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Bringing new life to cities

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 12, 2002


FIRED UP: Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena returned from the 10th annual meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism more enthusiastic than ever about working the principles of the movement into Tampa's city code.

The meeting, held last month in Miami, drew more than 1,000 participants from all over the world to learn more about developing walkable, community-oriented neighborhoods and cities.

Saul-Sena was one of just a few elected officials who attended. The rest were mostly architects and planners, with a handful of developers. In addition to Saul-Sena, the Tampa contingent included architects from Cooper Johnson and Smith; Ray Chiaramonte, assistant director of the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission; Tampa developer David Scher; and planner Michael Callahan.

Communities that reflect new urbanism ideals include housing, workplaces, shops, entertainment, schools and parks, all within easy walking distance. Parking lots are behind buildings, and homes are built close to the sidewalks.

The concept is an alternative to the automobile-dependent, master-planned communities that have defined residential development since World War II. New urbanism communities may help the environment and soul because they foster a feeling of community.

Saul-Sena says she prefers the term "traditional neighborhood development" to "new urbanism," because she fears the latter term scares people off with its academic tone.

By any name, she loves the concept.

As chair of Tampa's building and zoning committee, she hopes to introduce incentives for traditional neighborhood development. She'd particularly like to see traditional design in areas that face redevelopment, such as the abandoned Tampa Bay Center. She'd like to see homes on that parcel, even though it's currently zoned for retail.

Tampa Bay Center -- close to Al Lopez Park, Raymond James Stadium, two hospitals and other employment centers -- seems like a perfect location for a blend of homes and retail, Saul-Sena says.

Scott Peek disagrees. He's executive vice president of the DeBartolo Property Group, the company under contract to purchase Tampa Bay Center.

Peek says DeBartolo has no plans to build homes at the location.

"We explored the possibility of housing in some depth," Peek says. "We don't think we can make it work, and prospective housing developers didn't think they could make it work."

But the approach worked well in an old shopping mall in Winter Park, Saul-Sena says.

At the Congress for the New Urbanism meeting, Saul-Sena attended a workshop led by that project's planner, Victor Dozer. The Winter Park Mall parking lot was reconfigured as a network of streets and blocks with storefronts framing the primary street. A department store is being reborn as housing.

"I came back from the Congress even more fired up because I saw examples of people in Florida doing this and being successful not just economically, but also in terms of the community loving it and everybody trying to copy them," she says.

Saul-Sena hopes to coax more elected officials to attend the next Congress for the New Urbanism, scheduled for June 2003 in Washington, D.C.

"We're the ones who ultimately get to change the codes which makes it easier for the developers to build these kinds of things," she says.

FISH OUT OF WATER? Terrabrook, developer of the waterfront community of MiraBay in southern Hillsborough County, has signed a five-year agreement with the Florida Aquarium, marking the first time the aquarium has partnered with a residential developer.

Through the partnership, Terrabrook will sponsor the aquarium's members-only nights. In return, the aquarium will provide all 1,350 MiraBay homeowners with one-year aquarium memberships and hands-on conservation programs to educate children about the fragile marine environment in the SouthShore area.

-- Write to Janet Zink in care of the St. Petersburg Times at 1000 N. Ashley Drive, Suite 700, Tampa, FL 33602; or by e-mail, janet.zink@gte.net.

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