For too many, life since Hurricane Michael has been largely focused on maintaining one foot in front of the other.
A group of University of Florida students spent last week taking a more expansive examination, listening and recording stories, taking in the topography of what is now Port St. Joe and surrounding communities.
And during a presentation last Friday, the students reflected on what they had learned, challenges the community faces and offered tentative outlines of what each of the small groups had been focused on, which will ultimately lead to term papers in June.
The project is actually a class assignment, though in this case the students are generally post-graduate and seeking advanced degrees and the classroom is Port St. Joe, St. Joseph Bay, the Cape San Blas Lighthouse and other landmarks in the community.
Funding for the project came from the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund and last week was a “field course” pertaining to the rebuilding following Michael, said Jeff Carney, an associate professor at the UF School of Architecture.
“The project is focused on the city of Port St. Joe and its surrounding region’s recovery from Hurricane Michael and long-term resilience,” Carney said.
The UF’s Florida Institute for Built Environmental Resilience (FIBER), developed in 2018 across a host of educational disciplines is spearheading the project.
FIBER is committed to “the design, planning, construction and management of resilient built environments, with a strong interest in the well-being of individuals and communities who inhabit them,” according to a release.
The 17 students in the spring program were tasked with eight research projects that emerged from a visioning meeting and workshop several UF hosted late last year at First United Methodist Church of Port St. Joe, site of last Friday’s presentation.
Beginning in January, the students from a variety of disciplines, journalism to building and landscaping design, immersed in the challenges facing Port St. Joe, Carney said.
The Spring Break field work last week included more than 100 interviews with local residents on a host of issues and pulling those interviews together at The Joe Center for the Arts.
“We have seen and heard a lot,” Carney said.
The students are about two-thirds of the way through their projects, which are expected to wrap with papers in June.
The topics included the importance of preserving the health of St. Joseph Bay and the Bay’s support of not only fisheries but the economics of the community.
That segued to a discussion about the large sale of land five or six years ago between the St. Joe Company and Deseret which has resulted in significant amounts of county land transformed from timberland to grazing land.
What are the impacts on the Bay, students wondered?
There was also a project to connect the community through revitalization of north and south ends of downtown, through parks and the major issue facing the county, housing or affordable or workforce housing.
The students offered ideas such implementing some zoning changes proposed for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. corridor to the south side of downtown to help alleviate the housing issues.
There was talk about modular housing as a solution to stick-built and providing incentives to those with vacation housing to open up units for workforce housing, using parks and green spaces to increase connectivity and more.
Another idea was a communication campaign around the slogan “One Port St. Joe” to enhance visibility and funding sources.
The students also received feedback from those present for the event.
In summing up, one researcher said, “You guys have so much opportunity here, a lot of raw potential.”