Imagine walking with friends under shady trees, protected from motorists, en route from the community garden to the neighborhood cafe. Ahh! While this experience should be available throughout our neighborhoods, it is all too rare. However, a talented, dedicated group of citizen/activists from Tampa’s urban core are on the brink of bringing this bucolic dream to life.
Cleverly wordsmithed as “The Green ARTery,” this bold plan connects 20 neighborhoods with a continuous trail of sidewalks and byways. The Green ARTery aims to provide a bike-and-pedestrian-friendly passage between community gardens, recreation centers, parks and points of river access.
Connecting Tampa’s greenspaces is the mission of this grassroots organization which has been meeting since 2010, developing its vision and plans. From the entertainment and attractions of the Channel District to the historic homes of Seminole Heights, the plan provides a giant loop extending 20 miles, with the Hillsborough river as the western and northern boundaries, 40th street to the east and McKay Bay to the south.
On May 29 from 6:30-8 p.m. the staff of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), City of Tampa staff, and neighbors will gather for the fourth workshop at the Seminole Heights Garden Center at 5800 Central Ave. to develop a specific alignment for the Green ARTery’s Perimeter Trail.
Not as easy as drawing a line around the edges of the neighborhoods, figuring out the trail path is tricky because some parts of the trail are sidewalks, others bike boulevards, multiuse trails, linear parks or “sharrows,” which means that bikes share the road as equal partners with cars (theoretically — in practice I wouldn’t hold my breath).
The goal in creating this perimeter trail is to connect the special places, utilize existing trail segments, go under bridges without spending millions of dollars, and satisfy the folks from 20 neighborhoods, no small task. Fortunately, the leaders of this initiative are up to the challenge.
Myron Griffin, a landscape designer from Seminole Heights; Lena Young Greene, a civic leader from Tampa Heights; Ann MacDonald, a historic preservationist from Lake Roberta; and Rhonda Triplett Coleman, a civic activist from Hampton Terrace, have complementary skill sets and lead the Green ARTery.
Lena, who worked as a legislative aide for 20 years, uses her tenacity, focus and knowledge of governmental functions to accomplish miracles. She spent years patiently negotiating with the City of Tampa and the Florida Department of Transportation for lease of the abandoned red brick church at the intersection of Palm Avenue and I-275.
Young Greene believed that the transformation of this derelict building into a Junior Development and Community Center would create a community hub. She has almost succeeded in recruiting the resources for the Center’s reconstruction. The Kaboom Playground and gazebo already attract visitors. Richard Gonzmart, the Columbia Restaurant’s owner, has promised to sponsor the installation of a commercial kitchen which will be used for job training and entrepreneurship for teens.
When the Interstate widening through Tampa Heights was proposed 25 years ago, architects Stephanie Ferrell and Martha Sherman worked with the community to design a trail on the west side of the expansion which would provide an attractive buffer to the looming walls of the elevated roadway. Two decades later, the path is now complete and actively jogged and biked upon. The Tampa Heights Community Garden graces the north portion with a fruit orchard planned for the center.
Lena, the mastermind, explains her vision. “Children will learn where their food comes from as they grow seeds in the garden, pick fruit in the orchard, and learn, as teens, to cook!” The huge blank side of the interstate will serve as a screen for movies in the warm weather, and this previously neglected elbow of an interstate will become a center for a community’s rebirth.
This portion of the Green ARTery demonstrates the potential for grassroots activism to shift the mojo of a neighborhood. A local resident, Tametria Braddy, reflecting during a recent visit, called it her “place for tranquility.”
Myron Griffin, a passionate promoter, has photographed the Green ARTery in its entirety. He knows how verdant, historic and under-appreciated this area is.
“We can make this a destination for both locals and visitors who have no idea of the beauty here.”
If you want to explore this area by bicycle, Eric Turner, founder of History Bike Tampa (historybiketampa.tumblr.com), will be offering a free bicycle tour on Sat., June 1, leaving at 10 a.m. from Kahwa Coffee at the corner of Tampa and Polk Streets in downtown Tampa. He discovered the back roads when his car was in in the shop and bike-riding was a necessity. Now, along with Katie Roders, his fiancée, he wants to share his enthusiasm with others.
The payoff in creating the Green ARTery will be the sense of connectivity and beauty spread throughout the Tampa’s center. That jolt of energy and urban vitality will juice the way for these neighborhoods to thrive.
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