Oh what a difference four decades makes.
When I first arrived in Tampa in 1973, the city was a vastly different place. For example, there where actual stores in downtown where you could buy stuff that didnít involve a swizzle stick. Crazy, insane stuff like a shirt, or perhaps a pair of shoes. Just imagine.
More telling of the passage of time was the fact that if you exited I-275 at Fowler Avenue, there was nothing between you and the University of South Florida campus but: A) cows grazing and B) the University Restaurant.
Today that stretch of road is teeming with strip malls, pawn shops, more strip malls, gas stations, even more strip malls and eateries. Maybe this represents progress.
As Fowler Avenue grew into one continuous conga line of neon signs, so too, has the area and the hinterlands northward exploded in population. Hunterís Green, Tampa Palms and other subdivisions have taken root and now Bruce B. Downs Boulevard has become less of a roadway and more of a daily parking lot of countless cars going nowhere fast.
Things are going to get worse, or if you are a real estate developer, richer.
At the moment, there is a proposal to build 700 more homes in the K-Bar Ranch subdivision in the northeastern corner of New Tampa. And in order to make that work effectively, there has been a long-standing debate between Pasco and Hillsborough counties over expanding Kinnan-Mansfield Road from K-Bar Ranch to Wesley Chapel, which also has a seen a huge burp in its population.
In many respects, the back and forth between the two counties is a vivid example of the myopia that infects the development debate.
Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera, whose district includes New Tampa, has been the lone voice in opposing the K-Bar Ranch development. And he has been on the losing side of this argument, because he has committed the mortal sin of public service ó engaging in common sense. This guy has no future in politics.
Certainly, any expansion of K-Bar without the additional road expansion will only make what is already a cluster boondoggle of traffic woes even more severe. And the two counties, after more than a decade of wrangling and finger-pointing, appear no closer to resolving the road issue.
This is a classic case of Floridaís historic struggle to balance economic development and preserving the very natural beauty that makes Florida Florida.
John D. McDonald, the late writer and creator of the fictional detective Travis McGee, railed against the over-development of Florida, turning wetlands into vast cookie-cutter homes, destroying forests to build another golf course, blowing up the coastline to make room for another marina.
McDonald was prescient. And he was ignored.
It is folly to continue to rape the landscape and pour more cement for the sake of a dollar without even doing the barest bones due diligence to also address the 800 ton elephant in the room. Quite simply, if you are going to add 700 homes to a region already choking on its own exhaust fumes and your only feeble solution to the problem of moving people around is to expand more roads, isnít that, well, awfully stupid?
Viera will be dismissed as merely an anti-development crank because a checkbook always trumps rationality. K-Bar Ranch will get its 700 homes and no doubt they will be lovely. They better be lovely because its residents are going to be spending a lot of time in them because they wonít be able to get anywhere else.
The congestion will only become more acute because no one in any position to do anything about it canít think past the next election cycle, much less 10 or 20 years down the very over-populated roadways.
And somewhere John D. McDonald will be rolling in a grave thatís probably already been paved over.