Gainesville in 2026: Just what is in store?

Published: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Postcards from the Gainesville area, circa 2026:
One might show a city skyline several stories taller than what is typical today. Another might picture satellite campuses of Santa Fe Community College in Hawthorne, Alachua and other communities orbiting Gainesville.
One postcard might show a Haile Plantation-type community in East Gainesville.
Emphasis on "might," in each of the above.
In foretelling what the Gainesville area might look like in 20 years, however, there's one area in which "likely" would be more suitable than "might" - traffic. On major city streets, traffic in 2026 likely will be as congested as today, if not more so, one official predicts.
Instead of its usual New Year's Day practice of looking just to the year ahead, The Sun sought this time to peer farther into the future - 20 years. Several big-picture planners gazed into their crystal balls to see what might be in store for greater Gainesville in areas such as growth, education, the environment and transportation.
Transportation "It wouldn't be accurate to say things will not get more congested in 20 years," said Marlie Sanderson, director of transportation planning for the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council. "To be honest, I think there will be significant (traffic) congestion, especially on the west side of Gainesville."
He said it has been estimated that it would take $400 million to do everything needed to avoid major traffic congestion over the next two decades. But the reality, he said, is that there may be less than $40 million available - $38.5 million is the figure his office works with in its 20-year plan, which is revisited every five years - to improve roads, traffic signals and public transportation in metropolitan Gainesville.
"So we studied the 'needed' list and ended up choosing five high-priority projects," Sanderson said.
"Priority No. 1 was to fix all the traffic signals to get them coordinated," he said. "Improving the signal system would have the biggest impact because we would get more efficient use of the existing road network."
That project alone is estimated to cost about $16 million. There is no starting date yet, Sanderson said, but in March a report is expected to be completed outlining on which traffic corridors the new signal-phasing project should begin.
The top-five list of high-priority transportation projects for the future also includes:
  • Widening SE 16th Avenue between S. Main Street and Williston Road;
  • Rebuilding SW 20th Avenue between 34th and 43rd streets as an "enhanced" two-lane road with center turn lanes and other upgrades;
  • Reconstructing NW 34th Street to add about five turn lanes between NW 16th Boulevard and U.S. 441;
  • Reconstruction of Depot Avenue between S. Main Street and Williston Road.
    Sanderson said there are plans to build a new access road to Gainesville Regional Airport. The $1.6 million project will create a totally new road running east to the airport from Waldo Road, replacing the current access road off NE 39th Avenue.
    "But with the exception of the airport road, there is no completely new road that is in the cost-feasible plan," he said.
    Growth Population growth in Alachua County over the next two decades is expected to be more modest than statewide projections.
    Stan Smith, director of UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said the bureau has made projections for 2025 that show Alachua County's population growing to 306,900 from the 240,674 estimate for 2005. That 27.5 percent population increase compares to a projected 36.4 percent rise statewide - from 17.9 million in 2005 to 24.5 million by 2025.
    Long-term population projections are made only for counties and the state, not for cities, Smith said. Gainesville's 2005 population was estimated at 119,889, he said, which makes up about half the county population.
    But Smith cautioned that it would not be safe to say that 20 years from now half the county population will live in Gainesville. Other factors could affect Gainesville's population, he said, including possible significant growth in cities like Newberry and Alachua.
    Alachua County's demographics will look much the same in 20 years as today, but with some subtle changes.
    Smith said Gainesville's student population will make 18-to-34 the dominant age group in two decades, just as it is today.
    Still, the influence of baby boomers will cause the county's number of people age 65 and older to more than double, he said, from about 21,000 today to 50,000 in 2025.
    One group - non-Hispanic whites - is projected to continue to dominate Alachua County's population in 20 years. But their percentage of the population will be lower than it is today, Smith said.
    "Black and Hispanic-white populations are going up as a proportion of the overall population, especially Hispanics," he said. "In 2000, Hispanics made up about 6 percent of the total, and by 2025 they are projected to be about 9 percent."
    Blacks in Alachua County will comprise about 21 percent of the population in 20 years, up slightly from today's 20 percent, Smith said. He said non-Hispanic whites, who today are 71 percent of the county population, are projected to make up about 65 percent in 2025.
    Development Jim Painter, new president of the Builders Association of North Central Florida, said he sees in Gainesville's future a multi-story cityscape dotted with projects similar to the proposed eight-story University Corners residential and commercial complex.
    "I'm not sure we'd have 25 stories," he said, referring to the Midtown project that never made it off the drawing board. "But I feel we'll see five to 10 stories in certain areas."
    But the former Gainesville city commissioner and mayor said that unless government and the building community can work together better, he also sees a greenbelt of unaffordable land that will push some people out of the city's housing market.
    "If we continue on the path we're on . . . development of open pieces of property will become so expensive with impact fees, setbacks and other government regulations," said Painter, vice president of Painter Masonry. "What I see happening is fewer affordable-priced homes for middle- and lower-income people. They'll have to go to Hawthorne or Archer, or Union County or Putnam County in order to build.
