Tampa is America's hottest mess?
Tampa is a hot urban mess, equal parts Reagan ’80s and Paul Ryan 2010s. Urban renewal projects decimated the city in the ’60s, but its current persona was forged in earnest starting three decades ago, when finance and insurance companies started moving their back-office operations there, attracted by the sunshine and low-cost labor. The 1988 bestseller “Megatrends” declared Tampa “America’s next great city.” Real estate joined the service economy as a major economic pillar, and the city embarked on a building spree, sprouting large glass towers disconnected from the city itself, a development pattern that offered little incentive to invest in things like parks, transit or walkable spaces.
Three quick thoughts:
1. To say Tampa is the way it is or even is slow to address its obvious infrastructural ills because of Tea Party politics seems a little simple and polemic.
2. That said, though, the nixed high-speed rail is a fair place to start any current critique of Tampa and the surrounding area. Lack of suitable public transporation is certainly one thing -- maybe the No. 1 thing -- that holds Tampa back and also the Tampa Bay area in general. It has to be a central part of any serious conversation about why "America's Next Great City" didn't become great. Or at least hasn't yet.
3. "Sprawl is gospel in Tampa Bay." Could say the same thing about lots of parts of Florida. Could say the same thing about lots of parts of the South. Could say the same thing about lots of parts of the whole United States of America. But it's true: Tampa didn't grow up. It grew out. I said so in my Al Austin piece in the Times and Politico earlier this month. Why? Many reasons. It was easier. The land was cheaper. There was free parking. Again, this is NOT Tampa-specific, but now Tampa is in a position where it has to try to sort of undo what it did. It has to better connect downtown to things like West Shore and New Tampa and USF. The name of the contest mentioned down near the bottom of the piece is appropriate -- [re]stitch TAMPA -- because that's what has to happen. But connecting the unconnected is always a challenge.