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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

To lie upon the earth and smell it

I very much miss living in a place of natural beauty. I grew up in Merritt Island, which contains two rivers and one very broad "creek" (basically a wide, long, marshy area with some deep water in the middle), and which is five minutes from the beach; the place has two wildlife refuges and numerous small parks; it's part of the National Seashore and the Great American Birding Trail, and is in general really rich in trees, shrubs, flowers, bushes, water, birds, sunshine, and all the other fabulous things that people come to Florida for.

Then I moved to Tampa. Now, having been here for five years, I am very fond of Tampa. I certainly like it better than Orlando, Tallahassee, and Jacksonville (I've never been to Miami). It has several excellent record stores, one very good bookstore, some nice clubs, and the best beer hall in the state. I love my university in particular, but I will be the first to admit that it, its surrounding area, and Tampa in general are, if not hideously ugly, at least stark and unimaginative. And with very little greenery. Yes, there are the token oak trees with their Spanish moss (my favorite natural accessory), but the university's only real green spot is its botanical garden. And Tampa as a city is even worse off. There are very few parks, and the ones that do exist are far-flung and not always well-kept (the ones in my old neighborhood--o hai Nebraska Ave--were generally rife with old needles and newspapers. The downtown area likes to brag that it has the city's smallest park (it's basically just a gazebo and a square of grass). What's to brag about, exactly? Keep in mind, kiddos--I studied abroad in London, a city with a park in every neighborhood. The private university in town has a nicer campus than mine, and it's on one of the channels which give Tampa's Channelside its name, but the campus greenery still isn't a patch on northern universities, or even FSU.

The extreme borders of Tampa fare a bit better. Old Tampa Bay runs along the expensive neighborhoods in the south and provides an amazing view and plenty of green growth, and the far northern and outer edges are somewhat woodsy. But the university area and the mid-city are just...barren. Concrete and wood, and little effort to provide breathing living growth. Neither cultivated nor wild green places.

My hometown isn't perfect, by any stretch. Merritt Island has more than its fair share of dying strip malls, chain restaurants, and Hummers. But if you want to, there are ample places to go which provide beautiful views, the smell of trees and water, and relative quiet. Maybe because it's half the size of sprawling Trampa, maybe not. Cities far larger than Tampa manage to keep vast green areas intact and usable (see: every major city in the world). I would like to see our city's Powers That Be think about things other than getting the Super Bowl and whether or not the Lightning are going to win this year.

People need parks and open places.
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