Downtown Sarasota: Hindsight, Insight and Foresight

Guest Correspondence

Rendering courtesy 2020 Downtown Master Plan

Over a six-week period beginning in January 2024, Architecture Sarasota hosted a four-part lecture series titled Downtown Sarasota: Hindsight, Insight, and Foresight. During a time of rapid growth and transformation, the series was conceived to spark an informed and constructive community-wide discussion about how the city has evolved over the past two decades, what is happening at the present, and what type of community we hope to be in the future.

The four distinguished experts and speakers traveled to Sarasota and spent 48 hours touring the city, visiting sites and projects, and interacting with key stakeholders including City of Sarasota officials and employees and downtown residents and business owners. Renowned architect and New Urbanist Andrés Duany, Founding Principal of DPZ CoDesign, kicked off the series. In the late 1990s, Duany was part of the team who helped develop the city’s current master plan, Sarasota 2020. Duany was followed by futurist David Houle, urban planner Mitchell Silver, a Principal of McAdams, and architect and urban planner Victor Dover, Founding Principal of Dover, Kohl, & Partners.

Aligned overall in their assessments and viewpoints, the speakers lauded, among other attributes, Sarasota’s distinct character and sense of place, vibrant lower Main Street, and green public spaces like The Bay. There are, however, challenges these experts identified that need attention: ensuring more affordable and attainable housing, improving public transportation, preserving the city’s architectural heritage, and attracting younger residents. In addressing these challenges, Mitchell Silver and Victor Dover both suggested creating experiences that would benefit residents and attract visitors. They also suggested enhancing existing and designing new urban spaces with street-facing buildings and amenities that encourage more social interaction and green space.

As part of the series that sold out at 500 tickets per presentation, Architecture Sarasota undertook an informal survey asking for a single word to best describe attendees’ hopes and fears for our community and their perspectives on the greatest opportunities and challenges. This was followed up by an online survey. While we continue to analyze the data, the overwhelming sentiment of respondents was to: Encourage development that allows Sarasota to retain and enhance its distinct character; Provide affordable and attainable housing that helps support diversity; Create a sustainable urban environment that addresses the impacts of a changing climate and increasingly vulnerable coastline.

Hopefully, these items can be addressed in a new master plan. Last month, Sarasota’s City Commissioners voted unanimously to initiate a new planning process, citing Architecture Sarasota’s Downtown Sarasota series as a catalyst and an example of how to engage leading experts to assist in this public-private collaboration and imagine the future.

Architecture Sarasota’s mission is to steward the Sarasota School of Architecture and to provide a forum for the education, advocacy, and celebration in the global built environment.

To view the Downtown Sarasota series videos and l earn more about organization’s work at www.architecturesarasota.org.

Morris “Marty” Hylton III is president of Architecture Sarasota. Architecture Sarasota’s mission is to steward the Sarasota School of Architecture and to provide a forum for the education, advocacy and celebration in the global built environment.

Rendering courtesy 2020 Downtown Master Plan

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