Forgotten Tampa: Living on the East Side of I275

I haven’t been here for very long, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I started off in Wesley Chapel, right on the border of Zephyrhills. It’s a small town, country community that is in the middle of suburban explosion (AKA nowhere). There’s a huge new outlet mall, sprawling new subdivisions, and soon a man-made beach and lake community. This place is middle class money.

I hated living there. You have to drive everywhere. You’re miles and miles from the nearest anything. And the closest thing to a traditional “downtown” is Wiregrass Mall. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice, but it has no life. There’s no sense of history or community or people making things happen, it’s more like major conglomerates and institutions creating spaces of consumption. Only to eventually die, become eye sores, so new ones can move in again after another 30 years or so. It’s depressing.

So, I wanted to move. I started doing my research. I was obsessed with demographics and crime stats. It was amazing to see the differences in income and ethnicity all based on location. Mostly black on the East side of 275, mostly Latino and Asian on the West side of the Hillsborough River, and a strange white mix in between, the oh so fancy and elusive: Seminole Heights.

That’s why I wanted to move to Seminole Heights. A couple miles from Ybor and Downtown. Buses exist. People walk and bike. There are hipster families. The houses are affordable. There are things to do, businesses popping up everywhere, and beautifully rehabilitated buildings. There are regular community activities, farmer’s markets, and culture. It seemed so idealistic. Home sweet home!

Except, our house was burglarized in the first month of being here. Car burglarized in the first three. I called a neighbor to let him know someone was taking his trampoline, he called the cops, and it turned out to be my neighbor… awkward. Bikes are stolen like candy. Drugs are everywhere. There are $200,000+ houses next to squatters and bank-owned properties next to families who have been here for decades.

Until I moved and started walking the city, seeing the differences in living from house to house, street to street, block to block. The buses are not that useful. You still drive 2 blocks, because walking doesn’t feel “safe” at night. My optimistic, educated, white self had no idea what I was getting in to. This has not turned out to be the the Heights I thought I was moving to. Did I really want this neighborhood that bad? I’m as ready to throw it away as the city treats it like trash.

I feel like I’m living in some developing nation, and not living in the United States. Why the stark differences between the east and west side of 275? Florida Avenue vs. Nebraska Avenue. We’re not that far apart, but it feels like a world a part.

It’s not all drama, being burglarized has it’s benefits: it forces you to get to know your neighbors. Within eight or so houses, we have renters, black families, white families, single, latino, island, and asian. One family that I talked to said that they used to be able to keep their doors unlocked, but now they lock it even when they’re here. Every street is lined with gorgeous mature trees, and palms. The architecture is classic small southern craftsman bungalows. The lots are, more often than not, huge.

What happened?

From what I understand: Interstates happened. Maybe it was something else also, but it definitely didn’t help. Presently in major U.S. cities, it seems like middle and upper class people are more willing to be near highways as long as there is in exchange a growing local economy, decent public transit, and walkable community. We want to be close, to travel easy without our cars, and give our money to those people and businesses that are close to us. But these old suburbs of metro Tampa are still struggling.

What is happening?

Well, this whole TBX issue is one thing. It seems as if the city only wants to cater to downtown, Ybor, and anything north of Bearss. If you’re in between, attempting to rehabilitate (c.f. gentrify), trying to get over the first broken heart I275 created, you are SOL. The way many houses are being squatted in, foreclosed, and abandoned, this entire area feels like it is of no consequence, depressed, and it is being treated as such–especially on the East side of 275.

What do we do?

There need to be safe and protected bike lanes on 22nd St., 15th, Lake, Osborne. There needs to be more sidewalks. There needs to be more signage for speed limits, lower speed limits, one way streets, and or speed bumps. There need to be more ways and places for pedestrians to cross the street. No car should be able to turn right on red, or left when pedestrians are given the light to walk. All the streetlights should be checked, bright, and not covered by trees. TECO needs to cut down some trees. There needs to be better more consistent public transit. It should not take an hour for a bus to get from Seminole Heights to the airport. It should not take 2 1/2 to 3 hours by public transit to get between the major metro areas of Tampa, Saint Pete, and Clearwater. Drugs an prostitution need to be dealt with differently. People need to care about the people who live here. People need to feel safe.

Regardless of the TBX boondoggle distraction, these are just a few simple things that say, “We care about our community,” “We want our community to be safe and grow,” “We collaborate with our community,” “We listen to what our community wants and needs,” and even, “Our community is full of real life human beings that deserve better.”

Is it too much to ask?

What other things would help us feel like more like those of us living along 275 are real life human beings?

 

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Author: Paige

Explorer. Healer. Eater. School counselor, teacher, party planner. Personal passions are holistic healthcare education, spirituality, food, and writing.

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