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Optimism and a thousand charrettes.

During the development of Tampa, Florida's Comprehensive Plan in late 2007, our organization, the Urban Charrette, saw an opportunity to engage various stakeholders to help contribute by addressing planning and sustainability for neighborhoods in the city. After countless conversations and meetings, it was apparent that it was time to act and offer leadership in using design as a tool for change. We hosted several Saturday morning workshops and forums to help define our direction. Knowing we needed a process to bring together all the facets of our city, we submitted a proposal to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Communities by Design for an SDAT (Sustainable Design Assessment Team). The SDAT technical assistance grant provided expertise in two areas essential to Tampa's future: sustainability and design.

Timing: State of Change

Florida's population did not begin to experience rapid growth until the twentieth century. The ascent to being the fourth most populous state took place after World War II, when increased wealth and the automobile allowed millions of Americans to become mobile. This migration brought a vibrancy and energy to Florida that have continued to this day. The perspective of these newcomers was different from that observed in earlier American migrations. According to historian Gary Mormino (p. 11):
   Several generations of Americans helped fulfill
   the modern Florida dream. Scarred and shaped
   by the Great War and the Good War, the Roaring
   Twenties and the Great Depression, these
   citizens brought to Florida a deeply held system
   of values enshrining freedom, individualism, and
   the pursuit of happiness.

Once known as the Cigar Capital of the world, Tampa saw early development filled with cultural clubs, compact neighborhoods connected by more than fifty miles of streetcar lines, a bustling port, and wildlife on the Hillsborough River. Today these historic neighborhoods struggle to maintain their place in the broken urban fabric after being severed by highways. Remnants of brick streets and rail tracks covered by asphalt represent Tampa's coming of age during the rise of the automobile. Ad hoc planning ultimately shaped Tampa's sprawling development pattern, both within the city limits (especially in a series of master planned communities known as New Tampa) and in the suburbs, which spread into the surrounding counties and strained infrastructure systems. This physical disconnection of the built environment contributed to the detachment of Tampa's social and political infrastructure. Organizations worked tirelessly to bring Tampa back to life, but they were confined to separate silos. As a result of poor planning, lack of design, and disjointed civic life, the only thing certain was that Tampa was not sustainable.

As it has for the last fifty years, growth will continue to be the most significant challenge and greatest opportunity for the city. Through 2025, the population of Tampa is projected to grow by 21.6 percent. In recent years, under the administration of Mayor Pam Iorio, the city has begun to proactively address how growth can be used as a means for creating a more sustainable built environment. The new Tampa Comprehensive Plan (the Plan) is the most significant of these initiatives. As the primary policy document shaping growth and development in the city of Tampa, the Plan (Tampa Comprehensive Plan: Building Our Legacy A Livable City) plays a significant role. The Plan represents a change in how the city handles land use decisions, focuses growth, and includes the policy framework for a multifaceted approach to achieving sustainability. In addition, the Plan fosters capacity building of organizations to help move the city of Tampa toward its goal of becoming a truly livable city.

The Urban Charrette, a Tampa-based collaborative of young professional designers, is adaptable, contextual, and holistic in its approach and practice related to issues of sustainability and urban design. In many ways, we are modeled as an ongoing charrette. (We define the term as an intense, collaborative design process.) Through key projects such as the Tampa Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT), we hope to make the Urban Charrette a resilient voice in our community. For example, we organized a project, the result of a charrette, called Conceptual Kiley to draw attention to the neglect of a local urban garden designed by the renowned landscape architect Dan Kiley. It incorporated artists and urban design. The Urban Charrette asked local artists to create sculptural trees to stand in place of those that had been lost, bringing public awareness to the park's past and potential future. The project taught us that we must identify proactive ways to use charrettes in creating a positive culture of change. The Urban Charrette recognized the AIA's SDAT grant as a catalyst for a different form of civic participation. To quote the AIA website, the program brings together architects and other professionals from across the country to "provide a roadmap for communities seeking to improve their sustainability." We believed it was the right vehicle for our organization to continue its mission to bring agencies, organizations, and individual citizens together to discuss the needs of Tampa from different perspectives. Our organization listened earnestly to the community and talked constructively about the collective future and how these groups could have an impact. To get this project off the ground, the Urban Charrette engaged the leadership of the City of Tampa, the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission, the University of South Florida, community organizations, and local planning and architecture professionals. The experience and local knowledge of this guiding committee made them an asset to the process. A three-day SDAT visit helped define a vision and framework for a more sustainable Tampa, called Connecting Tampa.

The logistical challenges and fundraising requirements for the SDAT represented an important capacity-building exercise for the Urban Charrette. In addition to brochures and flyers, we sought collaboration with the community beyond the traditional media. We designed a user-friendly social networking platform, and we encouraged the SDAT participants to create a personal profile and contribute to the website Tampa's Sustainable Future.

Members of the website facilitated a conversation about sustainability, design, and their community. Evolving beyond the initial conversation, this use of technology to work with a diverse audience has become a clearinghouse for urban design issues in the area.

The Urban Charrette's outreach efforts encouraged stakeholders to share ideas and be active listeners. With a broader format and larger audience, the SDAT gave diverse community groups the opportunity to come together in a single process. Through open conversation, the City of Tampa, organizations, and businesses actively listened to one another. The successes of the SDAT visit and resulting report were not only the insights and actionable recommendations conveyed but the new relationships that were formed. These organizations shared a similar vision for Tampa and saw the value and importance of helping to make SDAT a success for the Urban Charrette and the community as a whole.

