Friday, May 1, 2015

Cape Coral's Bimini Basin Visioning Process

Exciting conversations are going on in our local communities about how to revitalize and redevelop our civic cores. BWL's Ann Pierce reports on one of these--Cape Coral's visioning process for the Bimini Basin.
By Ann Pierce 5/1/15
Ann Pierce
Look out Fort Myers; Cape Coral is coming after you! Such was the good-natured introduction last Thursday by Mayor Sawicki to the final community presentation of the Bimini Basin Redevelopment Visioning Process.  Fort Myers’ beautifully redeveloped downtown has become a local model of revitalization, but if these plans in the works for Cape Coral are realized, it will be the model to beat. 

Over 300 interested and enthusiastic Cape Coral citizens crowded into the standing-room-only presentation given by fifteen advanced design students from USF’s School of Architecture and Community Design. In three teams of five, the students presented a beautiful series of development variations informed by researching the City’s previously commissioned plans and soliciting citizen input during a well-attended Charrette and midpoint-review meeting in January and March. 

Mayor Sawicki discusses plans with Cape resident
Even with distinct creative differences there were common themes that ran strongly through the individual plans.  The future city depicted by these millennials was decidedly different from that of the previous generation - this was definitely not your father’s city.  Yet the vision of pervasive open public spaces; greenscaping; active transportation; minimization of the presence of automobiles; human-scale, mid-rise structures; and vibrant, diverse city life seem to get a positive reception from the audience of aging Baby Boomers.  

With a strong emphasis on “The Outdoor City” and maximization of water and view and access as a public asset to be preserved, each team proposed accommodations for business, entertainment and residential districts. From Class A office space to mid-rise, mixed-use, multifamily residential, to a basin-encircling boardwalk, each plan emphasized strong connections to active outdoor living with community-wide networks of shaded greenways for walking and cycling, connecting every district to the other and to the water's edge.   
Local architect Joyce Owens discusses plan with USF presenter
Banished were the massive seas of asphalt parking lots, storm water retention ponds and forlorn transit stops.  With an emphasis on walkability and active transportation, each plan featured rich cityscapes of multi-story buildings with retail and open air restaurants on first levels and office, studios or residential space above.  A continuous flow of shaded walks and linear parks knit the community together. With this emphasis on connective walkability, was an equal de-emphasis of automobile primacy. 

Streets were to be narrowed or ‘right-sized’ and traffic slowed, sidewalks and bike lanes installed or widened and parking directed to on-street or multistory garages. A truly multimodal transit hub with bus access, bike share stations and kayak rentals was envisioned as a central city feature, fulfilling aesthetic, transportation and social gathering space needs.  

Sustainability was cleverly integrated in detail through each of the plans where every roof surface served multiple purposes of hosting solar arrays or gardens designed to detain and process storm water, cool the surrounding air and provide fresh foods for the restaurants below. Dense tree planting and innovative ground-level, low impact storm water management, both visually and functionally appealing, were the standards. Parks large and small were shown as accessible from every part of the redevelopment area. Some to serve as community farms or public flower gardens, but all acting to unify the whole of the redevelopment area. 

USF student Ashley Barkley explains model to resident
In a reverse of many of today's cities, parks and connected treed greenways totaled 20% or more of the total acreage, with active transportation avenues replacing much of the land typically given over to roadways and parking.

Bimini Basin itself was to be enhanced with the extension of the Rubicon Canal creating a larger and more dramatic waterfront, a waterfront designed to remain publicly accessible, with the tallest buildings kept the greatest distance from the water's edge. Mayor Sawicki announced that she had already received a positive response from the Florida based director of the Army Corps of Engineers regarding possible enlargement of this canal.  With the emphasis on visual and physical public access to the waterfront and to the mixed use business, entertainment and residential districts beyond; high rises were not part of this millennial vision and no structure reached more than 7 to 10 stories tall.  

The need to create and retain local jobs and increase access to higher education were issues also addressed in imaginative ways.  Certainly, practical realities will temper some of these visionary flights.  But, the message presented by these very talented students was clear; they did not see a future of auto centric single-family homes, garages or private backyard entertainment or even the glitz of high rise living. Instead, they were creating highly dynamic and beautifully organic shared public spaces, rich with opportunity ranging from quiet contemplation to robust activity.  The indivisibility of environmental and economic sustainability was a matter of course, with deeply integrated planning and design drawing together the business, entertainment and residential districts into a socially nurturing place to thrive.

 All three plans and their component parts will be posted on a City website with citizen engagement and feedback encouraged. After which, the preferred elements can be further developed, vetted for practical application and consolidated into a final implementable plan.

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