The Urban Land Institute (ULI), a 30,000-member global leadership organization for real estate professionals, has issued the written report of a multi-disciplinary group that examined conditions in Tallahassee’s distressed South City neighborhood. Hopping Green & Sams (HGS) attorneys David Powell and Jennifer Kilinski provided leadership for the eight-member Technical Assistance Panel and the preparation of its 50-page report.
The ULI panel was commissioned by the City of Tallahassee to review conditions in South City, which is composed of two U.S. Census tracts with public health disparities that include chronic diseases, high incidence of low birth weight infants, high infant mortality, and other indicators of chronically poor health. Underlying conditions include a high incidence of poverty, higher-than-average crime rate, many dilapidated properties, code enforcement violations, and lack of access to healthy food.
The panel based its work on ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative, which is intended to foster improved public health through changes to the built environment that promote more active lifestyles. After a two-day charrette in May, the panel made these recommendations for immediate implementation:
- Establish a broad-based task force to prepare a strategic plan to revitalize South City, replacing multiple uncoordinated ad hoc activities.
- Improve pedestrian facilities in the study area by installing sidewalks and energy-efficient streetlights with improved pedestrian street crossings, signage and way-finding
- Work with nonprofits to promote a mobile farmer’s market to provide better access to healthy foods in South City until creation of a permanent farmer’s market
- Give construction priority to phases of the planned Magnolia Drive Multi-Use Trail that will connect South City to the nearby campus of Florida A&M University (FAMU)
HGS shareholder and ULI member David Powell chaired the panel. Members included Dale Brill, principal of the Thinkspot consulting firm in Tallahassee; Russell Ervin, architect with Ervin Lovett & Miller of Jacksonville; Michael Frumkin, dean of the College of Health and Public Affairs at the University of Central Florida in Orlando; Christopher Jones, president of RDBG Consulting Group in Jacksonville; Paul Lewis, chief planning manager for the City of Orlando; Thomas Murphy, ULI’s senior resident fellow and a former mayor of Pittsburgh; and Wayne Reed, an engineer with R-A-M Professional Group in Jacksonville. All members served without compensation. The panel was organized by HGS attorney Jennifer Kilinski and ULI North Florida District Council Manager Carolyn Clark of Jacksonville.
“It is possible to change the trajectory of South City,” Murphy said. “There must, however, be the institutional capacity to do so, a sense of urgency, and strong city leadership and governance to move a strategic plan forward.”
The ULI panel recommended that Tallahassee and FAMU find ways to strengthen connections between FAMU and the predominantly African-American South City neighborhood. Recommendations included creating a pedestrian pathway from South City through the adjacent FAMU campus for a direct walking route to Bond Elementary School for South City youngsters, avoiding the need for them to cross busy arterial roads.
Another key recommendation was to establish a “community school” like Evans Community School in Orlando and similar schools in other parts of the U.S. Such schools bring together educational, public health, and community services under one roof and become a community hub. They can provide one-stop shopping for whole families that need easy access to a wide range. Evans school was created in 2012; academic performance there has soared, raising it from an F-rated to a B-rated school.
In response to the ULI panel’s presentation to the City Commission in May, Tallahassee recently announced a $100,000 short-term initiative in South City that included some of the panel’s recommendations. Commissioners also have expressed support for seeking a planning grant for a new community school from the $900,000 appropriation in the new state budget to plan new community schools in Florida. Other recommendations by the ULI panel included:
- Expand a just-created community garden and identification of an appropriate location for a permanent farmer’s market within South City to promote access to fresh fruits and vegetables
- Ask FAMU and Florida State University to establish baseline health metrics for South City, identify healthy outcomes and conduct periodic health impact assessments to track performance.
- Convert an old drainage ditch through the neighborhood into a Greenway Trail that would also connect South City to FAMU.
- Establish a partnership with Tallahassee Community College to promote adult education opportunities and workforce development.
- In partnership with the Community Redevelopment Agency, seek opportunities to secure private investment along the Adams and Monroe Street corridors.
- Identify potential catalytic retail sites in South City, including under-utilized shopping centers
- Promote financial incentives for expansion of existing businesses, such as New Market Tax Credits, and work with local lenders to direct capital investments to South City under the Community Reinvestment Act.