Sunday, March 9, 2008

Case Study - Pinellas County, FL - Vol. 2

We are currently at Earthtones on Bay Rd. in Penfield while our place is being shown. This gives me a perfect opportunity to get back into the case study. Part 1 yesterday dealt primarily with Clearwater and Safety Harbor. Part 2 will focus on Dunedin, St. Petersburg, and a group dedicated to raising awareness of urban issues as well as forming plans of action. Numbers preceeding cities are in reference to the Pinellas County map integrated into yesterday's post.

#6 - Dunedin

Named in Scots Gaelic after Dùn Èideann, or Edinburgh, the city of Dunedin, Florida is refreshing compared to its neighbors due to a lack of corporate franchise restaurants and signage. Even more shocking for Florida, bicycles are extremely common in the central business district and can be rented at two locations downtown.

Like Clearwater, Dunedin hosts major league spring training. Unlike Clearwater, the park is well integrated into the community and the city offers free parking for games near Main Street. After games, Main Street is abuzz with not only fans of the Toronto Blue Jays, but also the visitors who frequent Flanagan's Irish Pub, the Dunedin Brewery, and Casa Tina's to name just a few. Conspicuously, T.G.I. Friday's and Wal-Mart are completely absent from Dunedin.

Next year, when we plan our annual pilgrimage to masquerade as vacationing Canadians, we are going to strive to avoid the rental car by staying as close to Main Street, Dunedin as we can. The plan is to utilize the Pinellas Trail, a 39-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail, to venture to Honeymoon Island State Park and Clearwater Beach.

If there is a complaint about the urban character of Dunedin, it manifests itself in scale. I don't believe there are any buildings taller than four stories in a city of 36,000. The downtown really is largely limited to Main Street and the immediate surrounding blocks as the neighborhood between it and the ballpark consists exclusively of single family housing. We did however see signs for upcoming townhouse development along Douglas Avenue as more and more 70's era ranches with carports lose their tenants and appeal to attrition.

#22 - St. Petersburg

For a county seeking desperately for a vibrant core with contemporary urban behavior, St. Petersburg is beginning to fit the bill. The largest city in Pinellas County at 248,000 residents, St. Petersburg's downtown is undergoing a construction boom transforming both the skyline and the livability of its core.

On the first day of March, a Saturday, St. Petersburg is the picture of urban living at its best. Baseball fans await the first spring home game of the year at Al Lang Field, home of spring baseball in the city for 86 years. Next year the Rays plan to slide their operation down the coast to attempt to capture a larger market share, but this doesn't mean the end of professional baseball at Al Lang. An organization is proposing a massive development package that would replace the sterile former Florida Suncoast Dome with a new mixed-use urban village community, restoring Booker Creek as a natural waterway.

Many of these fans are sampling the wares of the Saturday Morning Market, St. Petersburg's grass roots farmer's market. Devised in the fall of 2002, the market was organized by a volunteer group striving for a sense of community spirit. Today it bustles with dozens of vendors of prepared food, produce, art, crafts, floral arrangements, and seafood. The market has grown in popularity by leaps and bounds. An artistic extension of it organized to the northwest in Williams Park, more commonly a bedroom for the homeless of the area. This proved so successful in late 2007 that it was extended into April 2008.

Dining opportunities abound along Central Ave. heading west from the old Detroit Hotel. Arcaded sidewalks protect pedestrians from the summer sun and simultaneously advertise a nightspot for any taste. The BayWalk complex (emphasis on walk) north of 2nd Ave. N contains opportunities for the shopper as well as the moviegoer and casual diner. At the far eastern end of 2nd Ave. N, hundreds of feet out into the bay, is the five story inverted pyramid known simply as 'The Pier.' This traditional mall offers a new twist on the experience, complete with fishing access.

Currently, partially finished high rise condo developments tower over the grandstand of Al Lang Field. The city is primed for a re-birth that includes aspects of skyline that were previously missing despite a strong population base. Density, walkability, and mixed-use do not appear to be foreign concepts to the citizens of St. Petersburg and in my opinion, this makes it an excellent place to visit for those who in the course of their travels, appreciate the urban experience first and foremost.


Copies of the bay area leisure publication 'Creative Loafing' just so happened to be free to patrons of Brady's Backyard BBQ in Safety Harbor (do I plug this place enough?). The February 27-March 4, 2008 edition featured a large torn satellite image of the metro area with the banner proclaiming "FIX IT NOW." Inside writer Wayne Garcia outlined 10 problems Tampa Bay has to fix as soon as possible and invited readers to help become part of the solution. To no surprise of mine, the number one issue was characterized as "Suburbia is Spreading Unchecked." Reading on, "2. The Value of Urban Density is Ignored." Keep going, "3. The Transportation System is Out of Date." Do I even need to say that numbers four and five dealt with environmental protection and energy conservation respectively? Do I need to say that this entertainment guide had my attention through dinner hundreds of miles away from home?

Kudos to Mr. Garcia for standing up to this wasteful culture and holding the stench of their major issues directly under their noses. He's not only done so through the periodical, but also through the launch of Here blog posts meld with reader comments and announcements such as the meeting places and times in each county for the Tampa Bay Area's Regional Transportation Authority's master plan discussions. The image above was lifted from the main page. It illustrates 22 years of 'growth' in the region from 1984-2006.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was a fortuitous issue of 'Creative Loafing' you picked up!

The Pier also sounds like a cool place to hang out. Like Fisherman's Wharf in SF, but not completely overloaded with people.

Nothing else right now. Have a picture of the University of Otago in Dunedin, South Island, NZ: