Humanizing Tampa's Urban Core

The vision of USF architecture students for downtown Tampa’s open spaces on exhibit through Aug.18.



By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 15, 2011) – Downtown Tampa’s public spaces are familiar primarily to the people who work in that part of town during the week.


University of South Florida students ventured there recently to explore for a course, Life Between Buildings: public space in the city, taught by Assistant Professor of Urban Design and Architecture Vikas Mehta. Their assignment was to look at the area with critical eyes, let their imaginations roam and come up with some better ideas.


These ideas and visions for improving the quality of public space are on view at Gallery AIA (American Institute of Architects), 200 N. Tampa St., suite 100, through Thursday, Aug. 18, for s show called Humanizing the City: Design Ideas for Public Spaces in Tampa.


“You’ll find an interesting mix of public spaces in Tampa’s urban core,” said Mehta. “They come in all sizes and styles, some new, some old, some traditional, some contemporary, some intentional. They enhance Tampa’s overall character by playing an important role in how people experience the central urban district.”


Tampa’s growing downtown residential population and tourists are increasingly taking advantage of the neighborhood’s amenities throughout the week and on weekends as well. 


“We can proudly say that the majority of these spaces are in good shape. They’re well maintained and cared for, but some if not all, don’t seem to have been designed with people in mind. They’re not particularly comfortable and they don’t invite the kind of gathering and lingering you find in cities like New York or San Francisco,” said Mehta. “In a way, they leave you wondering why  the design of so many of these public spaces seem obsessed with how they may look from above but not with how it’s experienced when you are in the space.“


Enter design students with bright ideas.


“In class we discussed theoretical concepts about making public spaces responsive, democratic and meaningful, and in the process, more humane,” said Mehta. “I encouraged them to be positive about what changes can happen in Tampa, especially as the urban core gets more populated. Many of the students, especially those in the MUCD (master of urban community design) program, are involved in the urban issues in the city and they were extremely enthusiastic.”


Mehta encouraged his students to “think outside the box and break the status quo of the typical design of space and design city spaces first and foremost with people in mind,” he said, admitting that it was a challenge, but the students rose to the occasion. Their enthusiasm helped.


“The final results display some great ideas that would make these public spaces so much more accessible, friendly, interesting, engaging, and comfortable. At the same time the designs are very practical and the City of Tampa and other public and private sector entities can gain a lot from these. I hope our city’s planners will take note.”


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.