Comfortable, beautiful cities with character and a true sense of place don't just happen. They're sculpted and polished by urban planners, architects, developers and public servants in collaboration with citizens.Public indifference, capricious leadership, lack of interagency cooperation and government resistance to urban planning have often handicapped the process locally, allowing massive sprawl and destroying what is unique about this place.
But we do get it right sometimes. For 22 years, the Hillsborough County City County Planning Commission has presented the annual Community Design Awards to acknowledge what we're doing right. The goal is to reward excellence in planning, landscape architecture, environmental sensitivity and architectural design of buildings and development projects — and hold them up as examples for future projects.
Entries are judged by planners and design experts outside Hillsborough County. An Award of Excellence goes to projects that excel in nearly every aspect of their planning and execution. The second level is Award of Merit and third Award of Recognition. Executive Director Bob Hunter noted that the three judges were tough this year, giving out only 12 awards, far fewer than the usual 18 to 20. There were only two first-place awards — and one special award, given at the discretion of the judges.
This year's celebration took place last week at the University Area Community Center Complex, which won a special award from the commission in 2001 for Outstanding Contribution to the Community. The grounds were filled with memorial offerings of flowers and toys for the two children struck and killed by a car while crossing the street March 31. It was a somber reminder of how cities can fail people by not providing simple things like traffic lights to slow cars and help children cross busy streets safely.
The biggest honor of the evening — the Jan Abell Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Community in Historic Preservation/Restoration, named for Tampa's leading preservation architect who died two years ago in a horse-riding accident — went to architects John Tennison and Vivian Salaga and the Versaggi Family Trust for the Sanctuary Lofts in Tampa Heights. The architects transformed a dilapidated three-story Greek Revival brick church built in 1911, complete with stately columns and stained glass windows, into ultra chic, popular and unique loft apartments and offices, including those for Tennison and Salaga's firm, Atelier. Their imaginative reuse of this space saved a historic gem and brought new vitality to a struggling neighborhood. The award was especially poignant because the winning architects had been longtime close friends of Jan Abell.
Also in the category Historic Preservation/Restoration: an Award of Merit to FleischmanGarcia Architecture and Hillsborough Community College for their adaptive reuse of the gorgeous 1922 Mediterranean Revival building at 14th Street and Palm Avenue in Ybor, and an Award of Recognition to Cohn, Cohn & Hendrix, The Beck Group and Stephanie Farrell for their spare and elegant restoration of a 1920s three-story brick building in the north end of downtown Tampa.
An Award of Excellence in the category of Environmental Projects went to the City of Tampa Parks & Recreation Department, Hardeman Kempton & Associates and URS Corporation for the lovely Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park in the Channel District. It's a peaceful urban oasis overlooking Garrison Channel with a restored natural shoreline, native plants, a floating dock, a playground, public art and a memorial acknowledging the suffering that took place on this site during the Seminole Wars of Removal from 1817 to 1858.
Three Awards of Merit were also given in this category to a Hillsborough River enhancement project in Temple Terrace, Teco's Bayside Power Station, and the Balm Road Wetland Creation and Stormwater Treatment Project.
The only other Award of Excellence went to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and Reynolds, Smith & Hills, Inc. and Stan Geda Associates, in the category Urban Infill for the Marion Transit Center in downtown Tampa. It's a comfortable, user-friendly public shelter and transit hub that has some nice features amid its visually cacophonous and inexplicable Tuscan-influenced design. Among them: reclaimed bricks from Fortune and Laurel streets used in walkways, and as accents, balusters from the old Kennedy Street bridge incorporated in planters, and a clock rescued from the demolished Lykes building in the customer-service rotunda.
The Public Participation category awards projects by local government, nonprofit, civic or citizen groups that involve citizens in planning. Three Awards of Recognition in this category went to an initiative of the mayor's beautification program in Southeast Seminole Heights, a plan for the SouthShore (aka South County) area, and the Plant High School entrance gate and fence on S. Dale Mabry. An Award of Merit went to the Temple Terrace Police Department for a program recognizing young people who act as role models.
In the Public Projects category, Hillsborough Regional Transit Authority and Sylla Inc. won an Award of Merit for the dazzling Southern Transportation Plaza in front of Channelside's Marriott Hotel — even though it has a far more coherent, refined and beautiful design than the Marion Transit Center.
Vivian Kitchen gave The Chairman's Award to the city of Plant City for leadership in formulating a long-term strategic vision for Plant City.
Bob Hunter gave the Executive Director's Award to the city of Temple Terrace for its citizen-driven Vision 2020 and its implementation into the decision making process.
It's important to pay attention to these awards. If we continue to ignore the design and growth issues of our metropolis, it is not going to become more beautiful, more comfortable or more special. It will become more like a giant Wal-Mart.
Through these awards and the other work they do, the Planning Commission staff and board are trying very hard to keep that from happening. The people who received the awards are part of the solution. We owe them all thanks for doing their best to make this place all it can be.
Contact Contributing Editor Susan F. Edwards at [email protected].