Transforming Tampa Bay: The people and projects changing our landscape and quality of life

click to enlarge During Jane’s Walk, participants were invited to make suggestions for the newly opened Selmon Greenway. - chip weiner
chip weiner
During Jane’s Walk, participants were invited to make suggestions for the newly opened Selmon Greenway.

Credit needs to go to people and organizations that envision bold ideas and then have the gumption to realize them. Tampa’s fortunate to have some dedicated folks who are making our urban experience a bit brighter… drumroll, please!

Sarah Howard, the USF Curator of Public Art and Social Practice, creates bold community activities. She was the local organizer for Jane’s Walk, a movement of free, citizen-led walking tours held in May throughout Europe, Canada and the U.S. inspired by Jane Jacobs. Author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane was a champion of reviving downtowns and neighborhoods, and my personal hero.

The key question in organizing a local edition of Jane’s Walk was, simply, where to walk? A stunning choice was to pair it with the opening May 2 of the Selmon Greenway, a 15-foot-wide paved path located mostly under the Selmon Expressway which provides blessed shade and some landscaping. The Tampa Hillsborough County Expressway Authority (THEA) built the 1.7 mile-long Greenway, which links the newly opened RiverWalk on the west to Ybor City’s Adamo Drive on the east.

Sarah teamed up with Alana Brazier, an urban planner who wrote her Master’s thesis on the Selmon Greenway and co-authored the $11.9 million TIGER grant that funded its construction as well as that of the Riverwalk. Brazier introduced visitors to the walk and Karen Kress from the Tampa Downtown Partnership (TDP) drafted her colleagues from the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) to lead the walking tours and chat with walkers about this new urban path.

Howard observes, “The Greenway gives us a fresh way to experience our evolving downtown. THEA’s masterplan outlines 10 potential park sites and gives the public a chance for input on what amenities the Greenway should include as it develops further.”

Kudos to Del Acosta for his leadership in “Putting the Park back in Hyde Park.” As chairman of the Land Use Committee for the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association (HHPNA), he is working toward the development of an urban design master plan for the neighborhood.

“We’ve undertaken a number of excellent individual projects like Kate Jackson Park’s transformation, Bern’s Park, and Swann Pond. Now we need to rethread these pearls.” Other projects envisioned by Acosta include the restoration of brick streets and greenways connecting the neighborhood parks.

The creation of Swann Pond in Hyde Park took ten years of planning, fundraising and construction. Members of HHPNA led the way, raising $39,044. The ribbon-cutting for these Hyde Park Gateway improvements is planned for mid-June.

Norma Gene Lykes, through the F.E. Lykes Foundation, was the major donor to this initiative. Her support of green projects has included not only Swann Pond, but also Kate Jackson Park and the spray fountains at Curtis Hixon Park. Again, a visionary who brings projects to fruition through her leadership.

What has the transformation of a drainage ditch into a park meant to the adjacent neighbors? The red brick piers topped with pineapples, symbols of hospitality, welcome rather than repel passersby. The pond sporting a fountain, rather than green scum, is a positive experience, as are the brick-lined sidewalks and black wrought-iron fence and street lamps.

The retention pond land was made available by THEA, which also installed the lighting and landscaping under the Expressway. THEA also took part in Frames on Franklin, a collaborative public art project that transformed an ugly wall into something more attractive. THEA removed a diseased tree and cleaned and painted the wall, TDP installed frames, and the City of Tampa placed the artwork, posters promoting downtown icons like the UT minarets and Tampa Theatre.

Karen Kress was the spark for this project as well as a passionate promoter of biking in her staff role with TDP. Karen partnered with FDOT in 2014 to create the first Cyclovia Bike Fest in downtown, and helped transform onstreet parking spaces into mini-green spaces for four years of National Park(ing) Day, installed over 200 bike racks and two self-repair centers.

Kress successfully advocated for Coast Bike Share, the bike rental company, coming to Tampa. In 2006, when “nobody was taking about safer biking,” she joined with Julie Bond and launched Tampa Bay Cycle, an advocacy org for safer cycling. As a self-described “Bike Dork,” she has given over 50 free classes on safe riding. She spearheaded downtown becoming a Bicycle Friendly Business (BFB) area, launching the program in May, which is National Bike Month. On May 12 at the TDP Downtown Debriefing, Karen will announce a list of certified businesses and their respective discounts or value-adds for the pedaling population. She has also promoted the separation of bicycle and pedestrian lanes, which kicked off this week.

Tampa Bay is lucky to have such leaders.

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