We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2022 and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2022.
Lisset Hanewicz, a former prosecutor for the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office, brought her year to a close by becoming the first Latina elected to serve on the St. Petersburg City Council.
Hanewicz, of Cuban descent, defeated Tom Mullins for Darden Rice’s District 4 seat and will begin her term Jan. 6. Before running for city council, Hanewicz served as the president of the Crescent Lake Neighborhood Association, and her big idea for 2022 is something to make everyone’s neighborhoods a little more enjoyable while also bolstering the city’s sustainability efforts.
“For me, I think a simple one would be trees,” said Hanewicz with a hearty laugh. “Can we get more trees?”
Hanewicz would like to implement a program to provide residents with free trees. She said the state legislature enacted rules that would make such a program difficult but still believes the city can find a way to deliver on a project that aligns with its core values. She also noted Tampa has a similar program.
“Everybody talks about resiliency and sustainability, and to me, it just seems so simple …”
Hanewicz said that a portion of federal dollars earmarked for environmental efforts could be used to fund the program, including trees like mangroves to make the coastlines more resilient, and fruit trees that can be planted in areas considered food and nutrition deserts.
Hanewicz recalled growing up with two mango trees in her backyard and said fruit trees are “everywhere” in South Florida. With the price of fresh fruit from the supermarkets continuously climbing, she believes the tree program is a low-cost solution to providing nutritious food to those that may not otherwise be able to afford it.
While people may have questions on caring for the trees, Hanewicz said her neighborhood association started a similar program and enlisted the help of two master gardeners that served on the board. They instituted a tree planting day, and the gardeners met with anyone interested to help select the trees and find suitable spots to plant them. She said similar teaching days could aid residents.
“This is basically encouraging people to plant trees and increase our tree canopy in our city,” said Hanewicz. “Which I think if we’re going to be walkable, it’s much nicer to walk in an area where you have tree coverage.”
Hanewicz said the biggest obstacle to the program is getting the new mayor and administration on board and securing funding. She explained that people could apply for the program, and it could start on a small, case-by-case basis. She also thinks the majority of residents would appreciate the endeavor.
“The state doesn’t allow cities to regulate cutting down trees,” explained Hanewicz. “But there’s nothing that prevents a city from taking the initiative to encourage residents to plant trees and give people trees to plant.”
With a laugh, Hanewicz said the one thing she looks forward to the most in 2022 is her daughter finally having a Covid vaccine. She added that with more adults and now children receiving vaccinations, she is hopeful that people can return to a better sense of normalcy. In addition to hopefully overcoming Covid, she said she is also excited to serve her community.
“I’m excited for the new mayor; I’m excited about the new city council and serving my community,” said Hanewicz. “Continuing to serve my community, actually.”
Moving forward through 2022, Hanewicz believes the Tropicana Field redevelopment will have the most impact on St. Petersburg. She said the redevelopment will shape the city for years to come, and that is why it is paramount to get it right. She also said she would love to see its positive effects ripple through the surrounding neighborhoods that need it the most.
“That is probably our biggest challenge,” said Hanewicz. “I think it’s easier said than done.”
Hanewicz said that in order for the redevelopment to be successful, it requires a collaborative approach from the mayor, city council, developers and the community. She also stressed the importance of maintaining the city’s identity and what makes it special throughout the process.
“After the time I serve on city council, I hope when people are asked about where they live, they say the same thing that they do now, which is ‘I love St. Pete,'” said Hanewicz. “I think people truly love living here, and I hope they have the same feeling after I serve on city council.”