Reality Check plans growth
My team built a monster highway through nature preserves and wetlands, over my dead body. Then they defiled the rural landscape with urban sprawl.
300 growth gods-for-a-day at Reality Check Tampa Bay were divided into 32 tables of 8 to 10 people—each table shaping future development on their own map of the 7-county region around Tampa Bay—and I was stuck arguing with a table full of developers, a county commissioner, and other Friends of Sprawl. Story of my life.
Community activist Anita Jimenez came over and rescued me. Led me by the hand through the Convention Center to her table’s map: a vision of Smart Growth compacted in cities connected by multi-modal transit corridors—a land where agriculture still flourished in central Florida and vast stretches of green space were unmarred by development.
All the growth forecast for the next 50 years was given to each team in the form of Legos. Yellow Legos represented housing, red Legos were commercial development. We placed the Legos on our maps where we would direct growth, and pinned colored ribbons down where we would build roads (purple) or rail (orange).
With 90 minutes to cram a jillion legos in SOMEWHERE—while a facilitator prods you to “HURRY!”—you can’t engage in real planning. You are given certain unquestionable assumptions as rules of the game. The exercise is designed to teach people the Reality Check lesson that we have only 2 choices in the face of massive growth:
- Continue sprawling into the rural areas
- Build very high density in the urban areas
Thankfully the majority rejected #1. Most teams left great swaths of agricultural & natural areas undeveloped. But everyone was forced to “accept the reality” that we are going to have to allow development of much higher densities than most of us really want in our communities. Reality Check leads its participants to spread the gospel that people must stop complaining about high density proposals in their neighborhoods. It is the only way, they say, to accommodate all the “inevitable” growth, yet save some green space AND make mass transit viable.
Check out the results of the Reality Check exercise. Looking at the 32 maps created, you can see that some teams built a beltway or two, some didn’t. Some sprawled more than others. Some built up the cities more than others. (You weren’t allowed to drown your legos in the bay.)
I cynically expected the 300 carefully selected invitees to be overweighted with developers and politicians, compared to the general population, and I was right about that. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this group as a whole was determined to avoid the horrific prediction which 1000 Friends of Florida says we are heading for if we don’t change our ways. I was heartened to hear the keynote speakers talk of preserving community character and protecting all we love about Florida from overdevelopment. I found a ray of hope in this group’s top 6 “guiding principles” for growth (Power Point), listed here in order of priority:
- Promote quality communities to create a sense of place by uniquely clustering higher density mixed-use development, organized around transportation corridors.
- Maximize mobility using multi-modal transportation.
- Preserve natural systems, emphasizing connectivity and sustainable water supplies.
- Balance jobs and housing for affordable quality of life. (tie with 5)
- Attract higher paying jobs—strengthen economic development.
- Preserve farmland and sustain the role of agriculture.
I agree with the message that we have to start building up instead of out, and we need to mix housing with jobs & services to cut down on commuter traffic. Still, I question the assumptions of this exercise. More on that later. But whatever your thoughts on the subject, I encourage you to participate. A lot of influential people are involved, and their ideas will carry considerable weight. So should yours.
Sign up at myonebay.com to be included in the conversation that will help shape our region’s future development.
Other blog posts about the excercise:
- Mark Holmgren’s blog has another Reality Check participant’s perspective.
- Sarasota Speaks has a hard-to-read overview.
- Vinny Tafuro planned to go, but doesn’t (yet) say how it came out.
- Wayne Garcia: The biggest positive was “putting leaders from seven counties into the same Tampa Convention Center room…” Also, this vision has support.