After being approached by the New College Foundation about revitalizing the economic state of North Longboat Key, Professor of Sociology David Brain decided to gather a group of students and make it into an Independent Study Project (ISP). North Longboat Key, dubbed the “Village,” has seen better days. With a closed-down gas station, unutilized land and a restaurant that could use something of a boost, a organization called the Longboat Key Revitalization Force put themselves in contact with New College in hopes of coming up with a plan that wouldn’t exactly put anything official in the works, but would instead spark discussion and motivate Longboat Key leaders to invest time into getting a professional plan for the town. The Novocollegeans that were involved spent their ISP getting feedback from the residents of Longboat Key, which involved such activities as getting interviews, setting up an online survey and hosting a workshop that involved a series of mapping exercises where citizens of the key could voice their opinions.
Brain, who has a background in planning and design, was originally reluctant to get involved. “Initially, I wasn’t sure if this was a project that I wanted to get involved in because I thought that if I was going to do volunteer work in the community, it’s typically going to be a more low-income community,” Brain said. “Once I started to talk to them about what they were going to do, I thought it might be an interesting opportunity for students, especially as an ISP since they contacted me in November.”
The five students that were involved were able to get 32 interviews done and garnered 50 online responses from their survey. According to (insert year here) Emily Fleming, getting the interviews done was more of a challenge than any of them had ever expected.
“[Getting the interviews] proved to be a lot harder than [we had] anticipated,” Fleming told the Catalyst via e-mail. “But we split up the work and tried to take advantage of which students were more at ease with strangers over the phone, or which students were especially good at keeping things organized and making a schedule.”
The feedback they received in the interviews revealed that the outlook of redevelopment was mostly positive, but in the data they collected from the online surveys revealed some more mixed feelings. It was then that the students realized that they were dealing with two sets of people in regards to Longboat Key citizens: one group that that liked the town the way it was and was afraid of what sort of changes would mean for their lifestyle, and another that saw any kind of change as a positive one. The latter, Brain observed, was the most vocal.
“[They] think the real problem is not that there will be too much development but that it just might languish and stagnate, and that their property values are going to decline because of the crummy shopping center and because of the closed-down gas station,” Brain explained. “There’s a sense that the Village needs to grow and adapt to the 21st century.”
First-year Victoria Mazzuki was able to gather from the residents of Longboat Key that there was a wide variety of changes that they wished to see in their community, such as easier access to the beach and a distinct, quaint feel. The residents vocalized that they did not want to have their area develop like the south end of the key, which was mostly condos. They were able to convey this sentiment in the Feb. 28 workshop, where citizens of the key were able to point out on a map where they wanted to see change and where they didn’t.
After ISP ended, Brain sat down with a professional landscape architect and drew three schemes for the Village based on the information that was collected from the students. Last week, the plans were presented to the Village Association and, more recently, were also presented to “a couple different constituencies” including Brain himself and a major condo association. The hope is that the plans will be revealed to the town council, leading to a solid motion finally being put in the works.
“The immediate benefit of working on the project was the ‘real-world’ experience of being involved in the planning process,” Fleming said. “Ultimately, we were exposed to lots of different and often opposing views about community-building and commercial-development, as well as about how population demographics and political and economic factors affected the island.”