Urban Advisor

All about rebuilding communities and restoring hope.

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Saint Petersburg, Florida, United States

The Two-Family House: The Future of Housing in the Sunbelt

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Most major cities in the Sunbelt have few if any natural barriers to growth. That is to say that in many cases there are no natural features, such as lakes, rivers, mountains, etc. that would limit growth. Cities such as Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Phoenix, Charlotte and even Orlando can pretty much grow in any direction. The only limits would be regulation, such as urban growth boundaries established by local or state governments, or just economic conditions that prevent further expansion.

Due Volte Casa Two-FamilyHouse

However, there are a few cities with significant natural barriers. St. Petersburg is one such city. Surrounded on three sides by water, there is no room left for further expansion. The only option for growth in a city like St. Petersburg is increased density. This is very difficult to accept when much of the city itself was developed in a suburban, low-density manner, and that is what people are used to culturally. Density is developing in downtown, but eventually it will have to spread to other parts of the city in order for the city to continue to prosper and add to its tax base.

Due Volte Casa first floor plan

So how can density be achieved while still maintaining the single-family nature of most of the city? I propose the introduction of the two-family house. The two-family house looks like a single family house, but it actually is two houses in one. It is different from a townhouse or rowhouse, in that it does not have a multi-family or multi-unit look. This is also different from the main house with accessory unit, in that these are two full-size units integrated into one building. The two-family house is very common in older northeastern and Midwestern cities, but a rarity (if they even exist) in newer Sunbelt cities like St. Petersburg.

The two-family house provides many benefits to the city overall. The main benefit is that it increases density in a somewhat low-impact way. The city can still maintain much of its character in terms of architectural style and neighborhood aesthetic, while allowing for population growth. This population growth increases the need for additional services such as neighborhood-serving retail. They also provide an option for families that wish to stay in an urban environment without living in an apartment complex, townhouse or condominium.

Due Volte Casa second floor plan

So what about things like parking and private yard space - the things that most people value, and why many choose to move to the suburbs? Well, parking can still be provided in the design of the house with garages, or even reserved street parking. Open space can still be provided on site as well, by design, or residents can choose to enjoy the numerous neighborhood "pocket" parks throughout the city already in place. It might not be private, but it provides the open space needed for play and recreation. It is a trade off to be made for all the benefits of city living such as retail within walking distance, and being close to employment and cultural offerings.

So as St. Petersburg, and its counterparts in the Sunbelt, look to grow within, whether by force (natural boundaries) or by choice (government-established boundaries), then the two-family house should be an option on the table as a housing type to encourage the development of within the city limits.

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Light Rail Transit: Pinellas leads the way!

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Well, not quite...or not yet. Hillsborough County's light rail plan seemed to offer the greatest hope that something big might be happening here in Tampa Bay. That, along with new new high speed rail between Tampa and Orlando, and the Tampa Bay area was about to hit the big leagues. We know that transit is very important to urban design and economic development. Fixed transit, particularly rail transit, like any infrastructure investment, can dramatically change development patterns, and can greatly improve access to jobs (something employers look for when planning expansions and relocations). New transit has redefined many cities in recent decades - many in the Sunbelt, such as Charlotte, NC, and Phoenix, AZ. So when light rail in Hillsborough and high speed rail were both delayed indefinitely, all steam seemed to be taken out of the push for transit improvements here in Tampa Bay.

However, quietly, Pinellas County has been moving forward with its transit plans by doing an alternative, taking the first and crucial step toward developing its portion of what would eventually become a regional transit system. From what I've seen, it looks pretty promising. The routing of the first leg of what I predict will be light rail will go from Downtown St. Petersburg to Downtown Clearwater through Gateway. It hits the the major employment centers, provides direct access to the St. Pete-Clearwater airport and would eventually connect across the bay to Downtown Tampa through Westshore.