    "You'll have only upper-income-level people going out into the band around Gainesville," he said.
    Painter said East Gainesville is "a diamond in the rough" that in 20 years could be home to a large, mixed-use subdivision.
    "Maybe a Haile (Plantation)-type situation in the Phifer area," he said, referring to land off Hawthorne Road just east of Gainesville. "It would take something like that to drive development."
    Tom Saunders, Gainesville's director of community development, said the "revitalization" that has begun in earnest across the city today will continue over the next two decades.
    "I think Gainesville is at the beginning of a period of substantial revitalization of its urban neighborhoods, of the downtown core, College Park, University Heights, the historic districts surrounding downtown and of the east side," he said.
    "In the past year, the city has seen significantly more urban condos and row houses in the central core and neighborhoods, and that pace of revitalization has probably reached a critical mass where it will only build more from here," Saunders said. "I think every city hits a stage where its urban revitalization is significant enough that there's no going back, and its urban core areas only get nicer.
    "Gainesville has reached that point, and I think we'll see that momentum unfold dramatically over the next 20 years," he said.
    Environment If the inevitable growth that is in the area's future can be "smart growth," the natural environment will fare well over the next 20 years.
    That's the hopeful vision of Sean McLendon, senior staff assistant in Alachua County's Environmental Protection Department.
    "In 20 years, hopefully we'll have a continuing conservation program to preserve lands for the future," he said. "Hopefully, we'll see the integration of passive recreation like nature trails and interconnectivity within the county to other conservation lands around the state."
    McLendon said creating such opportunities for green space could help North Central Florida become a "must-see" eco-tourism destination.
    He said he anticipates the expected growth will be "more compact, smarter and in conjunction with other municipalities to optimize resources."
    Future technology might help improve the environment, he said, but it isn't always the solution. More important, he said, is designing a community in which people are able to make choices, such as riding a bike to work or taking public transportation.
    "If we grow the right way, we'll be able to make those choices and keep our green spaces and a comfortable lifestyle," McLendon said.
    Air and water quality also will depend on smarter choices, he said.
    "I sincerely hope we'll be looking at alternative means of energy production," he said, such as solar and wind power. "By that I mean looking forward to the day when the burning of fossil fuels is only a small part of the equation for generating power, whether in an automobile or providing power to our homes and businesses."
    McLendon said he sees a well-shaded future for the area in 20 years.
    "Within the city and the municipality areas, I think we'll probably see continued support of the incredible (tree) canopy system we have here," he said. "I think there will be more emphasis on native plants, and the restoring of areas that have been damaged by past development practices. Efforts are under way to help natural areas and have natural areas help us - to control pollution and flooding by such things as restoring wetland areas.
    "I hope we would be using what we learn from nature," he said.
    Higher education The Gainesville campuses of the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College are almost certain to be larger in 2026 than they are today. Less certain is how large their on-campus student bodies will be.
    "Our current master plan is being updated and we're looking out to 2015, and we're showing enrollment of 49,500 on the Gainesville campus," said Linda Dixon, planning officer in UF's facilities planning and construction department. (UF has no enrollment projection for 20 years out.)
    "One of the things I think we'd see in the future is the enrollment on the Gainesville campus declining as a percentage of the total," she said. "That's because we'll be having more students pursuing degrees at Fort Pierce, Jacksonville, Apopka and other University of Florida satellite campuses around the state. It's part of that whole idea of decentralization and serving the whole state."
    A similar scenario is foreseen for SFCC. "I think we'll see a belt of satellite Santa Fe Community College campuses around Gainesville - maybe in places like Alachua-High Springs and Hawthorne - in order to have affordable education locally," said Bennye Alligood, SFCC's associate vice president for college relations.
    She said SFCC expects enrollment at its Gainesville campuses - Northwest and Downtown - to grow over the next 20 years, but "I would not hazard a guess as to what it would be."
    Anne Kress, interim vice president for academic affairs at SFCC, said the school "will always have a fairly traditional student who comes to campus." But technology and educational innovations - such as "weekend colleges," hybrid and online classes - may create secondary campuses where students learn in more non-traditional settings, she said.
    "We have a growing group of students who want to take online classes, for whom, because of their own time commitments, the notion of coming to campus is not appealing," Kress said. "We'll probably see that population grow."
    Dixon said that because of ongoing preservation efforts, UF's historic core probably will look about the same in 20 years as it does today. New growth likely will sprout in the Archer Road area near Shands at UF and the veterinary school, the SW 13th Street area and on land near SW 34th Street and Radio Road, she said.
    Twenty years may not do much to improve UF's perennial problem - parking.
    "It will be interesting to see what new technology becomes available, maybe in the areas of mass transit," she said. "I'd like to hope that some of these alternatives would become available in 20 years."
    Bob Arndorfer can be reached at 352-374-5042 or
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