“St Petersburg walks the walk. Year after year we see the City pursue national opportunities not just to preserve and expand greenspace as laid out in the City’s master plan, but also to reduce climate pollution. The Sunshine City has shown leadership and I believe that’s driven by how in touch our residents and community are with the natural environment which drives our quality of life and economy.”
- Dawn Shirreffs, Environmental Defense Fund, Florida Director
Can you talk about decisions made in the past to make Downtown St. Petersburg more resilient than other coastal communities? How have those decisions impacted our Downtown today?
Public parks were the crown jewel of St. Petersburg’s early urban planning efforts over a hundred years ago. To this day, these greenspaces provide play areas for families and habitat for wildlife, but they also buffer our communities from flooding by allowing the water a place to go. Early local pioneers William Straub, Perry Snell and Peter Demens’ efforts to preserve waterfront parks have prevented numerous developments from our most vulnerable lands giving us enhanced opportunity to address the challenges of rising temperatures.
Do you see intentional decisions still being made to preserve greenspace in Downtown?
St. Petersburg walks the walk. Year after year we see the City pursue national opportunities not just to preserve and expand greenspace as laid out in the City’s master plan, but also to reduce climate pollution. The Sunshine City has shown leadership and I believe that’s driven by how in touch our residents and community are with the natural environment which drives our quality of life and economy. Even when looking to redevelop the Tropicana Stadium the City requested proposals which featured “significant contiguous park and public gathering space.” That said, as we continue to grow, our community could benefit from increased focus on street trees to provide shade and mini park green spaces to enhance Downtown’s uniqueness.
How does environmental stewardship and thoughtful resiliency enhance economic growth and quality of life?
Building true resilience requires a comprehensive clear-eyed approach to addressing all the shocks and stresses our community faces from a changing climate. When we lower risk of flooding with nature-based infrastructure and flood resistant design and construction we can improve our City’s credit rating and lower insurance costs. When we reduce air pollution by converting to electric vehicles, implementing energy efficiency, and relying on solar, we reduce transportation costs and power bills and improve respiratory health. More trees and green space reduce heat island effects and can protect outdoor construction, agriculture and other workers that are essential to our economy. These are just a few examples, but it is critical on a peninsula like ours to understand that environmental stewardship is community stewardship.
As Downtown development continues, what are the factors we will need to consider that are unique to our market or to coastal communities in general?
One thing that makes St. Pete special is that you truly can live, work and play here. We need to ensure those opportunities are available to everyone to preserve our rich and diverse history and address labor shortages. We must be forward looking at areas with repetitive loss or high-risk properties and consider how voluntary buyout programs may help us reimagine ways to address a changing climate and best serve our residents. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, we must authentically engage residents on their visions, hopes and dreams for it is in connection with community that we will find the creativity to keep the Sunshine City unique and thriving.