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Conference offers chance or neighbors to share ideas

The sixth annual Florida Neighborhoods Conference will be held in Tampa this year.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 11, 2002

Neighborhood advocates from around Florida will gather in Tampa next month to glean tips on making communities safer and more stable.

They'll talk about everything from getting residents to clean up junky yards to keeping children from smoking. They'll also tour a slew of Tampa neighborhoods, including a handful in South Tampa.

The sixth annual Florida Neighborhoods Conference is "a great opportunity for neighborhoods to learn from each other," said Julie Harris, Tampa's neighborhood liaison and a conference planner.

More than 700 people have already signed up; 1,200 are expected. The conference is Sept. 6-7 at the Tampa Convention Center.

"We have the same challenges," Harris said. But at the conference, participants can "see what maybe neighborhoods in Jacksonville or Fort Lauderdale did."

More than two dozen workshops are planned -- on neighborhood revitalization, public safety, economic development and other issues. One is called "Effective Lobbying (or How to Be a Squeaky Wheel)." Another: "Healthy Alternatives in the 'Hood."

"Almost anything you have a problem with . . . they've got a seminar to deal with it," said Sue Lyon, president of Tampa Homeowners, An Association of Neighborhoods.

Last year, Sarasota officials told conference participants about plans to beautify three neighborhoods every year with landscaping, new gateways and new pocket parks. In one case, $1-million in improvements is planned, said Kathlyn Viera, Sarasota's neighborhood coordinator.

Residents from another Sarasota neighborhood, Gillespie Park, spoke at a national neighborhood conference in Houston in May about a program they started called Court Watch.

When repeat offenders charged with drugs or prostitution in their neighborhood go before a judge for sentencing, Court Watch residents wear bright-yellow shirts in the courtroom to make sure the judge knows somebody wants them put away.

"It's gotten national recognition," Viera said.

Court Watch organizers couldn't make the Tampa conference, but their program is the kind other neighborhoods can emulate, Viera said.

For the first time, this year's conference will include workshops on youth issues, including how to start Community Youth Crime Watch programs.

Martin County officials hope to discuss a program they started.

Bob Franke, Martin County's community development administrator, said when new parks are planned, kids are sometimes asked what they want to see in the park.

But "nobody asks kids how they get to the park," he said.

If many ride bicycles, then bike lanes might be needed.

In Martin County this year, planners began passing out "neighborhood scrap books" to get kids thinking about planning.

In one case, children suggested a swimming pool to revitalize a park; they accepted a fountain as a compromise. In another, kids in a rural area suggested a museum about farming; it was approved.

"We're taking their ideas," Franke said.

Tampa neighborhoods will offer other lessons.

-- In Carver City and Lincoln Gardens, participants will see how a neighborhood responded when a major development, International Plaza, sprouted nearby.

-- In Ballast Point, they'll see how the city was nudged into developing a tree registry after a live oak was destroyed.

-- In Port Tampa, the community library will showcase how an abandoned bank became a historic landmark.

Among other neighborhoods on the list: Old Hyde Park, Ybor City, Palmetto Beach and New Tampa.

For more information on the schedule or registration, call the Florida Neighborhoods Conference Hotline at 274-8340.

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or

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