Gainesville's in-between space


Published: Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 11:50 p.m.

I'm one of those Alachua County greenies whose interests have taken such a beating at the polls in recent years.

If one believes the standard rhetoric of Republican disinformation campaigns, people like me are opposed to developers and development in any form. Common wisdom is not wise at all in regard to such things.

Now Gainesville is in the initial stages of a Midtown development of considerable size, and some people are trying to stop it. I'm green and I'm for it. Furthermore, I'm convinced that if they know what's good for their city, the mayor and local residents who have spoken against this development will pipe down.

What's required to understand the issues surrounding this development is spatial perspective - good old human geography.

Gainesville's downtown core has improved significantly in recent years through the efforts of the McGurns and others. However, no one likes driving through the wasteland of rinky-dink commerce along West University Avenue, nor the medical complex sterility along Southwest Second Avenue, to reach that core. The mile square area between downtown and the University of Florida is a development void. Upgrading this in-between space is vital to continued improvement downtown.

The Sixth Street corridor, the main north-south route through the area, is where the original Florida Southern Railroad line was moved westward from Main Street in the late 1940s.

A railroad on the town's main drag was not considered a very attractive feature. Few people cared that in redirecting it six blocks west they were bisecting an existing African American neighborhood. Typical transportation oriented activities soon lined this new rail route.

A depot, warehouses and some mixed commercial structures remain today from the railroad days. It's in this relatively stagnant environment that a developer proposes to build several towers bringing a mix of residential and commercial activity to the area.

This isn't a pristine natural landscape that the green constituency would try to conserve. This is an urban void with few people, few jobs, few structures of significance and few good prospects.

A large development in the midst of the Sixth Street corridor will have some guaranteed enrichment spill-over impacts on surrounding areas. The small housing area to the east will be improved through increased land values. Hopefully, the Pleasant Street and Fifth Avenue historic district to the north, as well as the Porters area to the south will benefit as well.

Attractive local churches will welcome an increase in parishioners living nearby. An on-going Sixth Street redesign north of University Avenue will be benefitted by improvement to the south.

The ugly Seagle box tower to the north, a misplaced telecommunications tower to the east, and the banality of current architectural design at the University of Florida to the west, should prompt open arms for innovative tower facades in the design desert that is Gainesville. There is absolutely no functional nor aesthetic incompatibility to high rise development in an area where marginal living and derelict buildings are the rule.

Gainesville's in-between space needs residents, and lots of them. People

living along Sixth Street will constitute an attractive economic market. Businesses that supply goods and services will build nearby. And, the low to moderate income people who populate the areas now will benefit from nearness to this focal point of capital investment.

Development is a good thing for Alachua County, as long as it's in the right locations. This is one of those places.

Sandra M. Lamme is a member of Gainesville's Historic Preservation Board.

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