Folks, I come bearing some end-of-the-year bad news: Tampa Bay has jumped the shark.
When I first moved to this area in 1988 to be part of the dynamic newspaper war between the Times and the Tribune, Tampa was flirting with its whole "America's Next Great City" dream. The drinks were cold; the beaches were beautiful. Ybor City was alive and vibrant, with interesting shops, restaurants and artists' lofts that gave way in late nights to tens of thousands of partiers.
As I walked through Ybor on a Thursday night last week, I was nearly alone.
I thought about many of my old South Tampa buddies who have deserted what was once a great neighborhood to move to a better, more interesting (and more affordable) place, St. Petersburg. That city's nightlife and arts scene may be small by national standards, but by Tampa Bay's shrinking yardstick, it seems downright Bourbon Street. Young creatives can afford to live there, even if we don't give them enough job opportunities to keep them in Tampa Bay for long.
The newspaper war is over.
Neither side won; the public lost. We are more likely to read about the latest local reality show star arrested in some kind of drunken stupidity than we are about, say, how 500 Haitians living in Tampa Bay attended a concert by their national superstar, BéLO.
And I wonder where my -- our -- optimism went? (I'm guessing it moved to St. Pete along with my former South Tampa circle of friends.)
The truth is we have some longstanding issues in our region that need to be addressed, and we have some tough choices and sacrifices to make if we are to rebuild hope, restore optimism and bring all Bay area residents into the cultural and political mix.
So, enough with the bitching. Here's my Top 10 road map back to hope, prosperity and The American Way. Call your local elected officials and give them hell about it.
1 End urban sprawl. I don't want to hear any shit about "they're moving to this area anyway, so we better get ready for them." Hillsborough County leaders must immediately revisit their growth plan, hire the best land-use lawyers to figure out a way to rezone much of the rural county to preserve open space, and cluster growth in fewer, more dense areas.
2 Rewrite Tampa's suburban building and zoning rules. If we are going to limit sprawl, we conversely have to pump up our densities into urban areas. St. Petersburg in the past year adopted a more urban zoning code; Tampa still hews to a 1970s-era suburban model. Mayor Iorio, give us a simpler way to encourage/require front porches; allow houses to be built closer to the streets and lot lines; create urban commercial and mixed-use villages that you can walk to and through; build sidewalks and bike paths; and allow taller buildings along appropriate streets.
3 Retool our transportation system. Once we address urban sprawl and urban redevelopment, we have to hold the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority's feet to the fire as it writes a new transportation plan for the region. Its top priority should be a Pinellas-Hillsborough rail plan that moves people and provides new redevelopment opportunities.
4 Protect the environment. Hillsborough County commissioners, stop sexually assaulting your own Environmental Protection Commission. Period.
5 Get green. We have too few buildings, homes and commercial buildings operating "green." State legislators should be inspired by Gov. Charlie Crist's ambitious agenda and adopt LEED-certified construction guidelines. While we're at it, switch out your incandescent light bulbs for fluorescents if you haven't already.
6 Recognize the true diversity of our community in local media. Creative Loafing is just as guilty as the mainstream media in town in failing to reflect the many colors and creeds of Tampa Bay. More than 400,000 African Americans live in Tampa Bay. We have nearly a half-million Latinos here. We have Filipinos, Hondurans, Guatemalans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Brazilians, Haitians and Puerto Ricans (our leading Hispanic population, did you know that?). All have large -- and largely ignored -- communities and widespread interests.
7 End the worship of the false idol of sports. We have to uncouple our civic psyche from the rise and fall of our sports teams. Unfortunately, for the past 15 years, our leaders have given its citizenry little else to cheer about.
8 Stop the FCC from further deregulating the airwaves and screwing up U.S. journalism. More media owners translates to more media voices, which translates to stronger democracies. The unholy nexus of Newschannel 8-TBO.com-Tampa Tribune is proof that convergence doesn't build communities, just corporate profits.
9 Stop beating up on gay people. We waste far too much time, energy and newsprint writing about the battle over gay marriage or transgender firings. Richard Florida was right; communities that embrace tolerance and diversity outperform those that don't. Even if you aren't down with homosexuality because of your religion or whatever psychosexual hang-ups you have, just walk away from this fight.
10 Save our young. If you're bright and talented, you move away from Tampa Bay after college because there aren't enough good, creative jobs here. If you aren't college material, you are doomed to a life of less-than-satisfying wages because you can't afford to move away. Let's keep both groups here and empower them to build a better future for Tampa Bay.
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