Water Street Tampa

Water Street, with its iconic canopy and generous sidewalks, exemplifies how to plan cities with the health of all living communities in focus.
Exit fullscreen

A series of fragmented blocks in downtown Tampa, Florida, became a proving ground for city-building centered on human comfort and wellbeing. The developer appointed Reed Hilderbrand at their project’s inception, seeking a public realm master plan to articulate strong civic values and to enact a holistic vision for wellness. The landscape architect defined Water Street Tampa through mature live oaks set within sidewalks dimensioned to permit 1,200 cubic feet of soil per tree, to sustain continuous canopy above, aiming to achieve 75% coverage in 10 years. Principles of comfort, connectivity, and resilience guided realization of Water Street’s first six blocks and its certification in 2023 as the first-ever WELL Standard Community.

Water Street Tampa is a live-work-play district where public realm design stirs civic life and advances wellness by means of an extraordinary urban forest. The framework planning area addresses 53 acres, once surface parking lots and underutilized parcels, rebuilding a street grid to link downtown’s central business district to Channelside. The developer recruited Reed Hilderbrand early to lead the public realm master plan. Commenced in 2016, this framework reimagined Tampa’s form-based code to prototype a public realm where sidewalks act as urban plazas, prioritizing room to plant mature live oaks as street trees that welcome all beneath their shade.

Design principles of immersive human comfort, environmental resilience, and restored connections have shaped successful completion of Water Street’s first six blocks in January 2023.


Urban canopy ambitions drove the form of the public realm. Across more than one mile of continuous sidewalks, widths were set to accommodate adequate soil volume to support mature canopy trees. Of 300 live oaks planned for the district, 50 are planted as part of the first phase. Reed Hilderbrand provisioned diverse open spaces for people across multiple street types, each with trees and distinct furnishing zones. Of these the most generous is Water Street, the district’s namesake, featuring a 45-foot-wide, four-block “verge” planted with a double row of live oaks. This is the site of many experiences, from shaded solitude to intimate music performances, holiday parades and activations by local artists. Furnishing zones are detailed to be welcoming and flexible.


Shaded by urban forest, accessible by bike and on foot, and surfaced and planted to manage intense stormwater, this is a resilient community rooted to Gulf Coast Florida. Planting mature live oaks today begins to deliver shade and thermal comfort right away, while generous soil volumes and life support systems ensure the canopy can become a cooling climate adaptation in years ahead. Though Water Street does not reach the waterfront, it slopes down to the Garrison Channel. Some 62% of sidewalks are permeable or absorptive surfaces. Rain gardens appear continuously. Native and adaptive species appear, and all plantings follow a conceptual relationship to topography and proximity to the Bay.


Water Street makes connections and communicates connectivity. The site in 2016 consisted of parcels of a formerly industrial waterfront, disconnected from downtown and Tampa Bay. Reed Hilderbrand set the scale of the district to be welcoming, accessible, and humane. Orientation to the water is clear; east-west connections between neighborhoods are strong. Streets are narrow; blocks are short. Reclaimed brick is reused in parking areas to reduce the perception of road width. Permeable sidewalk paving includes a custom paver whose angles echo an eccentric shift in Tampa’s street-grid orientation. And a 45-foot-wide crosswalk — continuing that park-like furnishing zone of Water Street — says it all: pedestrians are welcome.


Tampa, FL




53 acres




  • I’ve Never Been More Proud to Live in This Florida City by Terry Ward, Travel + Leisure
  • 2024 BSLA Award of Merit, General Design