This year has been one continuous rush. Between the demands of work, family duties, various city issues coming up, and a political campaign, I have had precious little quiet time to simply kick back and dream. This past weekend was an exception.
For the first time in over a month, I could queue up an LP, sit down and dream about things we can do to make our city THE city on the Suncoast that people consider special.
We have quite a few things that set us apart from other cities in the Tampa Bay area. We have an award winning public library. We have a river that changes from “wilderness” to suburban as it flows through town. We have some of the most amazing parks in the area. We have some superb eateries and shops. We have an urban gardening movement that threatens to make us famous far beyond the editorial page of the Tampa Bay Times. We have some amazing people all dreaming about how we can make the city an absolutely amazing place to live.
Planners and academics like to have groups go through something called a SWOT analysis. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. We hear enough about our weaknesses and various threats. Today is a day to considering our strengths and dreaming about the opportunities presenting themselves.
I had the opportunity a week ago to spend time at the Grey Nature Preserve. There are people that drive right past it daily that have no idea that there is a 94 acre Nature Preserve sitting inside our city. I gave one of them a tour. The further we walked, the bigger his eyes got. He had no idea it existed or how cool it is. As we dream, we need to think about how a new entrance, at the south end of Congress Street, is going to make the Preserve more accessible and how Gulf Middle School will be able to take advantage of it as they teach our children about nature. Might a nature education center be worth building? It could tell the story of the Cotee River, from its origins north of SR 52 all the way to the gulf.
I will put our city library, its staff, and its programs up against the library of any comparable city. We can definitely make it better, but we are starting at a high level already. I am particularly proud of the Banned Books concert series and Tasty Tuesdays. I fully expect lots of new ideas on how to expand our library services going forward.
Making the city more bicycle and pedestrian friendly is another dream that I believe we can make a reality. My last NPR Note went into some detail on this topic: https://robmarlowe.com/long-range-long-distance-planning/
The current work downtown replacing the Drake Elms is an opportunity to re-think both how we provide shade to pedestrians and how we use outdoor spaces downtown. Will local businesses take advantage of city matching grants to install awnings over the sidewalks?
There was a spirited discussion on Facebook this weekend about the virtues of extending sidewalk dining into a few of the parking spaces on Grand.
This is definitely an idea worth exploring. The trade-off is between more cafe style sidewalk dining and the lose of convenient parking.
There are opportunities to make New Port Richey “greener”. There is a new solar farm going up in East Pasco. My mom’s doctor is installing solar collectors on her office’s roof. The city has empty property and roofs that might be suitable for solar gear. If the cost recovery period is short enough, it might be worth considering.
EV and Plug-in Hybrids are becoming mainstream. Now is the time to think about where we might put public charging stations and consider whether or not it would be cost effective to start looking at EVs and Plug-ins as our city fleet ages out. We can learn from neighborhood communities, such as Oldsmar, Clearwater, and Sarasota County.
I spent part of Saturday morning driving around to see how easy it would be to run power from our library, rec. center, and other buildings out to the curb for charging stations. There is no technical reason we can’t do it. The question is how much it might cost and could it be monetized to cover the cost. Oldsmar and Clearwater both charge for charging. I’m pretty sure that our current commercial grant programs would make it painless for businesses to add charging stations of their own.
Sometimes stepping away from the daily grind and dreaming about what could be is good for us.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor