Pecha Kucha: Envisioning a better Tampa Bay
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11/08/10 Joshua Lee Holton
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

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Last Friday night local innovators shared some of their latest big ideas for transforming Tampa into a better city. This was the 8th time that the event, called Pecha Kucha, came to the Tampa Bay Area. At the Tampa Bay History Center, entrepreneurs, political candidates and young advocates for social justice attempted to make history with their visions to improve the Bay Area.

Architect Kenneth Cowart started this local version of Pecha Kucha as a way to streamline complex ideas using short and simplified presentations.

"Two architects in Japan who wanted to find a way to listen to other architects speak about their ideas. Architects tend to be long winded and boring so they tried to find a way to condense speeches down to an amicable format. Twenty slides, twenty seconds keeps everything quick, lively, and engaging."

He sees Tampa as having a great potential for connectivity and livability, if planners made better use of the area’s natural features. Cowart suggested supplementing the downtown Riverwalk with footbridges between the downtown parks along the Hillsborough River.

"You know, we have a wonderful natural asset which is the Hillsborough River that was ignored for twenty years and even longer. The way to, environmentally, make something better is to show the importance and the beauty of a natural asset. And the more people that engage the river, the more use they have of the river, the better the river becomes because more people are concerned with and they have a vested interest in the river."

And Cowart even imagines putting a beach along Bayshore Blvd. to reconnect more people with Tampa’s major shoreline.

"The Tampa Beach; more people are enjoying the beach instead of just walking along Bayshore Blvd. They actually have a connection with the bay that they don't currently have right now because they can't actually go to the water's edge."

And the beaches are a major attraction for tourism, a main feature in the local and state economy. While a Tampa Beach could prove to be attractive, the beaches in Pinellas County continue to be a major draw for the coastal economy, and local planners hope to facilitate travel to that area. Tampa mayoral candidate and high-speed rail advocate Ed Turanchik says that while Hillsborough County voters turned down the one cent sales tax referendum for transit in last week’s election, proposals for local transit improvements will inevitably resurface.

"One of our goals should be when high-speed trains come rumbling into downtown Tampa in 2015, there's a commuter special that takes you to Clearwater Beach. There's another connection that takes you to our airport."

Turanchik suggests that transit improvements should be reworked to include more communities.

"Putting together a package of community transportation improvements that deals with needed roadway improvements, provides a good, smart transit system, deals with bike routes and sidewalks and pedestrian safety, I think is a really important priority for us in this coming decade. You need to listen to the voters. I think they knew what they were doing. They gave us a very strong message. The transit referendum passed in areas that were served by the rail system, that's the only places it passed."

Turanchik is also concerned about the high rate of bicyclist and pedestrian deaths in Tampa. Heather Vega advocates for fair food practices and interests in the Latino community. She says that support for transit and the potential for new businesses by rail stops should come from within each community.

"We want to see, really, our social norms changed. While I think it has to begin with one; self determination but two; with the way in which we consume and we live and we live as a community. It needs to come from people in that same community for them to realize the change that they want to see, but not outsiders coming in and, whether it's directly or indirectly, making those decisions for them."

WMNF board member Ryan Iacovacci says that community improvements should be targeted, and directly help the people living in a particular neighborhood.

"In a community like Hyde Park or Seminole Heights that was a traditionally non-white, and we saw then, economically non-white people in poorer families specifically were pushed out of these communities and then developers follow and invest in these communities. And I think that's where then we get into this tension of 'are you investing in this community or just the physical properties because there's some great bungalows and some great historic buildings' but what do the people in the neighborhood identify as their needs instead of assuming their needs which is often one of the faults of transportation."

One problem that seems to affect Tampa’s citizens is the expense of owning, maintaining, and operating a motor vehicle. An effective and accessible local transit system could help lower income families. Vega says that the Latino community could particularly benefit from a transit overhaul.

"Latinos in this area and throughout the whole country, unfortunately, are suffering from problems of unemployment and that then leads into if they're going to have gas for their cars, and you have to repair your car and it's just a downward spiral of depending on these things, but imagine if we had this transportation system in which that was one thing that you didn't have to worry about. I think that's tremendous, in itself, and this light rail is going to create jobs, it's going to attract business which, you know maybe that's something to be a little leery about, like what kind of business or who. But hopefully we can have a good grasp in controlling that. It can be good business, like independent business. More jobs, again. It goes on and on, I think that it's really beneficial on so many different levels so I would love to see this change in Hillsborough County."

And Ed Turanchik says that Tampa communities could also benefit from mass transit through new developments along the train lines.

"You will maximize economic develop opportunities around light rail and also serve neighborhoods. I think if we went to more of a commuter rail option, you can deploy it faster. Commuter rail typically is about $15 million per mile or so these days including track acquisition costs, where as the light rail piece is looking at it at between $70 million and $120 million per mile."

Future plans for local transit improvements will be discussed at a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) board meeting at 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 15, and at the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA) board meeting at 9:00 a.m. on Nov. 19.

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