Shared Learning

Shared learning is important to our framework because it establishes a collective understanding. We use workshops, visioning sessions, charrettes, and forums not only to educate the public but more important to help us gain deeper understanding of community issues. A successful process encourages the public to contribute meaningful insight. We achieve this by posing relevant questions, maintaining a design focus, and shaping the conversation by way of input on creative solutions to key issues.

The organization continues to use the concept of building a collective understanding in our current programming, including our Open Mic series. This serves as a forum for community discussions. The fundamental optimism of our organization and our focus on design steers this participatory program toward opportunity and away from common complaints. Since SDAT, this monthly series has become a driving force of community interaction for the Urban Charrette. The topics of discussion focus on issues of sustainability at the neighborhood scale. One of our most successful conversations was Community Gardens, which served as a catalyst for local citizens to develop a new garden in the Seminole Heights Neighborhood.

As part of our community design program, the Urban Charrette planned and facilitated a charrette for the Tampa Downtown Partnership: Water Taxi Design Charrette. Every city that resides on the water's edge has the opportunity to distinguish itself through great waterfront design. Port cities such as Tampa are unique communities because of the interplay between the built and natural environments. The relationship of the city's inhabitants to the water's edge captures the spirit of place and encourages ingenuity. The Hillsborough River has played an important role in Tampa's estuary, cultural heritage, and economy. The Water Taxi Charrette was equally important to our education about the river and its impact on the community. It taught us that the river, as an organizing feature, can realize its value once again.

Much like a charrette, shared learning builds consensus through a collaborative process. Our shared learning process allows us to be adaptable as an organization and maintain a holistic perspective on Tampa.

Implementing Design

Exceptional urban design is the foundation of a successful and healthy community. Design, as a tool, is central to the Urban Charrette's mission because it constitutes a foundation for building a collective understanding of Tampa's vision. Consistently talking about quality, contextually sensitive design has helped us build trust with the Tampa community, which in turn has brought the Urban Charrette unique opportunities and partnerships.

The Tampa SDAT has resulted in a new, clearer message for the Urban Charrette, one that raises the level of design awareness by establishing a design vocabulary in order to share a sustainable vision for Tampa's future. Since the conclusion of SDAT, the Urban Charrette has focused on this vision of Tampa by fostering new design partnerships, new types of interactive design demonstrations, and, in response to the final SDAT report, establishing five Tampa-centric sustainability focuses.

As a result of the goals of SDAT, the Urban Charrette initiated a project entitled Street-to-City, a series of self-empowering programs designed to give citizens a perspective on their communities so as to develop the knowledge to improve their environment through design, partnerships, and education. We recognized the need to partner with a Tampa-based institution. The University of South Florida offers graduate-level research for nonprofits and government agencies. The partnership produced not only much needed case-study and best-practices research for Street-to-City but also a multidisciplinary perspective. The Urban Charrette needed information on local, national, and international strategies for neighborhood capacity building; the research team produced unique strategies that can be incorporated into neighborhood educational modules.

Through the Urban Charrette's relationship with the Tampa Downtown Partnership, we offer an urban eating space at the Downtown Farmer's Market each Friday. In turn, the Urban Charrette advertises our upcoming events at the market. One Friday in February we took it a step further. An interactive design demonstration, entitled Mobility Market, started with an impromptu workshop at an Open Mic. Local designers sketched complete street concepts onto a section of downtown Tampa. Those drawings led to a full-scale demonstration of a complete street at the Friday market. Landscaping, bike lanes, cross walks, a bus shelter, mixed zoning, cafe seating, and on-street parking invaded an otherwise auto-centric streetscape. Many commuters who typically do not experience downtown except through their office windows walked through the demonstration and asked a lot of questions. This tangible, full-scale model started a conversation and offered a new perspective on what citizens should expect from the design of Tampa's streets.

A consensus vision developed during the SDAT visit inspired the Urban Charrette to identify five sustainability focus areas: transit, natural assets and public space, community building through the arts, local economy, and neighborhoods. We translated these place-making devices into easily understood topic areas that help to define a sense of place in Tampa. Our goal is to incorporate them as organizational features of the mission of each new project to develop a clear path for the future of our design collaborative.

The Urban Charrette recently celebrated its third birthday. Our work has led to lasting community partnerships and a growing presence of quality urban design projects, making us a valued resource for the city. We were asked to participate in the sustainability component for the recent 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup proposal. Neighborhood organizations have asked us to assist them in their planning efforts. We have completed two transit-oriented charrettes, the Tampa Water Taxi Charrette and the TECO Line Streetcar Signature Station Charrette. Most exciting, life is beginning to return to Kiley Gardens. The City of Tampa restored and reopened the park, though funding is still needed for the trees. The Urban Charrette is developing a campaign to foster community support to replant the lost crepe myrtles.

DOI: 10.1002/ncr.20023


American Institute of Architects. "About the AIA. Programs & Initiatives: Sustainable Design Assessment Teams (SDAT)." 2010. AIAS075425.

Mormino, G. Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005.

Ashly Anderson is an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers.

JoAnne Fiebe has worked as director of planning and development for a Tampa-based construction firm.

Evan Johnson is a certified planner (AICP) and board member of the Urban Charrette.

Taryn Sabia, founder of the Urban Charrette, received the 2008 Creative Catalysts Award for Creating a Livable Community.
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Title Annotation:Urban Charrette
Author:Anderson, Ashly; Fiebe, Joanne; Johnson, Evan; Sabia, Taryn
Publication:National Civic Review
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Sep 22, 2010
Previous Article:The civics of sustainability: an overview.
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