and services” to meet this new demand.

A researcher shared a key takeaway from the summit was identifying the lack of understanding of water policy at a local government level as a barrier to progress in water conservation. These comments, combined with watching this group of passionate and committed people share information, reminded me of what Extension does best. Extension uses science-based information to bring people from diverse groups together to find solutions. In Extension, we know that more information, more viewpoints, more ideas, and more voices generate the best answers, and that only by working together can we make an impact on issues like protecting Florida’s water resources.

My personal takeaway from the summit is that UF/IFAS needs to speak face-to-face at more statewide industry events. We need to interact with more city planners and county agencies. We need to make more connections and bring more people into the conversation about protecting water. 

Michael Dukes is the Director of the UF/IFAS Center for Land Use Efficiency (CLUE), which focuses on social, environmental, and economic issues affecting urban landscapes and agriculture in Florida. 

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