A dose of Reality

Planning the future with Legos

click to enlarge LEGO OUR FUTURE: Mayor Pam Iorio (right) and Shannon Patten of Publix Supermarkets use blocks and ribbons to map out Tampa Bay development. - Wayne Garcia
Wayne Garcia
LEGO OUR FUTURE: Mayor Pam Iorio (right) and Shannon Patten of Publix Supermarkets use blocks and ribbons to map out Tampa Bay development.

If Tampa Bay has any hope of being livable in 50 years, after absorbing another 3.2 million people from Brooksville to Sarasota, then the answer may lie in the stacks of yellow and red Legos that were assembled last week on 30 tables in the Tampa Convention Center.

More than 300 business and civic leaders from seven counties took part on Friday (May 18) in Reality Check Tampa Bay, a visioning and planning session put together by the Tampa Bay Partnership.

"I don't know that I've seen a group like this assembled since I've been here" in Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said.

The exercise put eight of the leaders at each table with stacks of Legos and colored ribbon. They had 90 minutes to plan the next 50 years using more than 1,400 of the children's toys. The Legos represented people (1,280 new households for each yellow block) and jobs (3,840 new jobs for each red one) that will come to this region during the upcoming half-century. The ribbons were road corridors (orange) and transit lines (purple).

The tables came up with very divergent plans, some clustering growth along roadway corridors, some pumping Tampa and Westshore into Manhattan-esque densities, some continuing a sprawling growth pattern that exists today.

At one table, Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe called to Ron Weaver, one of Tampa's best known development lawyers, "Ron, come over here and help me rebuild Tampa."

"What's interesting to me is to look at other people's perspectives," Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said. "That is very helpful to building a consensus. That's one of the reasons we don't have a regional vision. We're fixed in our own worlds."

At the end of the day, five tables' plans were voted the best options, to be included in an informational campaign called One Bay that will be taken on the road to share with other civic leaders and residents. (A PowerPoint presentation depicting the five winners can be downloaded at our blog, blurbex.com.) Participants voted to establish three top principles to guide Tampa Bay's future growth. The top priority? Creating quality communities clustered in high-density, mixed-use areas. Second place went to using multiple means of transportation, such as transit and roads; preserving open space and the environment placed third.

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