Reality Check Tampa Bay workshop

05/18/07 Seán Kinane
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Reality Check Tampa Bay workshop

By Seán Kinane



Reality Check Tampa Bay is an exercise designed to discuss and analyze and develop alternative scenarios for the rapidly growing region in the next fifty years. The exercise was held today at the Tampa Convention Center. Elected and appointed officials from many governments and other stakeholders in the seven-county region contributed their vision of what the future might hold for the Tampa Bay region. The Co-chair of Reality Check Tampa Bay, Dan Mahurin, explains that participants had to account for the addition of an expected 3.5 million new residents and 1.6 million new jobs in the region.

"Well, today is the public kickoff of a long-term vision of a long-term vision that we’ve been creating for Tampa Bay. And we’ve invited 320 community leaders across diverse parts of our geography and nonprofit, profit, public entities to come together to talk about how our region will grow in the future and make sure it’s still a great place to live, work, and play and raise our families."
In her opening remarks, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio emphasized the importance of having a regional vision for the future, especially for one of the most important regional issues, transportation.
"It is so important that we as a region get together and decide what we want to look like in the coming decades. Perhaps what has held us back more than anything as a region has been that lack of a common vision, particularly when it comes to mass transit. We know that a rail system only works if you have very high densities in certain areas and you can show the linkage between counties and make it into one system. And yet, when governing bodies are often asked to make rezoning decisions, people fight against higher densities."
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker is also the Chair of the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida. He said the Century Commission recently made three recommendations and delivered them to Governor Charlie Crist.
"The first recommendation as we look into the fifty years is to identify how we would go about, as a state, becoming independent of foreign oil within the next 25 or 50 year period of time. … A second is not a surprising thing either; it’s to develop a fifty-year water plan for the entire state of Florida. … The third primary one was to identify a map of the state of Florida that includes the commercial developed lands, that includes the agricultural lands, and includes the environmental and lands to be protected."
Sprawling growth is one problem the Tampa Bay region faces. But Senior Resident Fellow of the Urban Land Institute, Ed McMahon, thinks that conservation development, where open space is preserved can be desirable both for protection of environmentally-sensitive lands and profitable for developers.
"You can, you know, charge a lot premium - anywhere from 25% to up to 100% for a house next to a golf course. But, guess what, people will pay the same lot premiums for living next to open space. So, what’s it cost to build a golf course? Like, millions of dollars. What’s it cost to maintain a golf course? Like, millions of dollars. What’s it cost to leave the open space alone in the first place? Like, almost nothing. So, maybe you could think about building some golf course developments without the golf course. Call them a conservation development."
Mayor Iorio said that the Reality Check exercise today was an important step in planning where sustainable growth might occur.
"And today is an important step. Because if we can collectively decide where we see the growth, how we can protect our water supply and our environment, where we see transit, where and how we see people living, for the rest of this century and into the next, than we truly will have laid the groundwork for a better quality of life for the entire region."
32 teams of nine people, each came up with their own growth scenarios. In order to do that, they had ninety minutes to place LEGO building blocks on a 6-foot by 7-foot map of the seven-county Tampa Bay region. Each team had to place yellow building blocks, representing almost 1300 new households each and red building blocks representing almost 4000 new jobs. Blocks could be stacked within each one-square mile of the map. Participants also used two different colors of ribbon to represent new transportation options. Purple ribbon represented new or improved roadways; orange ribbon represented new routes of mass transit. After groups were finished, a photograph of each map was taken and data on the number of red and yellow blocks in each square on the grid was recorded.
Tampa City Council Member Linda Saul-Sena described to WMNF how her group planned their vision of Tampa Bay’s future.
"We had a lively conversation this morning. There are about nine of us sitting around a table with a giant map of several counties. We were given the natural features and the existing land-use and densities. Our job was to create a plan for how to put a huge increase in population into our area. What we did is we got ribbons, our group began with ribbons -- which represented transit systems - and roads, two different color ribbons."
Different groups used different strategies. Some placed their red building blocks first, representing where 1.6 million new jobs would be and built from there. Some placed their yellow building blocks first, representing where 3.5 million new residents would live. And others, like Saul-Sena’s group, placed transportation corridors first and then placed new business and residential development where their new transportation hubs occurred.
"When we were working on our transportation system, we decided to create ferry lines going between Downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg and down to Anna Maria and Sarasota, in addition to light rail system and in addition to some road improvements. And then we used that as an organizing principle for clustering the residential densities and the working opportunities."
Saul-Sena explained why her group included jobs and residences near each other and described her hopes for the outcome of Reality Check Tampa Bay.
"We also, in all of our residential developments, included some commercial so that people would have the opportunity to live and work close together. We’re trying to minimize car traffic, maximize the sense of community. It was a really exciting experience - challenging, but fun. … I’m hoping that today’s Reality Check will be the tipping point in having us as a region understand how we need to direct growth in a sensible way so that we have a pleasant place to live in the future. … I wish I could click my heels three times and have this all come to be."
That was Tampa City Council Member Linda Saul-Sena at today’s Reality Check Tampa Bay exercise. To learn more, visit their website, realitychecktampabay -dot- org .
Reality Check Tampa Bay

Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida



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