5 design ideas for transforming Tampa's urban environment

The City. Throughout history it is the city that defines our culture, fosters the evolution of social interaction and challenges the creativity of the human spirit. We celebrate, admire and desire to visit great cities. But what makes for vibrant, resilient and sustainable cities — cities that nurture the quality of life of those who live there; cities that enhance our physical and mental well-being?

As an architect, I believe it’s ideas transformed into reality, ideas transformed by design. Not just of the buildings, but also the spaces in between. Of the intangible spatial experiences that make us feel good. It’s here where the art and science of design intersect to influence communities in thinking about how to advance thoughtful and responsible design solutions to urban problems.

Additionally, good design allows us to explore diverse residential density, grow local businesses, attract new companies to the area, and create jobs for young, vibrant and entrepreneurial people looking for a great place to live and work. Shouldn’t that be us?

We are entering the celebration of “Tampa Bay Design Week,” where design experts, enthusiasts, city leaders and citizens come together to celebrate and explore how design improves the quality of our lives and our community. 

As our community stands on the threshold of exciting and transformative times, design will be the key ingredient of shaping that future. 

Many cities around the world have made this kind of investment and the results have been remarkable. Consider:
  • Sydney, Australia has a water ferry system that services a large geographic area and acts as one of the major commuting options for residents. 
  • New York City has repurposed an abandoned and blighted elevated rail bed into the “High Line,” a transformational and incredibly popular linear park space. 
  • Toronto, Ontario has evolved an integrated transportation system that includes regional rail, subway, streetcars and buses that is arguably one of the most efficient in the world. 
  • Vancouver, British Columbia offers a commitment to urban density around a network of public open green spaces that provides lifestyle options where owning a car isn’t necessary. 
  • Tokyo, Japan’s rail system is the heartbeat of mobility for the city and serves a high percentage of the population as a reliable rapid transit alternative. 
  • San Francisco removed its waterfront elevated expressway to create the “Embarcadero,” which celebrates the walkable pedestrian experience connecting residential, restaurants, retail and yes – a downtown baseball stadium. 
  • Melbourne, Australia has developed a new high-density, design-oriented residential neighborhood in an old warehouse/port community much like Tampa’s Channel District. 
These cities decided to dare to implement innovative ideas to create opportunities for new experiences in an urban environment that engages people. 

Now it’s our turn to do the same here in Tampa. Let’s use “Tampa Bay Design Week” as the catalyst for a bold new vision. 

A path to take Tampa to greatness

To start the discussion, here are 5 ideas that could potentially have a huge impact in achieving the goal of improving our urban landscape and the quality of life for our residents.

Tampa’s Streetcar — It’s time to expand the Streetcar route to loop around the downtown area and make a logical connection that can be used to efficiently and dependably move people within the urban core. The cars need to be modern and have the latest amenities such as air conditioning and wifi. No doubt it is expensive and it’s been talked about, but we must make this effort to create a relevant system to transform the Streetcar into a truly integral part of our mobility strategy. 

North Franklin Street — Our business community must come together to create a network of incubator spaces for new business opportunities. Other cities such as Orlando and Las Vegas have already successfully implemented this strategy. With the CAMLS facility and the announcement of the USF Medical School relocating to downtown, we could create an incubator neighborhood using old underutilized buildings to support companies doing research in how design affects public health. Imagine a connected and integrated medical research network in the heart of the city.

Downtown Streetscape — Every street in downtown that the City controls should have one lane of traffic removed to provide wider sidewalks, shaded pedestrian areas, opportunities for seating and canopied facades of street level retail. Let’s make the streetscape the “living room” of the community where people can have more social “collisions” and build stronger relationships.
Water Based Transit — We are blessed in our city with an abundance and variety of water networks that we should be utilizing with a system of ferries and water taxis to better move people around, to and from our downtown core. Sydney has made it work – why not study how they do it and find a way to implement here.

Bayshore Boulevard — This is our greatest urban asset yet we use it as an expressway that makes it one of the most dangerous roads to cross as a pedestrian. Let’s remove the northbound lanes, make “two way” traffic on the current southbound lanes at a speed limit of 30 mph, create traffic stops at intersections for safe pedestrian crossings and utilize what is now grass medians into usable park space. This would create one of the finest urban linear parks in the world that could become the center of activity for the city. What a grand adventure it could be for walking, strolling, sitting, dreaming, running, biking and people watching!  

Think about how these ideas, and so many more, could transform Tampa into the world class city that we envision it to be. All it will take is the collaborative and dedicated leadership necessary to dare to take the first steps. 

True leadership is more than talk and good intentions. It’s bold, visionary and compassionate. 

Together, we can and we will make a difference – through design. Because in the end, it’s people who take vision to reality that make great cities. 

Mickey Jacob, an architect and executive VP at BDG Architects in Tampa, is the immediate past president of the American Institute of Architects. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees
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