A little more than five years ago, on the way out the door to a vacation, I dashed off a year-end essay that we called “Fix It Now: Tampa Bay’s top 10 civic problems.” I would love to say that I gave it a ton of thought, but I just wrote quickly about 10 things that really bugged me about Tampa Bay. Bugged me for a long time.
It struck a nerve.
Of all the things I wrote during my tenure as Creative Loafing’s political editor, “Fix It Now” was the most popular. Readers cheered its straightforward call to action. The Tiger Bay Club of Tampa asked me to speak to politicos about it at one of its luncheons. Some serious fans (including a few friends) said I should run for the County Commission. That one made me laugh.
In the five years since, I have left newspapering for academia, teaching journalism, and Tampa Bay has continued, mostly, on its same course. We’ve made some progress; but in most areas, precious little forward movement is evident. So let’s revisit some of my prescriptions and ask: Why won’t we take our medicine?
End urban sprawl. I like the administration of Mayor Bob Buckhorn, with its pro-business attitude tempered appropriately by a legit love for neighborhoods. Yes, you can point to this decision or that decision as being good or bad, but Fix It Now is about broad brushstrokes. And the truth is, while we slowly are more dense in the city of Tampa, we’re still not where we need to be to support true urban neighborhoods and mass transit.
The problem remains out in Hillsborough County, where a court challenge has been filed against developer Stephen Dibbs, who wants to build suburban densities in mostly rural Keystone-Odessa. And statewide, the past five years has seen nothing but disasters for growth management in Tallahassee.
We’re worse off today.
Retool our transportation system. Rick Scott refused federal funding for Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail. Hillsborough voters turned away a tax increase for transportation improvements. The recession left fewer tax dollars to pay for roads and transit. Hillsborough and Pinellas bus systems have disagreed about possibly merging.
Not a good track record, so to speak.
On the positive side, though, at least Hillsborough and Pinellas transit leaders are still talking. And Mayor Buckhorn sounded a clarion call at his latest State of the City Address: “We need mobility options now: that means Bus Rapid Transit, that means HOV, and it darn sure means rail! Don’t tell me that rail doesn’t pay for itself. Don’t tell me I have to listen to the mayor of Detroit thank me because he’s building his light rail system with our money. If folks in Tallahassee don’t want to support us, we’ll find folks in Tallahassee who do.”
Protect the environment. Things are so dire in this area, both locally and statewide, that it pains me to even address them. Five years of gutting growth laws and environmental protections have left us much worse off. The barometer of the storm coming: Florida’s dying springs.
End the worship of the false idol of sports. Never. But sports fanaticism took a hit with a) a recession that hurt ticket sales, and b) a slide into sub-mediocrity by the King of Tampa Bay Sports, the Bucs.
Stop the FCC from further deregulating the airwaves and screwing up U.S. journalism. U.S. journalism seems to be doing a pretty good job of screwing up all by itself.
Stop beating up on gay people. Nationally, the tide has turned. Locally, Hillsborough County commissioners voted recently against creating a domestic registry ordinance that would have allowed non-married partners, straight and gay, to care for each other in legal matters. Shame on those no votes.
So there it is. Not a pretty report card. Yet I still remain hopeful and loving of this community that I have called home for exactly as long as Creative Loafing has been in existence. There remains a strong current for change, voices that continue to challenge the status quo.
The past five years were stymied by a recession that hit Tampa Bay particularly hard — in part because our economy is tied to many of the Fix It Now problems. As we wrote in a follow-up to my essay, it’s not too late to save Tampa Bay.
Wayne Garcia, aka The Political Whore (his column and blogger name, reflecting his previous career as a consultant), was political editor of the Planet/CL from 2005-2009. He is presently an instructor at the University of South Florida.