Gabe Kaimowitz: Bringing art and culture back to downtown


Published: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 11, 2013 at 11:50 p.m.

Both the Sun and former Commissioner Ed Braddy missed the critical point in their arguments about the most desirable means of transportation to get downtown, and their respective wishes for more or fewer lanes to that destination. What they missed is that downtown is dead. Surely rigor mortis seems to have set in at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza, despite whatever brief respite took place to welcome in the new year.

Other times, the plaza is nothing more than an occasional thoroughfare for the drinking crowds on weekends as they pass through to bar hop to hear often interchangeable bands, or to see a play or arcane film at the Hippodrome. No museum or other source of entertainment is in sight. Perhaps parimutuel betting should be legalized at that site, while a big screen shows thoroughbreds racing at various venues around the nation.

Bo Diddley Plaza's main attraction in 2012 perhaps was intellectual Cornell West's impassioned plea in support of Occupy Gainesville's call to end poverty locally last January. The trespassers arrested on the plaza the previous year still haven't gone to trial, but nobody is selling tickets for that yawn, or even giving them away. The judicial system's failure to produce even a single publicized civil trial or hearing speaks volumes about the shrunken interest in downtown.

The plaza's main events this year ended with a muted announcement about the cancelation of an ice skating rink. Ice skating was to be returned to Gainesville for the first time since 2005. Few apparently even knew ice skating was supposed to happen.

Management of the plaza is so confused currently under Parks & Recreation (oh, yes, & Culture) that the Sun quoted different city employees to explain what was happening to the rink during the weeks when at least that pleasurable activity was contemplated downtown. This is not intended to fault staff, but rather the bureaucrats who seem to be clueless about local culture here.

In daylight hours, there could be, but there are no attractions most of the time at that central location. Except for the farmer's market on Wednesdays or the periodic festivals, the plaza has little to offer to hold the attention of passersby.

Imagine lunchtime concerts to attract crowds. What about supporting restaurants nearby which do not change hands and décor and expensive menus at every economic tremor? Perhaps Acrosstown Theatre could be brought in to fill the gap. Wait. Do I hear former Commissioner Braddy once again complaining about homeless and other poor people intimidating passersby? They surely are not the problem any longer, despite more lunchtime meals being served in the vicinity of the plaza.

Other more imaginative communities certainly have figured out positive rather than punitive ways to minimize unwanted behavior. New York City's Central Park once stood empty for hours at a time during the week, until a far-sighted mayor decided to attract more people with theater and live concerts instead of a greater police presence.

Instead of concentrating police resources on limiting graffiti, the city might well want to find ways to encourage artists to present their works in what is now dead space. Union Square in San Francisco comes alive with their presence. Imagine easels with the works of local artists on the plaza on days when there is no rain.

Apparently all those county administrators, civil court employees and city hall workers who shuffle to and from their employment have yet to consider ways to enliven downtown. Perhaps during the campaign to elect a mayor, someone will begin to address this significant issue in 2013.

Gabe Kaimowitz lives in Gainesville.

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