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Community Voices: An environmental opportunity at Tropicana Field

Robin Davidov

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How do you find the center of a city? It is the place where, as Frederick Law Olmsted observed, “The enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.”

In her presentation, based on her brilliant book Where Have All the Mangoes Gone?, Sarah Jane Vatelot says that the center of St. Petersburg is Straub Park, along the downtown waterfront. She goes on to present a succinct argument for creating a new city center, one that is more centrally located and accessible, at the Tropicana site. She does not limit her analysis to the 86 acres under scrutiny but challenges us to widen our field of vision and consider the impacts of the proposed redevelopment on our entire city.

As the city moves forward in selecting a developer, I’d like to add one important perspective – environmental mitigation. For many years, all federally funded public works projects have been required to evaluate environmental impacts and to examine alternative designs that minimize adverse impacts on water and air quality, natural habitats and human health. When there are no design changes available for consideration, environmental mitigation is evaluated. For example, in order to improve surface water quality, the installation of porous pavement for parking lots and rain gardens is preferable to non-porous pavement and traditional stormwater ponds. When porous pavement is not possible in the design, a mitigation project is developed.  Such a project might be replacing a paved area outside the development site with natural vegetation, such as a park. The net effect would be improvement of water quality in both the watershed and Tampa Bay.

Air quality is another environmental impact requiring careful study. We know that vehicles generate particulate matter from their exhausts. A high concentration of these particles leads to increased incidence of respiratory illness, such as asthma. One environmental mitigation of increased vehicular traffic might be to plant and maintain vegetation and other similar programs that would lower the incidence of respiratory illnesses. 

We are fortunate to live in a city that provides reclaimed water: many jurisdictions are not as forward thinking. We have come to rely on this water for maintaining landscapes. We know that during dry weather times, as in the past few months, reclaimed water is not an unlimited resource. The incorporation of low-water-use plants in the Tropicana redevelopment design is an obvious choice, but replacing high-water-use vegetation in other public properties could also be an important mitigation effort.

Potable water is another concern for our county. The inclusion of low-water flush toilets and shower heads is a clearly desirable option for any new buildings on the Tropicana site. However, there will inevitably be a large increase in the amount of water consumed onsite, which could be mitigated offsite. Replacement of old fixtures and appliances with more efficient ones is one such offsite mitigation. 

The Tropicana site redevelopment project is an exciting opportunity for creating a vibrant new cultural center for our city. We have the tools to measure all aspects of its impact on our water, air and health. Implementing environmental mitigation projects will assure the continued availability of these essential services and improve our quality of life.

Robin Davidov, a member of ASPEC (the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College), is an environmental professional and the former Executive Director of the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, where she led the development of renewable energy, composting, and recycling projects.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer only. No endorsement of these opinions by ASPEC or Eckerd College is either expressed or implied. 

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