Poet Robert Frost spoke of “The Road Not Taken”
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim”
We can see both paths, and they lead us in very different directions. Cities like people; grow and change over time. And like people, the hard path is not always followed – the right direction not always taken. Hard decisions are put off or never made - the path of least resistance is the common road. People and cities often follow the common path, a path that leads to unfulfilled dreams and promises.
Tampa is a great city – with assets and attributes that continue to draw newcomers here year after year.
But we can be greater still – our best days should always be ahead of us.
We see today the paths before us, the different directions we can take. What road shall we travel? For me it is clear. We should travel the road less traveled by.
That road leads to better neighborhoods.
We have seen what happened to some of America’s major cities when they allowed the quality of their neighborhoods to deteriorate. We cannot afford to go down that path. Crime must continue to go down, parks must continue to be built, and roads must be improved. Improvements to our underground system of pipes – drainage, water and wastewater must be a priority. They may not be the flashiest of investments, but they are a core responsibility and truly reflect the health of a city’s foundation.
That road leads to a city where mass transit provides for a transportation network that can carry us all into the future. A network that will link our residential neighborhoods, commercial employment and retail centers together throughout the region. Are there risks and obstacles to overcome? Yes. But we must take the lead – reaching out to all cities and counties in the region to join with us and this time showing the courage to see it through to reality.
On this issue, we must not waste a day.
Our long range comprehensive plan will need major updating to provide for a rail transit system. This will call for significant work on the part of the City Council – to change our land use plan to recognize where rail stations will go, where higher densities must go to support the rail and how we can protect transit corridors. This is difficult work, detailed work, but necessary to support a multi-modal transportation system that will meet the ever-growing demand.
We must change our transportation impact fee ordinance so that new development can contribute to transit - not just roads.
We must partner now with the private sector to identify possible transit station locations that can be set aside for future use.
We need a Regional Transportation Authority established to give our region an umbrella organization that can help all counties work together under one master plan.
Rail plans of the past are being updated and will show that rail benefits not just the urban core but the suburbs. A rail plan for Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties can show how all citizens will benefit from this investment.
Once a plan is developed and the cost analyzed we must go to the public for their opinion and support through a referendum. That same public is in the traffic jams we see everyday. They know the future goes beyond the expensive process of widening of roadways that only leads to further congestion. If a sensible cost efficient plan is put before the voters with a funding option I believe they will respond in a positive way.
The road for Tampa is one that will lead to a transformation for our Downtown.
In the next four years we will see the construction of Curtis Hixon Park as Tampa’s civic center of activity. It will house the new Tampa Museum of Art and the new Children’s Museum. The newly designed park will be the focal point for festivals and other special events. Ashley Drive will be re-done as a gateway entry into our city core.
As residential projects are completed our downtown must become more pedestrian friendly. We will accelerate our plan to turn our east-west roads into two way streets. Zack Street will become the beautiful Avenue of the Arts.
And we will build the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk is key – it opens the river to all people – it connects our major cultural institutions, and it provides for a safe walkable environment in our downtown core.
The master plan is complete. We have reached one-third of our goal in financing the project. Later this month we will be groundbreaking on an important segment that connects under the Platt Street Bridge and we will continue on a pay – as – you - go basis until completion. Think of what the Riverwalk will connect- the Channel District- the new Tampa Bay History Center, Cotanchobee Park – the Convention Center, USF Park, MacDill Park, to our beautiful new Curtis Hixon Park, the Tampa Museum of Art, the Children’s Museum, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, the Public Library, the new Waterworks Parks and The Heights residential project. This project will enliven downtown as no other single project can.
The road for Tampa to take is the one which leads to upgrading our most economically challenged neighborhoods. Our emphasis on East Tampa will continue. Over the next four years we have the opportunity to change forever the direction of East Tampa and of Central Park. We must wisely re-invest tax dollars to build quality infrastructure. An emphasis on crime reduction and code enforcement will continue. Where people feel safe, where there is investment in the basics, the private sector will invest.
Drew Park needs similar attention, as does West Tampa and Sulphur Springs. We are all one community and all parts of our city must prosper. This is often a difficult challenge- a difficult road- but one we must travel.
The road for Tampa is one that will lead to a better environment. Our city has signed on to the Climate Protection Agreement and while many of our environmental challenges are global in nature, there are many things we can do locally. We already have a group looking at ways to make Tampa a greener city. But two priorities stand out. We will expand the usage of our reclaimed water system to reduce reliance on drinking water for irrigation. We have a tremendous resource in reclaimed water – now we must put it to good use.
And it will be our priority to make Tampa a safer city for pedestrians and bicyclists. Our Greenways and Trails program will become a greater priority as will bike paths throughout our city. We need safer streets and options for people who want to ride a bike as an alternative to a car.
Just last week the Tampa Bay History Center received a gift. Tucked away in an attic in Ozono across the Bay, someone found an old box containing papers dating back to 1847. These are some of the most significant historical papers of our history.
History tells us there were three attempts to make Tampa a city. The first was in 1847 when John Jackson platted the community called the Village of Tampa. This later transitioned in 1855 to the first incorporation of the City of Tampa. But a curious thing happened after the civil war. A candidate John C. Lesley was elected Mayor on an unusual platform – called the no incorporation platform he vowed to dissolve the city of Tampa and that he did. The box found just recently contains the papers that someone took from City Hall after the government ceased to exist. Between 1869 until its current incorporation in 1887, Tampa was a community in flux - without clear leadership or direction.
Finally, the City of Tampa was re - created in 1887 and this year we celebrate the 120th year of its incorporation. For the past 120 years there has been steady progress. Sometimes Tampa has grown because of thoughtful planning and vision. Other times, it has just grown in a haphazard way. Some areas prospered – other parts of the city did not.
Today our city is the focal point for West Central Florida. It stands as a regional economic center, a center of academic excellence, a home for the arts and creative talent, a quality place to raise a family, a diverse community with its own unique personality. A city with a destiny.
So we stand at the point where two roads diverge.
One path, easier to take, the other a harder path indeed.
But the tougher path leads us to the greater good.
When Tampa and this region can boast of a modern rail transit system
When all neighborhoods flourish and blight is no more
When we are known nationally as a diverse, creative community – where the arts are intertwined into our civic life – where creativity is celebrated – where all people are accepted as friends and neighbors.
A city that makes room for walkers and bicyclists in our city core – a walkable, livable city.
A city that has built a Riverwalk that connects our cultural assets downtown and opens the riverfront for all to enjoy.
And what will be written for the future box in the attic – the one found tucked away, a hundred years from now that tells the story of the first decades of this millennium?