10 ways for Tampa Bay to get greener in the next decade (videos)

1. Change the predominant land development pattern in Tampa Bay from mindless sprawl to thoughtful planned sustainable infill. For at least the next decade, there will be few opportunities to create additional sprawl. The opportunities will be in infill: green urban infill, retrofitting poorly planned suburbs (see below), and redeveloping existing greyfield shopping centers. The City of Temple Terrace is doing just that with the redevelopment of its 1950s greyfield shopping center into a mixed–use New Urban downtown.

2. Retrofit some existing suburban sprawl to create places worth caring about. Un-needed, inferior or  excessive sprawl should be re-greened back into green space , citrus groves, agriculture or… ? (Pasco County, I’m thinking of you.)

With all of Florida's sprawl, this strategy could spawn a new Florida green industry.

3. Make affordable electric cars readily available. Personally, I have not drunk the Prius kool-aid. Why settle for 50 mpg while still burning fossil fuel when you can run on electricity with a range of 300 mpg?  For those diehards who point out that electricity is still produced by burning coal, review this.

4. Educate the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), traffic engineers, city planners and architects on the creation of sustainable communities. A single-minded increase in car and truck traffic flow must not come at the expense of human quality of life, livable communities and greenspace.

5. Use reclaimed water for all regional irrigation; minimize the water taken from rivers, springs and the aquifer. In Hillsborough, reclaimed water is currently available to only a select few in South Tampa, many of whom aren’t even hooked up, and hookup should be mandatory. Meanwhile, Tampa dumps 50 to 60 million gallons of treated water a day into Hillsborough Bay which is wreaking havoc on the bay ecology. There’s a better use for this water, but it will take vision and political will. Once we start using the reclaimed water for irrigation, maybe then we can start considering using it for drinking water.

6. Plant more trees. This should be a priority for all regional communities, encouraging them to become a “Tree City USA." The City of Temple Terrace’s partnership with Will Moriaty of the Tampa Bay Reforestation and Environmental Effort (TREE) has been working toward this goal. The planting of native Florida trees beautifies, provides habitat and resources for native fauna, offsets carbon footprint and creates a carbon sink, cools the micro-climate and preserves the historic landscape of Old Florida.

7. Make Central Florida multi-modal, providing multiple options for getting around, not just fossil-fueled behemoths. This direction has the added benefit of getting Florida drivers from behind the wheel, which is probably not a bad thing. The City of Temple Terrace recently became one of the first cities in the Southeast to enact a Citywide Multimodal Transportation District. Will the region follow?

8. Realize the importance of our regional and local history and historic architecture, and market it as a collective, regional asset. There are currently many separate, local histories, but not much ties them all together and markets them as a whole.

9. Realize that growing smart and sustainably means that “not building” is often as important as “building." While the wildly popular Hillsborough County Environmental Land Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP) has done a pretty good job of protecting sensitive natural areas, not much thought has apparently been given to preserving agricultural lands. Organizations in other regions that do this are the Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust (OSALT) and the Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) .  This is a wiser approach to long-term management of agricultural lands than our typical Hillsborough County model: farmers selling their land to fund their retirements, the former farmland being converted into inexpensive unplanned sprawl.

Reasons to create an agricultural land trust would include preservation of green and open space, food security, and protection of traditional agricultural sustainable ways of life. Perhaps even our Hillsborough County Commission could get behind such a common-sense idea?

10. Emphasize good planning and architecture — just like we did 80 years ago. The 1920s in the United States are considered the golden age of town planning. Florida was fortunate to have many of its cities and communties planned during this period. These “good bones” create an incredible sense of place and have inherent green and sustainable attributes that make them excellent planning models for the future of our region.

The following are not separate items but pieces of a larger sustainable theme. Locally and nationally I believe we’re moving from a divisionary quagmire of petty political agendas and fragmented fiefdoms toward collective solutions, with an eye toward impacting the bigger issues facing our area.

For Tampa Bay, it’s been a long time coming.

Some might join James Lovelock (father of the Gaia hypothesis) in thinking it’s already too late and we’re heading for catastrophe no matter what we do, and not surprisingly there are many in our region that don’t think there’s a problem at all (this is Flori-duh after all).

By acting locally/thinking globally, I think we can make an impact on those larger issues.

Tampa Bay has its own future issues which I’ve pointed out in previous posts, from rising ocean levels, to learning how to sustainably plan and design with grace and alacrity. Inevitably, we don’t have all the time in the world; many of these new directions need to be put in place during the current economic opportunity malaise — that is, before those that traditionally profit from the unsustainable status quo can climb out of bankruptcy and depression.

So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work!

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