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Urban sprawl forum to address Tampa Bay area growth issues

Two national experts on urban sprawl are scheduled to present ideas on "smart growth" this week.

Tampa Bay Business Journal - 5:24 PM EST Monday

Reid Ewing of the National Center for Smart Growth in College Park Md., and Randall Holcombe of Florida State University in Tallahassee will share their thoughts on urban sprawl and growth management issues in the Tampa Bay area.

There's been unprecedented growth and development in the region, and the experts will weigh in on problems and solutions for region's future, a release said.

The law firm Trenam Kemker will host the community forum March 31, starting at 8 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Downtown Tampa. There is no fee for the event, but it is "invitation only," a PR representative said.

Trenam Kemker sponsors the Regional Leadership Breakfast Series, a quarterly community forum where regional issues are presented, the firm said in a media alert. Trenam Kemker, one of Florida's largest law firms with offices in Tampa and St. Petersburg, specializes in a variety of practice areas. More information is available on the firm's Web site.

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The magic of sprawl? Decidedly unenchanting

By ROBERT TRIGAUX, Times Business Columnist
Published April 1, 2005


I thought I was getting up early Thursday to hear two experts in Tampa discuss urban sprawl. But I must have gotten lost on the way and landed on the set of a Saturday Night Live skit.

"Urban sprawl is not the problem, but the solution," said a beaming Randall Holcombe, a Florida State University economics professor and a member of Gov. Jeb Bush's council of economic advisers.

Sprawl, Holcombe continued, increases the housing supply and keeps prices down. Sprawl, he said, reduces traffic congestion and disperses pollution. Sprawl, he added, works because it's cheaper to build new roads than fix old ones.

And it's just a myth that Florida is overdeveloped, that people in the suburbs commute to city centers, or that a mass transit system can relieve traffic congestion, he said.

Say what?

Have we had it all wrong? Is more and more urban sprawl actually the magic elixir to ensure a strong, long-term regional economy? In a year when the governor and state legislators say they want to improve growth management, is Professor Holcombe whispering this advice into the ear of Gov. Bush?

Holcombe spoke at a breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Downtown as part of a series on regional issues sponsored by the Trenam Kemker law firm. He was joined on the podium by Reid Ewing, a research professor at the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland.

Ewing is the Anti-Holcombe.

"I disagree with everything I heard," Ewing told Thursday's audience. "Sprawl affects the quality of life."

Sprawl stresses regional transportation systems, harms air quality and public health, and sacrifices land to low-density development, he warned.

"Growth management in Florida," said Ewing - who once worked for the state government - "has not been very successful."

I'm always up for a spirited debate, but I left the breakfast deflated. If prominent experts still are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum on urban sprawl, how can Florida's government - one so easily swayed by lobbyists and campaign contributions - possibly do the right thing?

When you don't know where you're growing, any road will take you there.

Consider the wide range of development thinking now in vogue in Florida.

In Tallahassee, Bush claimed in his recent State of the State address that new development in Florida needs to be linked directly to the infrastructure of roads, water and schools that such development demands.

"Our motto for economic opportunity in Florida has been, "If you build it, they will come,' " Bush stated in his remarks. "But we have to build all of it, including the infrastructure to support them when they get here."

That sentiment was echoed in Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio's annual State of the City address this week. She focused her remarks on efforts to revitalize the city's downtown, and to find ways to reduce the heavy traffic that increasingly clogs Tampa highways at rush hour.

"We have lousy mass transit. We have got to improve it," she said.

At the same time, state legislators were busy listening to developers and farmers. Developers complain Florida land near metro areas such as Tampa Bay has become too expensive. Farmers and citrus growers say they want more legal freedom to sell their increasingly high-priced acreage.

Earlier this week, the state House of Representatives passed the Agriculture and Economic Development Act. The measure, which awaits Senate attention, makes it tougher for local governments to stop development on agricultural land if 75 percent of adjacent acreage is developed.

Conventional antisprawl thinking says rampant low-density development, left unchecked, will eventually turn any metro area into a grotesque, 24-hour gridlock. Think Los Angeles. Or Tampa Bay in 2015.

Holcombe represents part of the antisprawl backlash. In a tour of Tampa's downtown, the professor cited the redevelopment efforts but noted a bunch of $240,000 condos won't do much to help the average Florida family.

