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Dunedin officials promise to stop using 'south side' moniker

DUNEDIN — The way Shakespeare tells it, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Well, he's apparently got some more convincing to do among residents of this city's so-called "south side," who say a new name is just what's needed to quash negative perceptions about that part of town.

Neighbors say the "south side" has become synonymous with rundown homes, drug deals and break-ins — leading outsiders and even some of their neighbors to the north to believe the entire area is crime-ridden.

In a bid to help, city commissioners pledged last week to stop using the term.

"I think it's cast an unfavorable connotation when it's not meant to be such," said Commissioner Ron Barnette. The city should "replace it with more specific names that would designate regions of the community that are south of (State Road) 580."

It's an argument reminiscent of one that gripped St. Petersburg nearly 15 years ago, when some city leaders and residents there objected to the use of "south side." They said it was used to label southern St. Petersburg, a predominantly black area, as undesirable.

In Dunedin, however, complaints have centered on the perception that the "south side" — with its older homes, narrow streets, flooding problems and crime issues shared with bordering Clearwater — is regarded as a problematic monolith separate from the rest of the city.

During a discussion on development opportunities during officials' daylong brainstorming retreat last week, Commissioner Heather Gracy raised the complaint, which had been voiced during a south side town hall meeting in November.

"I think we as a commission need to stop talking about that area as if it's a problem. The sheriff has consistently said it's not a problem," Commissioner Julie Scales told her colleagues last week. There are infrastructure needs, but "this is a matter of making improvements. I think we have a responsibility not to portray or characterize it in a manner that it's not … I don't think we have any bad neighborhoods."

The city would never lump discussions about Honeymoon Island and Belcher Road under the umbrella term "north side," Barnette said, so the same should apply when discussing neighborhoods south of SR 580.

"It seems quite apparent," Barnette said, "that perhaps we should just abandon the term altogether. Because it's as if we're talking about something holistically when, in fact, there's nothing holistic about that region of the community."

Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said the sheer number of town hall attendees and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office's formation of a dedicated task force for the area indicate there are indeed problems.

And Mayor Dave Eggers noted that residents themselves created the "south side" moniker years ago while naming a task force created to address area concerns.

Saying he never thought of the term as negative and that he could only recall one person who spoke "strongly" on the matter during the November town hall, Eggers said he nonetheless understood the desire for a new name.

He stressed, though, that residents' worries in those few troubled pockets are "real," and the city should ensure there are enough police officers' "boots on the ground" to address it.

"I don't want to ignore it but I don't want to over-characterize it either," Eggers said.

Said Barnette: "They're real concerns, but let's not call them south side concerns."

Revitalization efforts, Bujalski and Eggers said, could include parks, youth facilities such as a spray park, another soccer field or competitive leagues, neighborhood enhancement grants, or a nuisance law that would force landlords to evict criminally-active tenants.

Officials also raised the possibility of forming another citizen task force to brainstorm names that define individual neighborhoods.

"If people are interested in an identity for their neighborhood," Scales said, "we need to listen to them and see what they might come up with in terms of suggestions."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Dunedin officials promise to stop using 'south side' moniker 03/05/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 6:47pm]
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