Sipping iced tea and café con leche around a well-worn wooden table, members of the Tampa, Fla.–based design collective Urban Charrette are eager to start their next projects—“demonstration projects,” as they put it—which will be designed to draw attention.
For Adam Fritz, Assoc. AIA, Taryn Sabia, Assoc. AIA, Ashly Anderson, JoAnne Fiebe, Matthew Suarez, Evan Johnson, and Kevin Kemp—Urban Charrette’s current leadership—the next gig could focus on a fully functioning streetcar loop connecting downtown neighborhoods south to north, east to west. Or streets defined by bicyclists and pedestrians. Or preventing childhood obesity.
“As an organization, we are proactively challenging the community leaders of Tampa to envision how great design can make a positive impact on their lives and create a sense of place in our community,” says Kemp, a University of Florida graduate working to obtain his structural engineer’s license. “A big part of that is engaging people through education and charrettes, so [that] they are involved in the conversation.”
Last year, Urban Charrette obtained nonprofit status and completed a strategic plan. But this year is a year of change: Three of the board’s members just completed advanced degrees related to urban design. Some are in new jobs. Others have new babies and new homes. But they are all still trying to establish their foundation in Tampa as a credible community-based organization, along with help from local authorities, developers, planners, and design firms. Recently, Urban Charrette members completed a log of geographic data for the city as part of an ongoing Tampa master plan. Based on existing data, they walked the streets to map trees, parking meters, bicycle lanes, and benches.
Remarkably, they all did it on a volunteer basis. “The solutions and the process that delivers them,” says Fritz, a graduate of the University of South Florida’s School of Architecture and Community Design who serves as Urban Charrette’s president, “are more important to us than who gets credit for them.”
To date, Urban Charrette–led open-mic nights, symposia, as well as educational projects such as Complete Streets, Eco.Lution, and Paint the Town Green have led to small-scale interventions that are starting to have a big effect, ranging from community gardens to music festivals. The group, which numbers a dozen architects, engineers, emerging professionals, and community activists, relies on strategic partnerships to build awareness of Tampa’s potential—which centers, largely, on connecting modes of travel.
Notably, the group worked with the Tampa Downtown Partnership on water-taxi terminals and a transit study, in conjunction with the AIA Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT). One element of connectivity in Tampa is its TECO Line Streetcar System, which is viewed as a good, if partial, start. The three-mile line runs in a half-moon shape from the downtown Tampa Convention Center into the city’s historic entertainment district, Ybor City—a fairly slim portion of the city. It’s a fun ride if time is not an issue, but it doesn’t offer much for commuters who want quick and easy transportation around the city to eat lunch or simply jettison their cars.
“Being sustainable isn’t just about being green or kind to the environment; it’s also about making a sustainable lifestyle,” says Sabia, a New Port Richey, Fla., native who has master’s degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design in architecture and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “The pieces are in place. Now we need to foster and bring them together by connecting Tampa. It’s that connection that will make Tampa sustainable.