A Ringling Bridge Moment on Affordable Housing

Guest Correspondence

The City of Sarasota is going through a process to change their seal and logo. Recently, six seal concepts came back to the commission all centered around the Ringling Bridge. This bridge has become a symbol of Sarasota. The exercise in choosing a seal should serve as a reminder to the City Commission that change and progress are good. 

In 2019, I wrote an SRQ Daily column about the history of our iconic bridge and how the city tried to stop the bridge from being built, declaring its height an eyesore before its construction. There were numerous lawsuits and citizens trying to stop it from ever being built, stating that Sarasota would be ruined by this bridge.

It is amazing how far we have come, and our beautiful bridge is a symbol of our evolution. That move from the low-level draw bridge to the fixed-span bridge we have today, was necessary not only to accommodate traffic, but to improve our overall quality of life, and it has done that so much so that we are now placing it on the city’s seal. That bridge is an amazing legacy that will be here for generations.

On Monday, and in the coming weeks, the city will consider change that will be important to future generations, making changes to accommodate and encourage the building of affordable housing.  Make no mistake about it, this is a Ringling Bridge moment. It is a moment where the city should embrace what it is today and the challenges that face it with solutions to improve quality of life. It would be a mistake to ignore the lesson from our own history; Sarasota should seize the opportunity to significantly improve affordable housing and all the benefits that accrues.

I am sure we will hear some of the same arguments from back when the Ringling Bridge was opposed, that it will ruin the city, that eyesores will be created. Similar to arguments about the height of the bridge, and the increased number of cars going over it, we will hear about height and density of buildings accommodating the increasing number of people living here. 

While I am sure we will hear those things, I am equally sure that if we do nothing, we will have a quality of life crisis that will make the problem of putting today’s modern Ringling Bridge traffic on a two lane draw bridge look trivial.

The Ringling Bridge was controversial but necessary for our future. A change that needed to happen, despite the resistance of those who wanted to see Sarasota stay a two-lane bridge town. It’s not a two-lane bridge town, and it’s not a sleepy city like it was 20 years ago when you could shoot a cannon down Main Street at 5pm and not hit anyone. It is a destination and a vibrant city that needs affordable and workforce housing to support the population that patronizes its restaurants and arts. Increased density is a necessity to do that.

It is time for progress and change on housing for our future. The City Commission should support the recommended staff changes to encourage and accommodate workforce housing, and it will be a positive legacy much like the Ringling Bridge.

Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation.

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