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Group Builds Vision For Bay Area’s Future - With Legos
Posted May 18, 2007 by
Updated May 18, 2007 at 05:53 PM

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By Karen Branch-Brioso
The Tampa Tribune

TAMPA – The group gathered Friday at the Tampa Convention Center – CEOs and chefs, developers and deejays, educators and environmentalists, businesspeople and political power brokers – all had one thing in common.

They wanted to get their hands on the Legos.

The small plastic children’s toy became a tool of power Friday at Reality Check Tampa Bay. The exercise turned more than 300 people into Growth Gods for the morning.

With borderless maps of the seven-county Tampa Bay region spread before them, they were asked to find a place for 3.2 million new people and 1.5 million new jobs expected here by 2050.

For the players, that meant placing 1,015 yellow Legos for homes and 408 red Legos for jobs on each of 32 maps on tables across a large ballroom. They criss-crossed the region with orange ribbons for mass transit. Purple ribbons for roads. With as many as a dozen players at each table – deliberately drawn from different counties and job descriptions – they didn’t always agree.

At Table 4, after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker saw that a colleague had stacked a tower of yellow Legos in the downtown area of his city, he plucked them from the map. He put some back. But then the rest made their way to other parts of the region.

“You want to increase residential density and jobs downtown, but that was too much,” Baker later told the Tribune. He also took issue with his decision to place a purple ribbon – for new roads – to mimic a controversial proposal for a Heartland Parkway stretching south from northeast Polk County to Fort Myers.

“I don’t necessarily agree with that. I would be concerned building new interstates would create more sprawl.”

Despite its bumpy moments, Reality Check Tampa accomplished something that is a rare event in the region. It brought together people from seven different counties – Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Paso, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota – to plan how they should grow together. Not as individual city zoning commissions. Or counties.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the people of seven counties and many municipalities and a greater number of special interests groups to transcend all of that to become one body, envisioning Tampa Bay,” said the Rev. James T. Golden, a Bradenton city commissioner and a member of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council that was one of the event sponsors.

The Urban Land Institute and the Tampa Bay Partnership spearheaded the event.
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