Tallahassee Is Growing. Like What You See? Tell Your Commissioners

Oct 6, 2016

Credit Regan McCarthy WFSU News

Multi-use, multi-modal, walkability—chances are you’ve heard few of these buzz words thrown around as Tallahassee’s landscape changes and new development comes in. But who decided Tallahassee should be any of those things? And what happens if you’re not sure you like it? WFSU looks into how local development and the upcoming election might intersect.

From a place for concerts to a perfect picnic spot, Tallahassee’s Cascades Park may be considered the crown jewel of Tallahassee’s most recent development efforts. City officials envision a walkable community that starts in College town and moves East connecting neighborhoods down Gaines Street—eventually culminating at the park where most evenings kids play and people, like Trish Redd, take advantage of the running paths.

“It’s a really nice, well lit, safe place for us to come out in the evening and just have sense of community and see each other in the evenings. People don’t sit on their porches anymore and wave hi to the neighbors. Nobody is outside, so we have to have areas like this where we can actually gather and socialize,” Redd said.

And during a panel discussion earlier this year, Tallahassee Leon County Director of Planning Cherrie Bryant told WFSU that sense of community is exactly what government officials are aiming for. It’s all part of a plan approved by city and county commissioners and carried out by Bryant’s office.

“Gaines Street is standing out because of  the way it is built—the walkability, the way the buildings address the street, the way they create that urban form, which is really starting to give that sense of identity for the street and for the city," Bryant said.

But for some, those same development efforts—attempts to create community and a sense of place--are instead causing a sense of displacement.

Kelley Wood lives in a secluded neighborhood near Gaines Street. Her apartment co-op, full of people who tend to prefer biking over cars and fields over sidewalks, now sits in the shadow of College Town’s latest multi use developments.

“I walk everywhere and I greatly prefer to walk in my community here where, you know, I walk to work every day through a field. I pass by two fields actually, I see houses that you can tell have been here for years, and years and years. There’s a house on the corner over there. There’s a church on Mosley. It’s a way nicer experience than any time I choose to talk down Gaines. I would say this is a community and that is just an artificial trying to be a community,” Wood said.

But whether people like what they see when it comes to the city’s development efforts, or don’t, they’ll have a chance to voice that opinion in November when they head to the polls. Ryan Smart is the director of 1,000 Friends of Florida—an organization focused on promoting positive growth and development.

“The decisions are being made by the commissioners. They’re the ones we elect to make the decisions and they ultimately make them. So, good development or bad development ultimately comes down on our elected commissioners,” Smart said.

Smart says when it comes to controlling urban sprawl or encouraging good community development, federal officials and state officials have an impact. But the greatest impact comes from a place where voters tend to pay the least attention—at the community level in races for city and county commissioner. To find out where a local candidate stands on growth management issues, Smart suggests asking a few simple questions:

“Are you going to encourage and support development that’s close to Tallahassee’s core or out in the rural communities? Are you going to support infill? Are you going to support mixed use development. Ask about transportation choices. What are you going to do besides building new roads to help people get around Tallahassee? Because the answer can’t always be building new roads. Roads lead to sprawl.”

Smart says questions for county commissioners might revolve around water quality and septic tanks. And he says citizens might ask whether commissioners support a document created by 1-thousand friends called the “Citizens Planning Bill of Rights.” It includes five provisions intended to give citizens a larger voice in development decisions.

This year in Leon County and Tallahassee, five commission seats came up for reelection. Heading into the general election in November, two of those races are yet to be decided.