Growth and Sustainability

Guest Correspondence

BY TOM BARWIN SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY AUG 27, 2016

The US Census Bureau has estimated that between 2010 and 2015, the City of Sarasota's population has increased by 3,201 residents. This 6.1 percent population increase since 2010 brings our updated population count to 55,118 full-time residents.  

The updated Census estimates peg our current population to be 6,250 more residents than were here 36 years ago when the 1980 census counted 48,868. Most of the growth within the city over the past three decades is a fairly recent, post-Great Recession trend.   

The rest of Sarasota County has experienced a similar rate of population growth, raising the county population to over 400,000. And the Sarasota-Manatee region’s recent population increases resulted in the region being identified as one of America's 20 fastest growing regions on our way to a collective population of at least 800,000 by the next official census in 2020. This has occurred as the Sunshine State Peninsula has become the third most populated state in the country with over 20 million residents.   

For mostly economic reasons, growth has generally been considered a positive and preferable to the population losses so many manufacturing-based American communities struggled with over the past few decades.  

But predicting growth has been an inexact art. Growth is also a mixed bag with many challenges in terms of governments collectively anticipating it in a timely fashion, adjusting to it, paying for it and protecting the environment and quality of life associated with previous eras.

If a community in a desirable region could legally ban residential and workplace growth (hard to do under Florida Law) or adopt slow growth policies within its boundaries, it would not prevent shifting residential and workplace growth to nearby areas or eliminate a flow-back effect into the slow growth community.       

These are really important issues that require collaborative mindsets and strategic thinking. Moving forward, our cities, the region, its residents and the hodge-podge of regional organizations charged with coordinating growth must work hand in glove from the baseline of current comprehensive plans, zoning codes, tax bases, transportation networks and water, sewer, sanitation, educational and medical infrastructure to envision, plan and implement a high quality future while striving to enhance the regions quality of life and environment.  

Realizing the challenges and opportunity population growth represents, the Sarasota City Commission is in the process of finalizing its updated strategic plan and goals. The commission’s strategic planning process was driven by the desire to manage growth within our borders and more proactively participate in the appropriate regional decision-making forums related to growth strategies and response options. 

The seven top strategic initiatives in the City Commission draft strategic plan can be summarized as follows:

Growth Management: Sustain the special character of the city, advance mobility options and peak hour/season traffic management strategies. 

Arts and Culture: Respect and enhance our community’s rich history, arts and culture. 

Parks and Recreation: Maintain and improve parks and programs to provide year-round, healthy outdoor activity for residents.

Residents and Neighborhood: Support all neighborhoods to be safe, attractive and unique.

Health and Safety: Seek solutions to the mental health funding crisis, address homelessness and continue to advance partnership policing.

Environmental Preservation and Sustainability: Recognize the vital role our natural resources play in a healthy community and economy and implement projects and initiatives that sustain them.  

Operations and Administration: Meet the expectations of today's citizens by providing modern, convenient and technologically progressive services.  

The City Commission will be finalizing the details of the city's updated strategies and associated initiatives and goals this fall. 

As Benjamin Franklin and Sir Winston Churchill both proclaimed, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”    

Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s column. As always the City Commission and I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions. Forward any thoughts you may have on this or related subjects to: thomas.barwin@sarasotagov.com.

Thomas Barwin is Sarasota City Manager.

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