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In an ugly sea of sprawl, a wave of change builds

Something good has resulted from the Tampa area's well-known failings in community planning and connectedness.

The lack of a sustainable, planned vision for our area on the part of decades of leaders has left a developer-led landscape of mind numbing sprawl. Linear "shopping strips" and placeless big-box retail are lined up along noisy, dangerous, congested and poorly designed thoroughfares that disappear over the horizon. There are few centers, little expression of regional identity, and fewer places where communities can congregate and share ideas, or even accidentally encounter neighbors and friends (like real cities have).

Many of us are angry about the impoverished environment we've inherited.

So what's the good news?

Because of this brutal lack of place and community in our real world, those who Richard Florida calls "the creative class" have been agitating for positive change by using the Internet to exchange ideas.

On blogs and Web sites across our region, folks are collaborating and sharing and developing ideas on how to turn our area around — and it's just a question of time before some of these folks enter the local political scene.

Many of these citizen activists are merely the spear tip of what has been coined locally as the "the creative diaspora." This diaspora involves locals who've grown up here, tired of the status quo, have relocated to more progressive cities such as Portland, Austin, San Francisco, D.C., Seattle, Boston, just about anywhere.

These folks have learned the lessons from these real cities, have returned to our area, and they're now working hard to implement those new ideas.

Why do they come back?

For one thing, our area has (as almost became a regional motto) "lots of potential." We have the multicultural charm of Ybor City, the quaintness of Hyde Park, hidden jewels like West Tampa and Temple Terrace, the beautiful natural landscape, flora and fauna of the rural countryside, the gulf, rivers and swamps.

But this enormous local potential has often been like a siren, drawing those who long for positive progressive change to crash on the rocks.

Traditional newsprint to many of us is a prop that supports shortsighted proponents of the status quo; an instrument of those who seek to preserve their fragile thrones and keep our dysfunctional area exactly like it is for whatever reason, even though that's impossible and unsustainable and we're all quickly learning that.

Gas prices alone have proven sprawling into the hinterlands a very bad idea, and not just for the natural environment. Traffic congestion to get there means many hours spent on the road. We've come to realize that widening roads is not the answer, as it merely invites more vehicles and in several years you'll need to widen it again, and again, and again.

No, our region needs alternatives to our status quo. Alternatives to road widening, fossil fuel powered single occupancy vehicles, mindless sprawl, development industry-owned politicians, alternatives to not preserving farmlands and woodlands on our periphery, and alternatives to architecture and planning that does not recognize our regional history, climate, culture or sense of place.

Many who are interested in agitating for this positive change in our region are doing so online. It's a brave new world, and it will become braver still as the local diaspora continues. Many of us have traded the monologue of traditional newsprint with information handed down to us from unknown sources, for the collaborative dialogue of the Internet.

Grant Rimbey is an architect and community activist who lives in Temple Terrace.

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In an ugly sea of sprawl, a wave of change builds 09/04/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 9, 2008 5:06pm]
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