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Heidi Rambo Centrella

Do you know the word “querencia”? It’s a concept, not a concrete noun, and my Spanish is un poco rusty, but as I understand it, it’s basically an emotional attachment to and feeling of spiritual connection with a specific place. A sense of home, but not just where you happen to live—where you belong.

Since Hurricane Ian, many of the locals who were displaced or affected have been in a quasi-holding pattern. Waiting for power to be restored, waiting for insurance companies to make decisions, waiting for contractors to obtain materials and find available time … waiting. Many lost their homes. Many lost their livelihoods. Businesses shuttered, and while some have reopened, others closed permanently.

The waiting has obviously been hard for everyone, but perhaps especially so for those on Fort Myers Beach, because of the existential question—What kind of community will this be?—whose answer is becoming clearer by the day. This was never a gleaming playground for wealthy sophisticates; Fort Myers Beach was comfortably ramshackle and homey and Spring Break-y in ways that nearby Naples was not. Now, investors watch rubble being cleared away and see golden opportunities for beachfront property that could house dazzling (and pricey) developments, while insurance agents see homes that building codes would prohibit from being restored to the way they were, even if the owners could afford it. And many can’t.

There’s no shame in selling out and moving, especially since some have few other options, but each one who leaves also removes a small piece of the community that was here. Sure, they may become millionaires in the process, but is the money really a substitute for feeling lost and displaced? David Dorsey’s feature “The Price of Rebuilding” on p. 38 digs into the rising price tags and seismic upheaval facing Fort Myers Beach in Ian’s wake. It’s a story of tough decisions, of rebuilding and strength and community and feeling like you have a place in the world.

The Fort Myers Beach of the future won’t—can’t—look the same as it did before the storm, but locals such as developer Joe Orlandini are dedicated to preserving and maintaining as much of its distinctive charm, its sense of place, as possible.

A sense of place is strong throughout this issue, from the sustainable jewelry of Statement Peace (p. 26)—which founder Jessica Lee started by scrounging and scavenging wood here in Naples—to the local inspirations of our 2023 Health Care Heroes (p. 62) to an ode to the runaway growth of pickleball (p. 54). I’ve wanted to learn the game since moving here. But first there was COVID-19, then there was a natural disaster, then sprinkle in work and life, and it just hasn’t happened yet. This feature leaves me no excuses about where to start, and there’s no better place for it than here.

I’m glad to be at home in Southwest Florida. It’s where I belong.

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