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Spring Hill's growth offers glimpses of city living

Some recent scenes from Spring Hill:

Delta Woods Park at dusk — packed parking lot, rowdy games of handball and basketball, kids on swings, a steady stream of older folks chugging around the walking trail.

Morning at Springstead High School — students on foot and in cars rushing to beat the first bell, a crossing guard and deputy working hard to keep oblivious teenagers from being mowed down on busy Mariner Boulevard.

Village Pizza, Friday night — dough being tossed, takeout customers mobbing the counter, delivery drivers heading out with chin-high stacks of boxed pies and hoagies.

We could focus on many other places — convenience stores that rock nonstop, the ever-growing Hernando County YMCA. And we should add the important detail that at all of these locations you are likely to see a variety of ages and skin colors. You might even hear a foreign language or two.

So, what does it add up to? Well, maybe that Spring Hill is slowly but noticeably becoming less of an outdated, too-big, never-quite-filled-up subdivision and more — a least a little more — of a city.

We can't get carried away, of course. Nobody I know of is talking incorporation. We won't be seeing skyscrapers on Deltona Boulevard anytime soon. The kind of city I'm thinking about has nothing to do with Manhattan and much more in common with car-oriented sections of Pinellas or Hillsborough counties.

"Florida has its own kind of urban," said David Miles, Hernando County's demographic planner.

I called Miles to see if there was anything to back up my general impressions, if there were recognized qualities that distinguish urban from suburban and if any could be found in Spring Hill.

His answers, basically, were "yes" and "yes."

"It's incremental, but I definitely think you're on to something," he said.

To seem at all convincing, proof of Spring Hill's citification needs historical context. So look back to the spring day in 1967 when ground — very sandy, infertile ground — was broken for Spring Hill, and the only thing urban about this expanse of scrubland was the scope of the developers' ambition: 33,000 lots and 75,000 residents.

More than 30 years later, in anticipation of the soon-to-be-built Suncoast Parkway, I wrote about the sprawling empty feel of Spring Hill, the large proportion — 37 percent — of undeveloped lots and the lack of anything resembling an urban core. If you were going to have a parade, one resident asked me, where would you march?

Now, more than 28,000 of those lots are full. And so are most of the "infill'' subdivisions — including some very large ones, such as Timber Pines — built in the nooks left empty in Spring Hill's original patchwork plan.

Which brings us to the most basic characteristic of a city: lots of people.

In what the Census Bureau calls the Spring Hill census-designated place — basically Hernando's southwest corner — the population jumped from 69,078 in 2000 to about 99,621 in 2010. That's well more than half the county's population and just a few thousand less than what I think of as a pretty good-sized town, Gainesville.

Of course, in a city, people are packed in. They are in Spring Hill, at least by the standards of Hernando, where at one time nearly everyone lived in their own house with their own yard.

The number of apartment units in the county has more than quadrupled since 2000, to a total of 2,060. Most of these are near the only remotely parade-worthy commercial hubs in Spring Hill, such as Kass Circle and the corner of Northcliffe and Mariner boulevards.

You can walk to at least a few stores in these neighborhoods, and that's part of being in a city, too — having more than one way to get around. So it's important for establishing our urban credibility that, since 2000, Hernando has created a bus system, resisted the temptation to abandon it and recently has come up with a plan to improve it.

What about that undeniable quality of a city, a mix of ages and ethnic backgrounds? The median age in Hernando dropped about two years between the last two census counts, to 47.7. That's not that much, of course, but more significant considering that it bucks a larger trend: Nationally and statewide, the population is aging.

And, yes, it is very possible that in a Spring Hill deli or park you will hear a foreign language; 12 percent of its residents speak one at home, and though white residents are still a large majority, the percentage of other ethnic groups and races rose considerably between 2000 and 2010.

It's safe to say these changes aren't welcomed by every Spring Hill resident, especially the ones who moved here to get away from the traffic, crime and taxes in big cities. They might not even like people who don't look and talk the way they do.

So I will point out that crime, with the exception of a recent upward bump, has generally declined in recent years as the county has become more citylike; most of our roads are a long way from gridlock, and dense development is cheaper than sprawl.

And, well, more people, and more kinds of people, means more and more kinds of stores and music and restaurants and bakeries — more culture. Or, put another way, more life.

Spring Hill's growth offers glimpses of city living 11/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 12, 2011 12:45pm]
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