The Key West Mystique

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Key West best place to live

Five ways to make Key West a “best place to live”

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

10/21/2023

I admit I pretty much snorted the sweet tea out my nose last week when Gwen Filosa posted this on her Facebook page: “Those people who are like #saltlife and #ILiveWhereYouVacation are the same people right now outraged over cell service going out for a few hours, going ‘this is terrible and I’m calling fema and every company sucks.’ Bruh, you moved to islands. You’re lucky we got amazon and clean ice. Zip it.”

Oct. 12 was the day we definitely weren’t on the best-place-to-live list. It was one of those rare days when AT&T wasn’t doing its usual kick-butt job of keeping the island connected and businesses running. Seems someone cut a cable somewhere and, whoops, a wicked lot of us were suddenly clueless about how to get anything done. We were back to the days of borrowing a landline from the neighbor or, heck, talking face-to-face — and for real, not a telehealth visit, which also failed. Bless her, a friend tracked me down by driving to three different places.

OK, so yeah, being without my internet and my cell service for, oh, three or four hours with intermittent service for a while longer was major annoying. Ranger Ed and I were both working in our shared, internet-dependent office at the time and we had to READ A BOOK. The loss of internet was especially critical for businesses and such and downright dangerous for trying to call the cops or the EMTs on a cell phone. (You couldn’t.)

But crikey, folks, Gwen’s right. We live on an island 150 miles from the mainland with only a couple of umbilical cords connecting us to the modern world. Our water, our communications and our electricity are but one dumpster fire or cut cord from disaster. It doesn’t happen nearly as often as it did, say a decade ago, but it does happen.

(I know island folks who swear by Elon Musk’s StarLink to keep their businesses running, but the price tag is about double what I pay for AT&T and, well, I just can’t justify the cost. There’s the whole Elon Musk drama too, but that’s for another day.)

key west best place to live

Will Key West be a “best place to live”?

Back to my point. If Key West wants to be known as a “best place to live” and not simply be queen of the tourist destinations, we’re going to have to get these five things right.

Water: Several months ago when a water main burst up the Keys, we learned the hard way that it’s going to take a billion bucks give or take a few and a slew of years (no one likes to estimate because it’s likely in the neighborhood of a decade) to repair and replace those decades-old pipes. In the meantime, we’re living indefinitely with significantly reduced water pressure. We need alternative water sources, including pro-active restoration of cisterns and desalinization. And the city and county must take the lead in a full-scope partnership.

Electricity: Utilities have been hardening transmission lines. Even though I’ve actually heard a handful of folks lament the passing of “pretty” wooden poles and complaining about the concrete ones, this is a very good thing. And no, we are not going to bury the lines. That dog don’t hunt when the water table is pretty much above ground and what ground we have is hard as, well, dead coral and compact fill. We need strong publicly funded partnerships to ensure wind and solar are in the mix and eventually the primary source.

Communications: See above.

Health and medical care: Sheesh, it’s scary how limited our resources have become over the past 10, heck, 5, years. I trust my docs. I’ve seen good care at Lower Keys Medical Center and even at Palm Vista, the skilled nursing and rehab center next to Lower Keys. There are good people in both places. I’ve also done a jailbreak, so to speak, for a friend whose care at Palm Vista was nothing short of unconscionable.

We have no choice and the for-profit owners of our medical systems know that. They can smile and promise and walk away knowing they can balance their books on the backs of the Keys. If we’re lucky, we have one of each of the basics. We certainly aren’t when it comes to treatment for cancer patients. The Keys have become a medical and healthcare desert. That’s unsustainable. The city and the county must hold Lower Keys’ owner to a far higher standard and demand the care the island deserves.

Housing: I deliberately left out housing simply because I’ve written about it repeatedly and you already know the issues.

Without an infrastructure that supports local families and entrepreneurial local businesses, Key West AND the Keys will not be on a “best place to live” list. And if no one wants to live here, we can kiss our tourists and send them on their way.

4 Comments

  1. Sharon Wells

    Hi Linda
    Thanks for another excellent column which hits the nail On the head . Health care and housing are scarier by the month.
    For myself, I have decided that key west is so jammed with too many vehicles, e-bikes, etc. and poorer by the day medical lapses, and just some place so different nowadays— that I gave plans to depart and move to Merida Mexico. I have friends there, a lovely place to rent at about a quarter of Peary court rent, and a real sense of new adventures. Also, excellent medical at a doable price. I’m sad to leave, in many ways, but so many friends have left already and I have become rather bored, except I love researching houses. But I plan to continue doing that. Thanks to Internet!
    I will keep up on your commentary tho and thanks for being here!!

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      Thanks, Sharon. I am disheartened to know another piece of the island’s soul is moving on and, yet, I applaud and understand the decision. Indeed, this is what we’ve come to. I’m at heart an optimist, but if we don’t shift this path, a decade down the line, there will be no remnant of what made the island strong for 200 years.

      Reply
  2. M Chris Reese

    Snowbirds from Maine, we drove back and forth this year for the first time since Covid. SO many coastal communities are dealing with these issues. And the Keys’ geographical position certainly exacerbates things. Time to increase pressure on politicians to help us stay viable, and for us to recruit leaders and residents with a focus on the future.

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      So true, Chris.

      Reply

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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