With state government statistics showing about 190 people a day moving here - that's 1,330 people a week, more than 5,300 a month - the Tampa Bay area needs lots of new housing. And much of it needs to be reasonably affordable.

The honest outlook? Tampa Bay has no clue of the coming sprawl.

But there are hints. Like sitting bumper to bumper on the Tampa side of the Howard Frankland Bridge, or squeezing through Malfunction Junction, where Interstates 4 and 275 connect, trying to get downtown, at 8:30 a.m. on a workday morning.

Nationwide, the average one-way commute took 24.3 minutes in 2003, two minutes more than it did in 1990, according to a Census Bureau survey released this week.

Which Tampa Bay area county has the highest average one-way commuting time in that survey? Pasco County, at 28.5 minutes. Hillsborough County was less at 24.2 minutes, and Pinellas County was 23.1 minutes. Don't look for those commuting times to improve.

At Thursday's breakfast, one listener asked Holcombe: If urban sprawl is such a great thing, can he name any "great" cities that "embrace" sprawl?

"Tampa," the FSU professor said.

The answer did not sit well. Sprawl, we got. Embrace it, we do not.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

2,892 Posts
How does this guy define "embrace"? All major cities, which we might consider "great" have lesser dense suburbs and unincorporated areas of the surrounding counties which surround them, and where people live and commute into town- which would be classified as "sprawl." Boston, Chicago, LA (the obvious one), SF, Phoenix, ATL(another obvious one), NYC (NJ, Long Island, parts of Connecticut) and so on. Sprawl is a fact of life.

People live in the suburbs for a reason-- to get away from inner city crap and to raise their kids in a nice neighborhood. At least that was the reasoning back in the big suburb push which started 30-40 years ago. Cities were seen as dirty and unsafe.

I think what people are really protesting is the transformation of small satellite cities and towns into suburbs of the principle cities they surround. People don't want the hustle and bustle of central city life in their neighborhoods-- if they did, they would live in town. They want peace and quiet. And thats fine. But thats the underlying reason for their protest; also, property taxes increase when nice things are built in those areas.

And in Florida, we got other issues as well, like wetland preservation and the environment, etc...

I've talked to way too many people who hate city traffic. They hate crime. And they're not necessarily protesting new development b/c they care so much about the environment-- they're protesting b/c of how it affects their once quiet neighborhoods.

And that's what this is all about. Florida is a microcosm of the US as a whole. Too many new people moving in affecting peoples' existing quality of life.

4,422 Posts
There is a basic problem with both these guys and that is:

there is no one solution. Some people need/want suburban style some poeple need/want urban style. The problem, as I see it, is that through zoning, comphrehnsive plans, etc., that were created based solely on he subruban model - with big lots, large set backs, single use areas, etc., the system leans towards that model and you have to fight to get the other model. Plainly, what should be done is a three tier system - urban concepts in urban/inner ring areas, suburban concepts in middle ring areas, and rural concept beyond that. small towns should be limited until they are filled.

This crap is not hard, but there are vested itnerests on ALL sides that seem to think that you have to only have it one way or the other - you don't. I had a frined who lived in Germany for a year in a mjor city and when I visited him, he lived in a suburban area, complete with nearby cattle pasture and farmland, single family house with two car garages, and yards (though admittedly the yards were a bit smaller than many suburban US yards) - tehre was no train at you front door, though you could walk a bit to a bus station that would take you to the surburban train station next to the bar/restaurant and convenience store.- and from there go into town. It worked fine.

There is a tendency to generalize this crap too much . . . both these guys are correct in a way and both of them are wrong.

1,010 Posts
^^^I agree. Comprehensive plans and zoning codes need to be changed/amended/adjusted to truly reflect the roles each community plays in the dynamic of the region. I think the Tampa Bay metro (like most southern metros) is starting to go through that first wave of major redevelopment that cities like NYC and Chicago experienced many decades ago. The idea of truly high-density central cities, medium-density inner (older) suburbs and low-density outer suburbs is still new to Tampa Bay. Every place can't and shouldn't be a low-density suburb or a high-density urban center. The great cities/metros, like NYC and Chicago, have the full range of environments. Tampa Bay really doesn't have that yet. Hopefully, communities will get the idea and develop accordingly.
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