TAMPA —When Taryn Sabia and Adam Fritz first met, they were romantically and professionally drawn to each other.
"We discovered that both of our graduate architecture theses were nearly identical," said Sabia.
The papers were based on sustainable urban design. Fritz's focused on Tampa; Sabia's on Providence, R.I.
The couple realized they share a desire to make communities more "livable," working to change the way urban communities are designed so that people can become less reliant on cars.
Last year, Fritz, 34, and Sabia, 29, organized the Urban Charrette, a group for civic design initiatives. Today the nonprofit organization has nearly 400 members.
This weekend, the group will host ECO.lution, a free festival downtown that is expected to draw about 3,000 people. The event, which was scheduled to begin Thursday, features concerts, cocktails and family activities.
This is not the Urban Charrette's first event. Last May, members organized the Conceptual Kiley Gardens Project, where local artists "planted" faux trees to illustrate what Curtis Hixon Park could be.
Last fall and winter the Urban Charrette featured public workshops and speakers concerned with making the Tampa Bay area livable.
The purpose of ECO.lution is to reach a tipping point, said City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, who has been supportive of the effort. "Once a critical mass has this vision for a sustainable community, then the vision is possible."
Sabia said there are plenty of possibilities for Tampa. "We have great potential if we just make the right design choices," she said.
Saul-Sena said departments within city government often have opposing viewpoints when it comes to making Tampa more walkable.
For example, she said, "Public works sees trees as an interruption of sidewalks and conflict with the pipes underground." But trees make sidewalks more walkable in Tampa's hot summers, she said.
When asked to respond to Saul-Sena's comments, public works director Irvin Lee said, "We are not that far apart in our goals, but we (public works) look at a more pragmatic perspective."
Lee said that while trees may make the sidewalks more walkable, if the wrong trees are there to begin with, they can cause pavement and drainage problems and obstruct road lighting. Trees and sidewalks can coexist if the right trees are planted in the right location, he said.
Sabia and Fritz realize that their goals will be a major challenge for Tampa, a city that has been shaped by car travel. The three components for a sustainable community are walkability; local circulators, such as light rail or other fixed transportation; and regional connectors, such as commuter rail.
The Urban Charrette wants to get the community involved. ECO.lution is a start. Recycled art projects for kids, live music, "green" vendors, movies on the lawn and video confession booths for children's "green opinions" are some of the activities involved with the festival.
Tampa's first green-certified building owner, Nancy Walker, who built the Walker Brand building in South Tampa, will also speak at ECO.lution. The U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design now certifies buildings as green or LEED, the way fruits are certified as organic.
City and county officials have already taken part in the group's conversations. Mayor Pam Iorio and 24 others wrote letters of recommendation for the Urban Charrette's 350-page grant proposal to the American Institute of Architecture.
The group won a grant in February, including $15,000 and a team of sustainable-design experts who will study and develop a road map for a livable Tampa. Detroit, New Orleans and Fort Worth were also awarded the grant.
The design experts will present their work as advice to the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. The commission will decide whether to act on the team's recommendations.
The directors of the Urban Charrette must match the grant money. Sabia and Fritz hope to raise $20,000 in cash or services through from local companies.
Some of the money will go to community events, such as block parties that will promote sustainable design.