BAY AREA NOT SMART ABOUT GROWTH by Roxanne Escobales

09/08/06

On October 17 the population in the US is expected to reach 300 million. The strains on our infrastructure means we need to start thinking about what’s called smart growth. At a discussion held in St Petersburg by the United States Geological Survey, audience members heard how the state and local municipalities are doing anything but growing smartly.

Developer Grady Pridgen is an advocate of affordable, high-density, sustainable living. He says the state of Florida does not support alternative energy sources. Pridgen has been trying to work with BP Solar,which has a program to solar power affordable housing. But the company says it won’t even think about entering the Florida market.

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Pridgen would like to use electricity generated by sunlight called photovoltaic energy. He says it would greatly reduce electricity bills while producing cleaner electricity. But he says state regulations are more political than sensible.

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Pridgen’s goal is building communities where cars are unnecessary and utility bills obsolete. To get rid of utility costs in his 350-unit complexes, he is centralizing a cold-water chilling processor instead of having 350 individual air conditioning compressors. Pridgen’s high-density facilities will also do away with individual water heaters and use a centralized heating system.

Lisa Nisenson is a consultant and part of the smart growth movement. She presented research that suggests a future trend of a decreasing demand for single family homes in favour of more walkable communities.

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Nisenson said that there’s a high demand for housing near transit, but that federal authority regulations favour sprawl.

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Just yesterday Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio officially pushed for building a light rail system in the Bay area. Her plan would connect Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties, including the Tampa and St Petersburg downtowns, using existing rail lines.

CEO of monorail company Sky Train Karl Guenther says people want to live close to transit alternatives and that if you build it they will come.

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However, developer Gary Pridgen says that it will take more than just the mayor of Tampa putting forward proposals.

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And so, according to the three experts speaking today in St Petersburg, the Tampa Bay area and the Sunshine State face a choice of continuing along the path leading to more sprawl or choosing smart growth.

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