It has always been my thought that Pinellas and Hillsborough should come together on transit, and build a rail line from Downtown St. Pete to Downtown Tampa first, and expand from there. This would connect the two major urban centers, biggest employment centers, and really help both cities build true urban environments by way of transit oriented development. TBARTA may be vehicle for this. There seems to be an attitude of cooperation and collaboration building. However, I know with the bureaucracies in place, its difficult for the counties to work together. Until then, I am glad Pinellas continues to move forward, and hopefully will lead the way! We will revisit this other posts. Until then, I will say that I look forward to voting yes for this initiative next November.

If you are interested in this, check it out at www.pinellasontrack.com

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Tropicana Field Redevelopment

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So, if you live in the Tampa Bay area, you probably have seen and heard the debates about the Rays and Tropicana Field - should St. Pete put some money into building a new stadium for the Rays, should a new stadium be on the waterfront or at the current location, should the Rays continue to play in St. Petersburg or move to Tampa. Well, this is my proposal. I say give the Rays what they want - let them move to Tampa. However, in letting them go, there needs to be a plan in place for what to do with that land.

Tropicana Field property is definitely the greatest opportunity for the city of St. Petersburg to do something definitive, game changing, transformational for the city and the region as a whole. So, I have an idea, or even several ideas, of what to do with it. I will share one vision with you all.

First, leadership must be willing to let the Rays go, but at a price. Let them pay the city either the balance of the lease or the cost to demolish the stadium, whichever is greater. Use those funds to rebuild the infrastructure on the property and prepare it for its new use.

So what will be the new use? My proposal: an urban educational and research center. My proposal involves a new campus for the St. Petersburg College Health Science programs, a new facility for the University of South Florida School of Pharmacy, the new Florida A&M University College of Medicine and Dentistry, a hotel and conference center, student housing and office/research facilities for new businesses that wish to take advantage of this new hub of brain power. Yes, I know some of these institutions don't exist yet or may already exist in other locations, but we could get them to locate here to be a part of something big. Below is a zoning map of how it would all lay out on the site.

Pink = Hotel/Conference Center
Blue = St. Petersburg College Health Science Center
Orange = Florida A&M University College of Medicine and Dentistry
Green = University of South Florida School of Pharmacy
Light Green = Office/Research space for lease
Dark Green = Surface parking, lots available for future development
Purple = Student/Professional Housing
Brown = new transit hub

The goal of this is to build off one of downtown St. Pete's growing educational and research strength with the Bayboro district (USF-SP, SRI, Draper, etc.) and the hospitals (John Hopkin's All Children's, etc.) and create another center for medical and pharmaceutical education and research. This would certainly attract companies looking to be near institutes that will educate and train the workers they need, and help create a pipeline of local talent for companies already in the area that currently have to recruit from outside the region to get qualified workers. Also, it creates a continuum, in that education and research can happen here at this new district, and manufacturing can build in the Dome Industrial Park to the west. Further, this brings thousands of new jobs and even more people to downtown to support the development of additional housing and retail. Even more, it would change the image of downtown St. Pete, making education and employment just as prominent as leisure and residential.

So, this is my vision. And I am sure we will revisit this, maybe with some 3D models of what it could look like. Until then, let me know what you think!

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Welcome from your Urban Advisor

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Hello! My name is Ashon Nesbitt, and welcome to my blog! I am a native of St. Petersburg, FL, with degrees in Architecture, Urban Planning and Real Estate and some legal educational background. I love cities! I love urban development! I love all that cities have to offer in terms of quality of life - employment, education, entertainment! I also love my city, St. Petersburg, FL. Well, it is developing into what I call a "real" city, slowly but surely, but we will talk more about that as I post on my blog.

So, what is the purpose of this blog? I started this blog to share my ideas and thoughts on urban development, particularly here in my city. I like to read and observe what other places are doing and think about how similar things would work here. This is also a place for you to share your ideas with me. This stuff really excites me! So I look forward to the dialogue that will take place here! I'll be back soon with my first idea post: what to do with Tropicana Field in St. Pete.

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