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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
Editorials

Speak up now to shape Hillsborough’s future

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For another month, area residents have an extraordinary chance to influence how and where the area grows. Taking part is easy and important.

To guide upcoming plan-writing by the county, Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City, planners are inviting everyone to weigh in.

If you think planning doesn’t matter, consider how choices made a generation ago set a course toward today’s far-flung development, fast growth and congestion.

As the Hillsborough City-County Planning Commission wants everyone to understand, choices we all make now will shape out children’s local opportunities and limitations.

What we like most about this exercise is its educational side. The survey, which can be completed online at Imagine2040.org, asks you as a participant to pick top priorities from a list.

Next, you jump right to the heart of things by seeing what priorities you help or hurt when you select one of three possible ways to grow. These are named suburban dream, bustling metro, and new corporate centers.

The object is not to lead folks to the vision preferred by planners, says Ray Chiaramonte, executive director of the planning commission. His goal is broad participation without the oversimplification of wishful thinking. The interactive nature of the plan helps participants avoid misconstruing the predictable consequences of their choices.

The suburban plan would allow houses, apartments and businesses to push deeper into undeveloped areas.

The metro plan would encourage building in urban centers and would hold firm on the suburban growth boundary, a growth restriction we believe has proved valuable.

The corporate center plan would allow new campuses for offices and industry, probably along major highways. These centers would attract new jobs, but the development is unlikely to be compatible with surrounding rural neighborhoods.

All approaches have costs and benefits, and the final plans will no doubt include some of all three, Chiaramonte tells us.

How the balance is struck will help determine the character and prosperity of the region in years ahead.

Remember that the Florida Legislature has decided that planning is a local job best done without state oversight.

And we cannot count on the U.S. Congress to pump vast sums our way for new transportation projects.

More than any other point in recent history, Hillsborough is on its own.

It is heartening to know that until Oct. 20 people of all walks of life will be thinking about the future and submitting informed opinions. They know planning means more than filling every vacant corner with a new snack store and set of gas pumps.

Part of the challenge is to build on what the previous generation did right, such as preserving valuable environmental lands and fostering a healthy climate for business growth.

The harder part is to begin correcting past oversights, such as the pattern of daily commutes that grow longer and more costly each year.

The exercise is called, “Let’s Design Hillsborough’s Future.” It’s a bit of an overstatement, because the future is not a blank slate on which to freely sketch our best dreams.

What happens will also be determined by consumer preferences, property rights, the health of the economy, demographic shifts, local politics, and much more.

But there is a lot to be decided democratically about where most of the new homes and businesses will go and what they will look like. You owe it to future generations to do what you can to expand their prospects.

Participate and help imagine a better 2040.

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