A former Ybor City resident reflects on gradual changes to his childhood neighborhood
"That's the only constant about Florida, it's change. Whether a hurricane is coming to chase down and wipe us out or if it's another subdivision popping up," Ormond Derrick said.
As Floridians, how we see ourselves and how the rest of the world sees us is often at odds. But that's been changing in recent years, partly because of new population growth.
Community members said they like the diversity, the infusion of new cultures and how the natural environment is an integral part of our identity.
In Tampa’s historic Ybor City neighborhood, I met with Ormond Derrick outside a coffee shop on bustling East Seventh Avenue, the thoroughfare lined with the area’s iconic archway lights. We talked about Derrick’s childhood in Ybor City before a move to rural Pasco County and how the 25-year-old has seen both places change.
Tell me about what it was like to grow up here.
Growing up here, it was different, probably the best way to describe it. And you can say that for a lot of places in Florida, but Tampa is kind of a special spot ... we have the huge Cuban influences, the German influences, Spanish, Irish influences. Every immigrant really has passed through and come to Ybor and made it what it is. But what made it so special was just the sense of community and the sense of acceptance that was here, regardless of who you were because it's the immigrant district. It's where everyone came to find a new home. And that really transcended generations, from ... the first wave of Cuban migration up until now.
"I didn't realize how many people are moving to Dade City and if you look around, just how much even the roads are changing. It used to be a little two-lane highway and now it's turning into four, six plus lanes of just giant subdivisions. All the forest and the natural landscape is being torn down to build all these houses."Ormond Derrick
I lived here [from] when I was born in 1998 until about 2010 when my family moved out to Dade City after the housing crisis in 2008. We unfortunately are some of the victims of that and were saddled with mortgages we couldn't afford. Long story short, we moved out also because the neighborhood and the crime and things like that, we wanted to get to more of a safer place because Ybor City wasn't always like the nice place that it is now. It was always a great neighborhood, but it was a little bit rough around the edges. But even after we moved, the rest of my family still remained here. So I would spend every weekend here with my abuelita [grandmother] at the house up the street.
My family always had a car. So we were able to move around pretty frequently. But as a kid, you can only go so far, you can only take the bus so far because it really didn't go many places. But even growing up then, it was kind of a different sense of community ... It was just different people, different vibes. I grew up around the area of Hillsborough Avenue and Nebraska Avenue. So we would always go to the swap meet, the old Joy Lan drive-in theater. The old Publix on Nebraska Avenue, that was our like family grocery store and then the Nebraska Mini Mart, which is now some restaurant.
Do you feel like that sense of community is still here in the over 10 years since you moved away?
Yeah, I think it's still is here and I still come back to Ybor all the time. My family is still here. And I think they'll always be the sense of community in Ybor, but I feel it's definitely been changing a lot with gentrification, all the housing developments. You can even see it on the streets of Ybor. One thing I've noticed personally ... there seems to be a lot more homeless people lately. I think about it as they just have nowhere else to go.
"But what makes me the most scared and most sad about it all is that I feel like we're losing a big piece of Florida and I don't necessarily mean that as the people but more so the natural landscape. You can see it around, it's just urban sprawl central. "Ormond Derrick
Do you miss the Dade City area at all?
Yeah, I do. One of my best friends I met in high school ... their family still lives out there and my mom still lives out there. So I go out there pretty frequently and it's nice to get away ... that small-town vibe. But even then, it's crazy to see so much of Florida is changing. I didn't realize how many people are moving to Dade City and if you look around, just how much even the roads are changing. It used to be a little two-lane highway and now it's turning into four, six plus lanes of just giant subdivisions. All the forest and the natural landscape is being torn down to build all these houses.
When I moved to Dade City, it was still this little small country, Old Florida town and so much of it is changing. Honestly it's a little bit scary and it makes me kind of sad. I welcome the change because if you've known anything about Florida, if you're a native-born Floridian or you have become a Floridian just by moving here and embracing what Florida is, you know Florida has changed. That's the only constant about Florida, it's change. Whether a hurricane is coming to chase down and wipe us out or if it's another subdivision popping up.
But what makes me the most scared and most sad about it all is that I feel like we're losing a big piece of Florida and I don't necessarily mean that as the people but more so the natural landscape. You can see it around, it's just urban sprawl central. And it's really just degrading the natural environment, the natural wonders and the natural beauty that is Florida. And I welcome people who come to Florida. My favorite thing is bringing my friends from out of state, from out of the country who just see Florida through the news and the wild lens of the place I live and showing them the real Florida ... I want everyone to have that experience and live in this beautiful, wonderful place or at least visit and have that experience. But the way that it's being built and the way that it's being done is just so unsustainable and is not good for Florida — not good for the people, not good for the environment and not good for anyone except maybe land developers.