The capital city…not so capital

Tallahassee. Founded in 1825, established in the foothills of the Appalachians and a just a stones throw away from the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s    home  to  two    reputable universities, a community college and a host of trade schools.

As a native, it shames me to report that this is about all there is to know about the city. And other than the new capital complex, Tallahassee has seen no meaningful growth, especially in the economic sense.

The city has missed out on several opportunities to expand its narrowly focused economy and become a prototype for  other  capitals  of  mega-states  to  follow.

For example, when Walt Disney came to Florida to build his billion-dollar theme park, Orlando wasn’t his first choice…it was just south of Tallahassee in Franklin County. But how did Ed Ball, owner of the land reportedly respond to the offer: “I don’t deal with carnival folk.”

Another missed opportunity came in the 1970s as America constructed its interstate system. Initially, I-10 was to bisect the city via Gaines Street (admittedly a bad idea), which today carries 34,000 cars daily and is currently being downgraded to relieve traffic and improve the city’s aesthetics. The project does nothing; however, to diversify the city’s economy, preventing the brain drain that occurs at the close of every semester.

Tallahassee is home to one of the largest research-oriented public universities in the country; a smaller public university and a large community college that feeds both. Yet when these students graduate, they take the vital skills they’ve acquired at these schools and skip town.

City officials have known of this phenomenon for years and have yet to champion incentives to bring growth to Tallahassee.

Unfortunately, growth some of us wish to see in the area won’t happen overnight; a strategic plan should be constructed and painstakingly implemented.

The only way to spur growth in the area is to invest in infrastructure. This means widening existing roads; continual expansion of the mass transit system to connect the city to surrounding locales; and yes, the potential construction of a limited access highway.

The latter is sure to ruffle some feathers. Constructing freeways through urban areas is always thought to separate communities, with their rigid designs.  But this doesn’t have to be the case for this area. Since we know how limited access highways can possibly destroy a city, planners should come up with a design for a highway that is harmonious with the urbanity it conveniences. Simply, take the old design and drastically improve it,  the very definition of innovation and the aura of our fair city.

True, limited access highways are expensive to build and maintain. But Tallahassee could be the first in the nation to construct a freeway with efficient, noise-reducing material. After all, we have the brain- and man-power to make it happen. (Researchers at Purdue are already working on it, so why can’t the FAMU/FSU College of Engineering?) Additionally, the Feds have mandated that all cars sold in America get 62 mpg by 2030, so pollution as result of a freeway won’t be an immediate threat.

Where would we place a freeway? Capital Circle may be a desirable candidate.  Tallahassee’s designated truck-route and provides a connection to the city for residents along the coast and South Georgia. This would also keep the hustle, bustle and heavy industrial development away from the city’s cherished historic districts. State Road 20 should also be considered, giving area residents a beeline to the closest international airport in Panama City, which would certainly inhibit needed growth between both cities.

Aside from constructing a limited access highway we should continue the expansion of the city’s major thoroughfares.  Traffic signal patterns along these routes should be examined and revamped for traffic fluidity.  The Tallahassee/Leon Planning department should also work to reverse the poor planning practices implemented by their predecessors. Countless streets in Tallahassee have been cut-off, discontinued, only to reappear in random locations (my sympathy to deliverymen in this city).

Tallahassee’s regional airport could stand some upgrades. After all, it is the airport of the capital of a state that has one  of  the largest  economies  in  the  world.

The city’s residents, many of them fearful of change, shot down any avant-garde plans to develop the city. Many have come to the end of this editorial still not sold on any plan to bring change to the city. To you, I ask, what do you want to stay the same: The separatist, Old South Tallahassee that prides itself on clinging to its unfavorable social history and arrested economy?

As residents we should work to diversify the area’s economy, thwarting the stronghold state government agencies and small status quo enterprises have on the area’s workforce. A plan to attract firms that accommodate workers of all backgrounds, from street sweepers to PhD’s is long overdue.

Nonetheless, we need visionary’s in city government who won’t be satisfied with quick fixes to the city’s apparent long-term challenges.