Report on city's health cites areas of concern


Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 11:55 p.m.

Annexation and housing policies were blamed for a lag in Gainesville's per capita income and a growing segregation in Alachua County's schools in an update on a 10-year-old report on the health of the city.

The health of Gainesville should be a concern for both city and county commissions and requires greater cooperation between these bodies to increase annexation in the city's urban fringe, reduce economic and racial segregation and better coordinate planning efforts, said David Rusk, the author of the report.

"No county is served by having a failed central city," said Rusk, a former mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., who now serves as consultant for city development issues.

Rusk, who has consulted for municipalities nationwide, first came to Gainesville 10 years ago when he was commissioned to write a report on the state of city-county relations, annexation and development. Since then, that report has become a guiding document for many city officials.

Monday's presentation represented an update on that initial report and noted a number of worrying trends though, Rusk pointed out, none of them signaled a "crisis."

"It's still a healthy city in a healthy region," he said after making a presentation to the commission.

But Rusk also issued a warning about the "very alarming trend" of increased segregation in Alachua County schools.

Since 1989, racial and economic segregation in Alachua County have each increased by more than 20 points on a 100-point scale used by social scientists to measure integration, according to the report. This decline in integration has been caused in part by a lack of policies requiring "inclusionary housing," which would integrate low-income housing into neighborhoods with market-rate housing, Rusk said.

The 2003 decision of the Alachua County School Board to stop busing students to different schools also contributed to the current lack of diversity, Rusk said.

Gainesville's per capita income is 95 percent of the county as a whole. Rusk said this is primarily due to the flight of higher-income professionals to suburban areas just outside the Gainesville city limits.

Of all the municipalities in Alachua County, only Alachua has a higher income level than Gainesville with a per capita income that is 102 percent of the county average.

This indicates the problem may be one of insufficient annexation rather than with the area's economy, Rusk said, adding that the area's job growth increased 12 percentage points more between 1989 and 2004 than the national average.

"In the 'age of sprawl,' a central city's ability to defend its market share of regional growth through annexation is vitally related to the city's economic, social, and fiscal health," Rusk wrote in the report.

There are signs the city and county are poised to offer better cooperation on annexation issues: the two governments are negotiating an agreement designed to ease the transition when an annexation occurs, and county commissioners have said they would be open to more annexations. But one of Rusks most powerful recommendations, requiring areas to join the city when they reach a certain density, would require action by the state Legislature to go into effect.

This recommendation is designed to avoid situations where areas vote against annexing into the city even if they are considered to have an urban character.

Commissioner Ed Braddy grabbed on to one of Rusk's ideas, combining the city and county planning departments into a single entity. Rusk said such an arrangement would allow for greater continuity and a more consistent vision between the two departments. Braddy, who has proposed such an arrangement in the past, agreed with Rusk and added that such a plan would also be more financially efficient.

Jeff Adelson can be reached at 374-5095 or adelsoj@ gvillesun.com.

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