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How to make downtown Tampa more neighborly
A Times Editorial
Published November 18, 2007
Agents hawking the new condominiums in downtown Tampa pitch the museums, waterfront and freedom to walk to work, shops and restaurants as perks of living in the city center. But the business district has not yet made the transition to a neighborhood. Streets are difficult to cross, the sidewalks need repairs, parking is a hassle and not enough has been made of the downtown's tourist or recreational appeal.
The Riverwalk, museums and other big-ticket projects are important. But the city should also turn an eye to the everyday amenities that residents anywhere, even downtown, expect. The trick is to meet these needs while maintaining downtown as Tampa's urbanbusiness center. Three areas in particular need attention:
Roads. Transit policy downtown is still dominated by a mission to move cars. That may be reality for years, until residential units have more of a presence and mass transit becomes more of an option. But the streets need to be safer to cross. The city has made some improvements in recent years, and it is redesigning downtown's traffic flow. But the crosswalks need to be better marked, and authorities need to crack down on reckless motorists. The city should also review what it could do to make downtown more pedestrian-friendly. And it should install meters operated by charge cards or provide coin changers for existing ones.
Aesthetics. The city is paying to reverse many past mistakes, from walling off the waterfront to failing to diversify the look and feel of the city center. But again, the focus here is on bread-and-butter improvements. The city needs to repair many sidewalks, especially in the outer areas. It should also, where possible, remove utilities and the needless signs in and around the sidewalks. Blocking the sidewalk pushes people into the street and makes it difficult for the handicapped to pass. More garbage cans wouldn't hurt.
Recreation. Downtown has few bike racks and no well-known or convenient place for the public to launch a kayak or canoe onto the river. Yet the new condos cater to the 20-somethings and the outdoor lifestyle. There is a disconnect between what downtown has and what it is selling. That is dangerous for the market if new buyers have their expectations dashed. The city also does not maximize downtown's proximity to nearby areas. Ybor City, the historic Latin Quarter, is easily reached by bicycle, but it too lacks bike racks and isolates itself. Recreation has income potential, and it cannot be an afterthought.