As urban core grows in Tampa, challenges begin to match ambitions

Spend a few years away from Tampa, especially as a native, and you'll better appreciate the great strides made in improving the urban quality of life in Downtown and its peripheral neighborhoods -- and the new/growing challenges that have yet to be fully addressed.

At a recent event organized by New Town Connections, guest speaker Randy Goers (the City of Tampa’s Urban Planning Coordinator) reminded the 30 or so attendees of all the public investments made since 2012 to accommodate young, educated, and non-native urban residents and workers that now live in approximately 13,000 new dwellings in and around Downtown.

Back then, the 2012 InVision Plan called for things that are now a reality, like a complete and continuous Riverwalk, several urban parks, public art, traffic calming and streetscape improvements, and more bicycle/pedestrian paths.

The wider context has changed drastically in that time too. Just think, in 2012 UBER and Lyft were in their infancy. The partnership that makes the free Downtowner shuttle service possible wasn’t yet hatched, and Jeff Vinik hadn’t announced that he would be enabling a $3 billion investment project we now know as Water Street Tampa, which will change the city in ways we can’t fathom. (So yay for big things to come!)

And yet, for all the ways we are better off now, we face more complicated issues. New housing and density is great for a sense of vibrancy and adding to the urban landscape, but how affordable is it? The median income in the region remains, well, more than a little sad.

Worsening congestion was also top of mind among those in attendance last week at local coffee roaster The Blind Tiger’s newest location on South Howard Avenue, which is just one neighborhood now flush with new infill density and no room to expand roads.

By making small tweaks with bike-ped infrastructure, leisure is easier, but we still aren’t quite a transit, bike, or on-foot city. We have too many broad swaths of pavement designed to move automotive traffic, and are largely still a car-centric urban area thanks to anemic investment in more robust transportation options and service.

Increasing parking woes at Oxford Exchange and Mise en Place near the University of Tampa are a good example of what we may face more of in the coming years if we remain in our cars. The city will inevitably begin to charge for street parking in busy areas like Tampa Heights and Hyde Park.

As one gentleman originally from Chicago pointed out: “Tampa’s parking is cheap!” Very true, and our valet stands usually only charge $5, if anything. Perhaps they should be charging more?

This group of intelligent, engaged urbanites sounded oddly rehearsed: Give us more options. Jane Jacobs, a famous urban activist and author, once said, “the point of cities is a multiplicity of choice.”

Those choices could be: where to live, how to get around, and where to buy take-out dinner. From a livability perspective, things will further improve with the addition of a Publix grocery store to The Channel District and another massive urban park, Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, across from The Straz Center.

Read more articles by Alex English.

Alex English is a Tampa native who has lived in Sarasota, Seattle, New York, Bordeaux and Milan. He is passionate about urban development, retail and style, and publishes Remarqed, a personal blog on those subjects.
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