Urbanization hurts our community, environment

Growth of complexes and neighborhoods threatens Gainesville's unique landscape.

Published: Monday, January 19, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 19, 2004 at 2:03 a.m.

In the 15 years I have lived in Gainesville I have acquired favorite driving routes through and around the city. I have chosen these for expediency or because they are attractive thoroughfares. Like many motorists, there are routes I avoid due to heavy traffic.

But, in the past few years, my to-be-avoided list has grown longer because driving on some of our roadways fills me with too much sorrow or anger over what has happened to the palette of our land.

Do you remember what the far west end of NW 23rd Avenue and 83rd used to look like before trees were cleared to make room for new and larger churches? I am not condemning worshipers, but I do wonder why, instead of cutting down the woodlands to make room for new parishioners, additions are not built onto existing structures.

And what about the corner of NW 83rd and 39th Avenue? If you haven't passed by it recently you will be hard-pressed to recognize it now.

Up until three months ago it was a corner abundant with trees that served as back yards to many homeowners in the Northridge subdivision. The corner that, in two week's time, was transformed into a barren slope of dirt with a curbside sign heralding the Springhill Office Complex. The one that, as of this writing, appears to be solely a parking lot.

How I used to love crossing over I-75 to pass the horses that once graced several green acres. For months after the birth of a foal a few years ago, I used that route weekly, solely to watch the young horse's progress.

It's a loathsome region now, a pale pastel checkerboard of homes so close to one another that a resident may be in danger of getting a glimpse of his neighbor's brand of toilet paper when glancing out his bathroom window.

In the mid-1990s the section of 43rd Street between 16th and 39th Avenue had a total of three financial institutions on it, all on the eastern side of the street. That area is now to banks what Main Street is to cars. I've lost count of how many banks are actually on that street now.

In a city this size, exactly how many do we need? Apparently someone thinks we just don't have enough because yet another credit union is being built at the southeast corner of 16th Avenue. The corner that served as a pumpkin patch in the fall and Christmas tree lot in December. A corner that will now add to the already tricky

maneuvering it takes to get onto and off of 16th Avenue.

And lastly, the latest and largest tract of land to be bludgeoned is the land east and west of the Palm Grove subdivision, on NW 39th and 24th Boulevard.

The acreage faces the heavily wooded neighborhoods of Cherry Tree and Forest of the Unicorn. The east side of Palm Grove is bare; no trees are left standing. The west side of Palm Grove is now stripped terrain with a fringe of trees down its center and has been dubbed Walnut Creek.

Walnuts? Is someone planning to plant walnut trees now that all the indigenous pines and oaks are gone? And what about the creek? Is there one? Maybe after construction crews dig deep enough one will be discovered.

Each new subdivision built in the last five years has fewer trees left standing than those built before it. Our city is losing its thermal blanket at a terrifyingly rapid rate. The abundant evergreen umbrella that has grown over this city for decades is losing its crusade to protect the ground we inhabit - a land we merely lease.

We are renters of this place we call Earth and we, in our resolve to have more, certain that we are entitled to whatever we can pay for, are leaving our rental property in much worse condition than when we moved in. Like irresponsible and inconsiderate tenants, we revel in leaving behind our refuse and destruction, assuming the landlord will clean up after us.

Not this time. We are it. We are our own landlords, which is truly a frightening thought.

Polly McCrillis-Mach is a high school teacher and mother of two.

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