By: Archana Pyati
A coastal population center of more than 3 million people, Florida’s Tampa Bay region is among North America’s most vulnerable to climate change. Sea-level rise and a shallow continental shelf make the area susceptible to flooding and dangerous storm surges during hurricane season. More than half of the population lives within ten feet (3 m) above sea level, putting people, property, infrastructure, and the regional economy at risk.
Climate resilience—the capacity of a community to fortify itself against the incremental impacts of climate change and bounce back stronger after catastrophic weather events—has become a top priority for public officials such as Rick Kriseman, mayor of St. Petersburg. Last year, ULI Tampa Bay partnered with the city of St. Petersburg to provide recommendations for how the city can become more resilient not just for those who can afford to rebuild their homes and businesses, but for all residents, including the roughly 17 percent who live below the poverty line. ULI Tampa Bay was tasked with convening expertise across the Institute’s member networks to address climate resilience through the lens of social equity and economic opportunity.
The result of this effort has been published in a new report, Realizing Resilience, which offers recommendations for St. Petersburg to be climate resilient in ways that benefit all residents of the community, regardless of income. The report found that St. Petersburg can become more resilient by helping locally owned businesses bounce back faster, spurring job creation, and healing longstanding disparities between more affluent neighborhoods and parts of the city—such as the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area—where low-income and minority residents have experienced higher levels of poverty and unemployment.
“The Realizing Resilience report provides St. Petersburg with a framework for resiliency planning as well as project implementation recommendations that will improve our approach to equity across the investments we are making in the city’s future,” Mayor Kriseman said.
Realizing Resilience is the result of an intensive two-day workshop held in December when ULI Tampa Bay’s expert panel interviewed more than 75 stakeholders representing a variety of viewpoints. From city officials to South St. Petersburg community activists to real estate professionals, stakeholders shared candid observations with the panel, composed of resilience experts recruited from the Institute’s member networks.
Jim Murley and Jeff Hebert, chief resilience officers from Miami and New Orleans, respectively, and Arlen Stawasz, architectural designer at Perkins + Will and a ULI member who also contributed to the ULI Boston report, The Urban Implications of Living with Water, shared lessons from their cities, all of which are on the forefront of climate change. These perspectives were indispensable to framing the issues for the Tampa Bay region for local members of the panel.
“The biggest contribution was in bringing together people from cities going through the very same issues,” says panel member Leigh Fletcher, a Tampa land use attorney. “Everybody on the panel appreciated the New Orleans perspective, the Miami perspective, the Boston perspective. Everybody’s looking for models.” The workshop received a $20,000 grant from ULI’s Urban Resilience Program, funded by the Kresge Foundation and with support from the ULI Foundation.
Added Kriseman: “ULI Tampa Bay continues to be a valuable technical resource consistently helping the city and balance between environmental stewardship, economic vitality, and social equity and to be the city to work, live and play through innovative and collaborative sustainability practices.”
Among the recommendations proposed by Realizing Resilience:
- Integrate resilience goals and decision making throughout all functions of city government and across agencies. Make resilience a core value of the city’s capital budgeting process.
Realizing Resilience makes clear that the goal is not to spend additional dollars, but to spend those dollars effectively. It does not mean creating additional bureaucracy, but building a culture of caring about resilience across city departments.
“From a city’s perspective, the investments that are being made are for a much longer time horizon—from 30 to 60 years—so it is not whether there is going to be sea-level rise, but how much to plan for,” says panel chair Jim Cloar, a longtime expert in downtown development strategies who is also ULI Tampa Bay’s chairman.
- Invest in infrastructure that yields multiple benefits, from hardening physical assets to connecting neighborhoods, and contributing to the health and prosperity of all residents.
Realizing Resilience notes that cities are increasingly looking at the open space and parks systems to act as a first line of defense against climate change. Not only do these assets provide spaces for health and recreation, but by reabsorbing water, they mitigate the severity of flooding. Hard infrastructure can also be designed in ways that enhance resilience.
One highly anticipated project in St. Petersburg is the 86-acre (35 ha) redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site. When it was built, Tropicana Field, a Major League Baseball stadium, displaced residents in the historically African American Midtown neighborhood. In addition, a highway spur that was built to connect I-275, the city’s main urban freeway, with the downtown waterfront also destroyed the community fabric. Many fault the stadium and highway spur for bifurcating the community and cutting south St. Petersburg off from downtown.
As redevelopment plans take shape, panelists say that Tropicana Field could become a model for resilient infrastructure that not only protects a vital economic asset from flooding and storm surge, but also repairs racial divisions and expands economic opportunity. “The redevelopment of Tropicana Field is not just about responding to climate change, but about re-engaging the minority community from a social and economic perspective,” Cloar says.
Another example of investments yielding multiple benefits is new mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhoods that are replacing inefficent, crumbling, and single-use public housing projects. Encore, a mixed-income, mixed-use development in Tampa, retains all stormwater on site, reusing it for irrigation. Compact mid-rise housing leaves the remaining acreage available for tax revenue–generating commercial development, private sector jobs, and green infrastructure. (Read the ULI Case Study on Encore.)
The community is aiming for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design–Neighborhood Design (LEED-ND) certification, says panelist Leroy Moore, senior vice president of the Tampa Housing Authority. “When you build for higher densities, you better insulate yourself against the rising waters and you consume less land,” Moore says. “That is paramount from an affordability standpoint.”
- Identify new messengers and create an inclusive communications strategy so that all residents, particularly those in vulnerable areas, understand climate risks and opportunities.
While resilience is about emergency preparedness and evacuation during a storm, it is also about investing in infrastructure that can withstand the storm. How do city officials communicate these messages to a diverse set of audiences? By engaging residents to spread the word, the report concludes. Realizing Resilience recommends that the local government cultivate grass-roots messengers who can translate climate change and resilience into everyday terms—what it means for people, their neighborhoods, and their livelihoods. “We have to go to vulnerable communities and make them believe that they are an essential part of the solution,” Stawasz said. “The key is to provide people with the tools and a platform to speak out. It is about communication and visibility and ensuring that everyone is on the same team.”
Learn more about ULI Tampa Bay project and report, Realizing Resilience.