Gainesville gridlock

Published: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 1:02 a.m.
Communities are fortunate when they have a long-standing local newspaper editor placing momentary events into wider chronological perspective.
Ron Cunningham performs this task well as we saw with his column on new urbanism in Gainesville (Jan. 9).
A flaw in his work, however, is that while events are viewed in the perspective of time, he generally ignores the other prime dimension of all human experience - space.
It's with space, the patterned arrangement of things along the surface of the earth, that Gainesville still comes up short.
The hopeful new urbanist projects that Cunningham notes here and there in Gainesville are not really all that positive because few development decision-makers have asked a key question: How are those places linked together and to the rest of town?
Consider the "here-and-there" of current and proposed developments in Gainesville.
The University Corners and University Lofts projects are being built along an east-west corridor that is constantly clogged with traffic.
Multiple residential developments that are to be constructed around the University of Florida and similar projects in the downtown area can best be characterized as isolated high-density nodes in an urban fabric rife with gaping holes of degraded townscape.
Further complicating this spotted urban setting are additional misplaced structures and poorly planned developments.
Governmental buildings are spread throughout downtown, making their operations less efficient and simultaneously lessening an urban sense of place.
University Avenue is turning into one long strip development west of 34th Street.
And what do we have to look forward to with an unspecified Butler development pouring multiple traffic lanes into the bottleneck of Archer Road and S.W. 34th Street, or a Wal-Mart Supercenter presumably emptying its parking lots onto two-lane 34th Street and/or two-lane 53rd Avenue?
An eyesore of a parking garage at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, an out-of-scale pavilion under construction at the Harn Museum, an orthopedic center on 34th Street that should have been situated in the university medical complex and a 34th Street conference center that should have been built between the university and downtown are evidence of a similar lack of wise site-selection on campus.
Throughout Gainesville, developers and university administrators have generally practiced what planners call "plunkitecture." That's just plunking down new developments in any available space, regardless of the connective consequences.
New urbanism is great when properly implemented, and that means paying attention to the linkage between places.
Furthermore, my view is that heightened spatial awareness is required by the concurrency provision in Florida's Growth Management Act.
This diagnosis of spatial disfunctionality, most accurately termed Gainesville gridlock, includes a multifaceted prescription for improvement as follows:
  • Consolidate local government. Only government, not developers, has the public mandate to plan for a spatially workable community.
    Fortunately, in the post-Lombardi era, university planning is interacting reasonably well with community planners.
  • Adopt and publicize a holistic community-wide spatial vision ethic.
    Every development should be evaluated in terms of its connection to other places and to the spatial movement options of its users.
  • Get traffic off the streets. A good start would be to deny UF campus car privileges to freshmen and sophomores.
    Despite evidence from other universities and previous recommendations, Tigert Hall administrators have never had the courage to face this issue.
  • Plan for a good mix of transportation alternatives.
    High-quality movement from place to place in Gainesville would include better mass transit, increased biking and specifically designed walking venues to increase the use of shank's mare.
    So Ron, keep on with those great perspective pieces, and be on time for my geography class next fall.
    Ary J. Lamme III is a cultural geographer at the University of Florida.
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