Taryn Sabia: "Tampa's time is now"

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click to enlarge THE SKY'S THE LIMIT: Taryn Sabia, co-founder of Urban Charrette, wants to improve Tampa by putting density where it belongs. - Alex Pickett
Alex Pickett
THE SKY'S THE LIMIT: Taryn Sabia, co-founder of Urban Charrette, wants to improve Tampa by putting density where it belongs.

Who? Taryn Sabia, co-founder of Tampa's Urban Charrette.

Sphere of Influence: Since creating Urban Charrette last April, Sabia, 29, and fellow architect Adam Fritz have held a series of workshops on how to improve Tampa's urban design, transit systems and overall sustainability. These workshops, or "charrettes," have brought together a broad range of stakeholders, including Tampa city councilmembers Linda Saul-Sena and John Dingfelder, the Hillsborough County Planning Commission, University of South Florida professors, Tampa Bay Builders Association members and developers like Daren Booth (of The Heights project) and Greg Minder (of SkyPoint). By integrating entertainment and the arts into Urban Charrette events, Sabia has also been successful at attracting young professionals in various fields to get involved in solving Tampa's urban problems.

How she makes a difference: Sabia has her hands in many projects, from the proposed green-building ordinance in Tampa to the Conceptual Kiley Gardens Project, which called attention to the worsening state of Kiley Gardens. But perhaps her biggest contribution yet is writing the $15,000 grant that netted Tampa an American Institute of Architects Sustainable Design Assessment Team. In October, the highly sought SDAT program will bring architects, urban planners, economists and others from across the country to Tampa to create a blueprint for a more sustainable city.

CL: How do you get the masses excited about sustainability and urban design?

Sabia: We try to show examples where great projects have been done in other places. Giving people a visual definition of what density is, because density is a very difficult concept to understand. ... You want people to see that if you put density in particular places — and you do it purposely and if it's designed well — then great things can happen. You can start to have vibrant centers for your neighborhood. Your neighborhood is actually protected, because you're putting density where it belongs. You're grouping density in areas to support retail, shops and restaurants. You need a certain amount of density in order to support a certain amount of retail. If it's done well, it can be a really wonderful thing for neighborhoods. It's something that attracts people from other places but also gives the neighborhood itself an area where people can meet, gather, do things and not have to drive a half hour outside of their neighborhood to get the things they need.

Does this mean you want to stack us all in little apartments downtown?

The idea is that we don't make everyone do that, but that we provide choices. We're not suggesting that everyone has to live in small apartments and not have their suburban homes. It's not about one or the other; it's about accommodating all of them and connecting all of them, so people aren't so separated.

It's also about managing our growth for the future. Because, inevitably, density is coming. People are coming, and large numbers of them. We need to think about how we're going to deal with that. Our land is going to run out and the strain on infrastructure is already enormous. Water prices are going to go up, cost of building roads is going to go up. All of these things are going to exponentially blow the top off of everything. I don't know if people realize how fast it's coming. So people need to plan now and put density where it needs to go.

What should we focus on first?

Transit is absolutely at the forefront. TBARTA [Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority] has just started doing public workshops. ... It is so vital that people get out and speak, let their voice be heard and write letters to the TBARTA board and city councilmembers. ... People look and say, "Well, that is the 2050 plan." But it's not. We could have these things in 10 years if we push and fight for them. Let our elected officials know that we not only support it, that we support it now. Like, 'We want to see this as of yesterday." Get this here now. We don't want to wait. We don't want to drag our feet in the planning process. We need a plan, and we need to implement it. If we want to see great things happen in Tampa's future, I think it all starts in transit.

Longtime Tampa residents have heard this kind of talk before and it went nowhere. Do we have a chance this time?

Yes. I've met a lot of those people that have gotten discouraged, who have been a little involved with us and have said, "We're going to wait to see what your staying power is before we really commit to something again." I think that there are a few things now that make it more real.

One is the population and demographics are changing. People are choosing cities, and then choosing jobs. Or they're choosing cities and looking to spend their life's earnings. Tampa is very attractive because of its geographical location. Some other things are falling into place. The establishment of TBARTA is a very good step. ... You often hear people say, "Oh, it can't happen here, because this is Tampa." My response to that — we can actually make anything happen here, because we're a much smaller town. That's something we should take advantage of. ... All of this doesn't take the 20 years people think it does. It's just a matter of being creative with your planning and economics. I think Tampa's time is now.

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