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StPete2050: ‘Generational’ visioning effort kicks off next week

Megan Holmes

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Next week, the City of St. Petersburg will kick off StPete2050, a city-wide visioning process to shape what the city could look like 30 years from now. StPete2050 will be a strategic, multi-channel effort to engage the entire community in envisioning St. Petersburg’s future. City staff presented the initial plan to City Council, gathered as the Committee of the Whole Thursday morning at the Sunshine Center.

The City of St. Petersburg has undertaken numerous planning and visioning efforts throughout the years. StPete2050 follows in the footsteps of the city’s latest strategic plan, Vision 2020, developed in the early 2000s and largely focused on the city’s land use and zoning. Prior city-wide planning efforts include the City Wide Conceptual Plan of 1974, which emphasized low density suburban style neighborhoods in the north, south and west edges of the city; The Bartholomew Plan in the 1940s, which strengthened grid development and auto-mobile oriented commercial corridors; and the John Nolen Plan in the 1920s, which reinforced the importance of parks, civic buildings, and boulevards, many of the characteristics that give St. Petersburg the charm it is known for today.

The city is taking a fundamentally new approach to the StPete2050 process than its previous planning efforts. According to Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin, StPete2050 will seek voices outside of the normal channels of communication, facilitating an inclusive, city-wide conversation. Unlike previous planning efforts like the Vision 2020, The Pier and the Albert Whitted Master Plan, StPete2050 will not include a steering committee outside of city staff and elected officials. Also new this time around, city planning staff has proposed an 80/20 mix of activities to reach populations that don’t normally engage in city facilitated activities. Eighty percent of the activities surrounding StPete2050 will be staff meeting residents where they are, 20 percent of activities will be traditional meetings hosted by the city.

City staff plans to strategically engage all demographics, both young and old, online and in-person. They will be hosting conversations at churches and synagogues, schools and universities, neighborhood associations and businesses. But the city has also planned non-traditional means of communicating with younger citizens, like pub crawls and coffee talks, trivia events, small business sessions and “Ride the Bus” days. The first online survey will launch Nov. 4.

The specific meetings hosted by the city will be based on particular themes of the planning process. The kick-off events, which take place Nov. 7 at the James Museum and Nov. 9 at the Center for Health Equity, will be centered around the theme “Where We’ve Been.” Workshops held Jan. 30 and Feb. 1 will focus on the question “Where Do We Want to Go?” And workshops on Apr. 23 and Apr. 25 will ask “How Do We Get There?”

The feedback gathered from the community will inform a final vision plan, which will identify city-wide priorities, themes and recommendations. These recommendations will then go to the implementation stage, where they will inform Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulation (LDR) updates,  Integrated Sustainability Action Plans (ISAP) updates, Complete Streets, Health in All Policies, the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan, Mayor Kriseman’s Housing For All, From All plan, and many others.

Council member Ed Montanari raised concerns about the StPete2050 process not including a steering committee and the importance of creating a bottom-up, grassroots effort, rather than a top-down, staff and administration-driven plan. Council member Gina Driscoll echoed those concerns, arguing that a steering committee could strengthen community engagement throughout the process.

Tomalin, who was involved in developing the strategy of the plan, defended the new approach. “You mentioned the importance of it not being a top-down, staff driven effort and that’s absolutely correct,” Tomalin said. “You’ll recall 2020, there was a steering committee made up of community leaders. We decided very intentionally to move away from that model, in that it may designate that this planning belongs to a certain group of people. We have very purposely created a methodology and a structure that engages people we may have never met, we have never heard of, whose names we may never know, as much as the foundational community leaders and existentially that will drive a bottom-up, grassroots driven effort.

“We think it’s very important not to designate the voices of leadership in this,” Tomalin added. “This is an opportunity to allow perhaps emerging leaderships and voices that perhaps we don’t know the names of yet, and the city has elected representation that will be thoroughly involved in every step of the process.”

“I don’t want this process to have gatekeepers,” said Council member Darden Rice. “I would love to see a process where we see ideas bubble to the surface and people advocate for the ideas, but the ideas themselves have paramount importance, not who the stakeholder/gate keeper is championing that idea.

“How we do this is just as important as what we do and how we do this is our credibility and how we do this is trust. There’s going to be some struggles and some things to work through where we’re going to have to make up our minds about some things. Like how we’re going to approach density and increased density in various parts of our city. There are no easy answers.”

Council chair Charlie Gerdes emphasized the changing demographics of the city and cautioned picking out specific voices for a steering committee right away. “When I ran for City Council in 2011, the median age of the city was somewhere between 51 and 52,” Gerdes said. “Not that long ago, four years ago, the median age of the city was 46. Just in the nexus study we were presented last week, the median age of the city was 42.6 years old. So the city is changing in a pretty clear way and pretty dramatically fast, if you ask me.

“We have young people going to college and coming back, we have young people moving here and setting up and staying, which is all wonderful. The point of this is, these are the folks that are going to care very deeply about what St. Petersburg is going to look like in 2050. While I have an appreciation for this idea of a committee or some kind of group that’s going to shepherd this process, my suggestion would be to give it a bit.”

“Imagine if you would that there are multiple ways to get to the same destination, we don’t have to sacrifice organization or the very real involvement of people who would be on the steering committee in any way,” said Tomalin. “Coming out the gate in certain ways can certainly signal, or connote, that things are as they always have been. And we see our city, we know nothing is as it always has been. We want to be very purposeful in our signaling, that this is a new type of engagement designed to envision our city in a way that we never have before.”

All meetings for StPete2050 are free and open to the public. The first meetings of StPete2050 will be held:

  • Thursday, Nov. 7: 6-8 p.m. at The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art (150 Central Avenue). Details can be found here.
  • Saturday, Nov. 9: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Center for Health Equity (2333 34th Street South). Details can be found here.
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