Don Johnson, an urban planner and economist, describes urban revitalization as “something that is easy to recognize, but hard to pin down.”
I have said in many forums and within many venues that I am convinced that the current mayor and his administration as well previous administrations genuinely want the south side of St. Petersburg to turn around.
There have been countless numbers of community forums aimed at capturing the essence of how our community envisions its destiny and journey toward revitalization. Some describe urban revitalization as a single economic engine i.e. a grocery store, a bank or a post office. Some describe economic revitalization as a single focus on housing, thinking that if we could just create affordable housing somehow the community would begin to see a resurgence.
In 2002, a Midtown Strategic Planning Initiative took flight. The planning process was led by real urban planners, who had all of the right focus groups, they analyzed and synthesized previous planning efforts, they conducted inventories of the education system, public safety and the economic status of the community.
The plan summarized that in the Midtown area alone, there had been 23 plans, 91 planning projects/programs and millions upon millions invested. Yet, with all the work put into the planning, it appeared that the plan stopped short of developing long-term and substantive strategies that directly impacted the residents and businesses of south St. Petersburg.
Fast forward to the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment plan adopted by council in May of 2015, the same high rates of poverty, unemployment, educational under performance and lagging incomes that underpin the socio-economic problems facing south St. Petersburg still exists.
The plan goes on further to say that the unemployment rate in south St. Pete is 60 to 100 percent higher in the CRA, and even more alarming the poverty rate for children was twice as high as the city rate. The plan also consists of many of the same social and economic issues. Sound familiar? These are the very same conditions identified in 2002.
The white elephant in the room is that in spite of the glaring economic issues identified in the Midtown Strategic Plan and the CRA plan, there is no mention of a strategy that links the residents of south St. Pete to potential employment opportunities or business development opportunities within the Innovation District, which is described as a “cluster of higher education, marine science, healthcare, business incubation and media institution that abuts the Midtown community.”
While the jobs appear to require technical skills or degrees, a comprehensive redevelopment strategy built from years of data collected could very easily have identified a pathway to jobs or business opportunities within a district that propose to create thousands of jobs.
The St. Petersburg Chamber has launched its own economic initiative titled the “Grow Smarter Initiative.” This initiative appears to directly target growth in the Innovation District as well as link its overall objectives to the redevelopment needed in south St. Petersburg.
If we won’t learn that it is useless to keep doing the same things and expecting different results, maybe it is time to move the redevelopment within south St. Petersburg in a direction that allows the people who create jobs and grow businesses for a living take the lead as opposed to continuing the scattered approach that has persisted for more years than I care to count.
Maria L. Scruggs, President, St. Petersburg NAACP