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If we just did Tampa Bay would be so much better!

A friend of mine who works for an urban planning and engineering firm in Tampa returned from a conference recently with a bit of inspiration.

A speaker at the Florida Redevelopment Association conference was an economist who had hired an architect to build her home. Before drafting blueprints, the architect posed a question. Rather than asking about square footage or floor plans, the architect was interested in something more broad and undefined.

When you're away, the architect asked, what do you want to be homesick for?

The economist used the anecdote to make a point: As you rethink your cities, she told the landscape architects, the planners and the developers, keep that question in mind.

What do you want residents to be homesick for?

My friend, who is an intellectual with a tool belt, thought about his own home, a bungalow in Tampa's Old Seminole Heights. He's the kind of guy who's always working on a half-dozen home-improvement projects, which leaves his double lot in a perpetual state of construction-zone flux. He has built a tree house for his kids and a deck around his hot tub and a tool shed under his carport, and you'll find him most weekends schlepping to the dump or Home Depot.

When he's away, he told me, he's homesick for his projects. And when he thinks of being homesick for the Tampa Bay area, it's for a similar reason, one to which I can relate. This place has potential, and it's constantly changing.

It wasn't long ago when the chamber of commerce here began branding Tampa "America's Next Great City," a wishful and longing slogan. The city was luring Super Bowls and conventions and very nearly the Olympics, and a host of folks from out of state bore witness to a town of palm trees and sunshine and potential.

Some of it has been realized. Think of how the city — and the region — has changed in just 10 years. The Channel District bloomed from warehouses and empty lots to condos and shops and restaurants. Gandy Boulevard's redesign — with faux-antique streetlamps and a landscaped median — has changed the feel one has entering town from the west. The 40th Street Corridor Enhancement Project has made 4.2 miles of urban road safer for pedestrians and drivers and more attractive for development.

I thought of this Thursday night, as a thousand or so folks gathered for a concert at downtown Tampa's Curtis Hixon Park, next to the new Tampa Museum of Art and the Glazer Children's Museum. No one I talked to could even remember what existed on the site before the new park, which has become the public centerpiece for downtown activity, from birthday parties to yoga classes to Occupy Tampa protests.

We need more ideas like that, infrastructure or landscape modifications that make the Someday City a little better, that make us long for home.

This is where I'd like your help.

What, from a redevelopment perspective, would make you miss the Tampa Bay area? What if the street car line ran further north or west, rather than stopping in downtown Tampa? What if a contiguous green belt or bike path connected Sulphur Springs to downtown? What if an outdoor market under the I-275 overpass connected downtown to the underutilized historic district north on Franklin Street?

These are Tampa-specific, but think of your own community. Dream a little. Some neighbors of mine, for example, have been talking about restoring the natural springs along the Hillsborough River. I'm already picturing my kids dipping their toes in the cool water.

What do you want to be homesick for?

We're not looking for a 1,000-word essay. Just make a sketch or jot a note on a postcard or send a brief email. We'll package your ideas in a future issue of Floridian.

What would
you miss?

Imagine your community as a work in progress. What could we do that would make you love it so much you'd miss it when you were away? Please send responses to bmontgomery@sptimes.com or by mail to Ben Montgomery, St. Petersburg Times, 490 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

If we just did Tampa Bay would be so much better! 11/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 11, 2011 2:25pm]
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