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Students brainstorm Riverwalk transformation

Ideas from students in Shannon Bassett’s Urban Architecture and Landscapes class and (Re)Stitch Tampa competition, could have an impact on the development of Tampa Riverwalk and downtown Tampa at large.

Bassett, an assistant professor of architecture and urban design, said she conceptualized her master’s-level summer 2011 class as a “charrette,” or period of intense design activity. On the final day of class, students presented their ideas to city planners and local business representatives such as Straz Center chief operating officer Lorrin Shepard.

The city of Tampa has a $1.8 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that it will use to develop the Riverwalk. Student ideas included a floating yoga platform, urban beach and street market.

The students presented their Riverwalk development ideas June 15 at the Heights Trolley Barn, and they will be reshown Aug. 18 at the Tampa Museum of Art as part of a launch party for the (Re)Stitch Tampa competition. Basset conceptualized (Re)Stitch Tampa and is aided by students in its organization.

USF graduate student Daniel Roark was in Bassett’s class and assists her with the competition.

“I think the ideas competition will go sort of a long way toward how we can be a little more ecologically sensitive toward the river and still create a sort of socially active spine along the river,” he said. “We hope to get a wide array of schemes from schools and students and professionals from all over the world who can suggest ways we can connect back to the river.”

One of the ideas Roark and his classmates came up with for the Riverwalk involves taking the river’s hard seawall and pushing and pulling it back and forth into the city – creating a series of floodable landscapes that would mitigate flood damage.

“We had one that cut in by the performing arts hall and it started out as a park on Ashley (Drive), and then it would come down to the water and become a much more natural landscape down by the water,” he said. “So that landscape would flood when it needed to, and that would relieve some of the flooding that might happen downtown during a serious flood.”

Roark said he saw the river, Channelside, Ybor City, downtown and the arts district as places Tampa should use to make the city more vibrant.

Bassett said Tampa has many promising attributes, but “they have to be connected, they have to be stitched together,” which is where Bassett’s idea for (Re)Stitch came in.

In March, she received a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant for artistic excellence through design. The global ideas competition is sponsored by Bassett’s NEA grant, downtown Tampa and the Straz Center.

“Students, I feel, can come up with a lot more exciting, innovative ideas because they’re not constrained in the same way a practice may be,” she said. “We’re hoping through that brainstorming session that (city planners) will be able to pull from these really innovative ideas to what gets implemented.”

Bassett said she has an ecological approach to development.

“Realizing that you can develop the river is one thing, but it can’t just be about economic development; it needs to also be about ecological remediation and restoration,” she said. “You don’t want to be along a river that people throw their garbage in, so a lot of that is creating land stewardship, the idea that this is an asset for my community, not a place to throw my garbage.”

Roark said ideas that came from their June 15 pitch were well received.

“I think ideas coming from that class – and I think you’re going to see a lot of the same ideas come from the ideas competition – I think when the city starts to see designers from around the country … visiting those same sorts of ideas, then they’re going to think maybe we should start implementing those things along the river.”