By LOIS KINDLE
The USF School of Architecture’s Florida Center for Community and Urban Design has spent the past year collaborating with the Ruskin Community Development Foundation to create a master plan that reimagines what the future of downtown Ruskin could like.
“After the (Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission) made the Ruskin Community Profile public (in Oct. 2019), RCDF asked for help in generating a master plan for Ruskin’s downtown,” said Josue Robles Caraballo, a faculty and research associate with the USF School of Architecture and Community Design.
The profile included data on the community’s demographics, land uses, traffic congestion, transit availability, buildout analysis, flooding potential and more. It did not include any design recommendations, Caraballo said.
So he and graduate research assistants worked with RCDF to create a design foundation for a future Ruskin downtown, taking the community profile into account.
“We wanted to shape the community’s master plan from a human perspective to parallel with the physical conditions of the community,” he said.
The three main concepts of the master plan for downtown are as follows:
• Localization: It should be designed to give the opportunity for things to be both produced and consumed by members of the community.
• Infrastructure: Its tropical settings should be capitalized on by anchoring public and private spaces along green spaces. The idea is to create a system of green spaces that connect businesses and residential projects.
• Humanizing the downtown area: Rather than focusing on vehicular access, its design should center on cultural, social and folkloric, everyday activities. An example might be to have public spaces specifically for music events or a main vendor market of some kind.
U.S. 41 will remain the vital artery, Caraballo said.
“This will involve creating two green pedestrian corridors parallel to U.S. 41 to allow vehicular flow, while providing safe, multigenerational space for people to enjoy,” he said.
“We’re reimagining downtown Ruskin and taking into account all the dynamics that will impact its design,” said Sandy Council, president of RCDF. “We’re excited about this, and we hope the concept regenerates enthusiasm for what Ruskin downtown can be. Despite some challenges with elevation and flooding, these design recommendations present some exciting opportunities.”
The first meeting to seek public input was held virtually Sept. 30, 2020, and the next one is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 27.
“At this point, the concept is high-level visioning for an active downtown area in Ruskin,” said RCDF board member Chris Bredbenner. “We’re seeking public input, so (the planning) meets the needs of a growing and changing community.”
Debbie Caneen, who grew up in Ruskin and also serves on RCDF’s board, agrees.
“This is an opportunity for residents to see and understand what downtown Ruskin could truly be,” she said. “It’s important to have as many voices as possible provide their input so the vision will truly represent the community.”
To participate and see what a reimagined downtown Ruskin could look like, connect via Zoom https://bit.ly/3i9pCYR.
About Josue Robles Caraballo
Caraballo is well qualified for helping RCDF develop its vision into a workable plan.
His extensive credentials include master’s degrees in architecture and building and urban design development from the University of South Florida and The Bartlett, University College London, respectively, and experience as an architectural designer with Mesh Architecture, Halflants + Pichette, Studio for Modern Architecture, Thinking Development London and SchenkelSchultz Architecture, assisting in a number of housing, public, education and civic projects.
At the U.S.F. School of Architecture Florida Center for Community and Urban Design, he serves as the co-director of the Urban and Community Design master’s program. He has conducted urban and community development research projects for the St. Petersburg Planning & Development Department, Aberdeen City Council in Scotland and the Florida Home Partnership and has taught urban activation design-build studios for the Tampa Housing Authority, Tampa Bay AIA, New Life Village and Gobioff Foundation.