Fliering Attacks Gainesville, People Flee!!
Gainesville native and current expatriate
MADISON, WI -- When people say that the Gainesville City Commission isn't doing their job, isn't busting their hump to make this city a better place, isn't addressing "the issues," I laugh. I mean where else in Gainesville do you find 5 people working as hard to make us #1 again?
First, they threw caution to the wind (not to mention a thousand bucks or so) and got rid of perfectly good brown carpet for the City Commission chambers because then-Mayor Paula Delaney didn't like how it fit with the new decor. Money Magazine¨ isn't going to reward a city that can't match its carpet and its office furniture!
Then, they rolled up their sleeves (well, they didn't actually. They paid some other folks $5/hr or so to roll up THEIR sleeves) and relandscaped the downtown plaza and put red bricks in all the Downtown sidewalks. I mean who's going to want to live in a town with normal cement sidewalks? Degenerates, that's who.
Then our elected leaders and their friends at the Department of Transportation turned their attention to the most pressing transit issue in town, and the apparent cause of our fall from grace as the Money Magazine¨ #1 City in America. Lack of bike lanes? Ridiculously high bus fare? Gridlock on 34th St.? What, are you crazy? Those aren't problems, they're delusions in the minds of a few nay-sayers and communist outside agitators who obsess over silly things like that.
No, the issue was those insipid traffic lights all over town. The commission finally tore down all the old signals and replaced them with beautiful black poles at every intersection. No longer will anyone be subjected to ununiform traffic lights. Finally the pain will end.
But the city commission simply got the improvement-ball rolling; they weren't alone. Their fighting spirit had made others ask themselves "How can I make Gainesville a better place? How can I make sure we're Money Magazine's¨ #1 City in America again next year?" So UF stopped charging tuition, employers in Gainesville started paying $10/hr with health insurance, Florida Rock turned their proposed cement plant into a botanical garden, and the police started arresting folks for putting up fliers on utility poles.
At this point, those ne'er-do-wells down at the Civic Media Center said "Hey, maybe arresting people for exercising their 1st Amendment rights isn't the best way to make Gainesville a better place". So we, uh, I mean they (I'm just an objective reporter), circulated a petition against thefliering crackdown, attended 1/2 a dozen city commission meetings, held protests, and eventually stopped the city from making fliering totally illegal. This group evidently had no problem with Gainesville being Money Magazine's¨ #361 place to live after New Lenox, Illinois and Oil City, Pennsylvania.
Sitting in a city commission meeting I decided that it was unfair of me, as an OPS worker at UF making the kingly sum of $7/hr (with no health benefits), to sit on my butt while Pegeen, Ed, Sandee, Bruce and Paula were racking their collective brains to come up with a solution to this problem.
So I packed my things, sold my house, said good-bye to my mom, gave my cat away and set out on a cross-country mission: To make Gainesville Money Magazine's #1 City in America again and find a solution to this damn fliering problem.
I quickly chose my first destination: Madison, Wisconsin. After all, what better place to get ideas about how to make Gainesville the #1 place to live than the city that knocked us out of the top spot in 1996? In many ways Madison is a lot like Gainesville. It's home to a huge university (45,000 students), a huge university culture and lots of student activism. Their mascot, Bucky the Badger, is as recognizable and overexposed as Albert the Alligator.
So I was looking around Madison and asking myself, "With so much the same, what makes Madison more Money Magazine's¨ #1 City in America than my hometown?" Is it the fact that the student neighborhoods haven't been razed for high rise apartments like the Student Ghetto in Gainesville? Nah. Is it the extensive Madison Community Co-op housing system? No, that probably just leads to more annoying and property-devaluing activists. Is their football team better than ours? Get real.
I decided to pound the pavement, talk to some of the locals and find out what Madison was doing to stay #1. Maybe that would provide some answers. Well, their public transportation system is basically non-existent. Nothing different there from Gainesville. They have the proud distinction of passing the first welfare destruction bill and they routinely harass young people for loitering. Both worthy accomplishments and things Gainesville should imitate (maybe we could go a step further and just arrest all teenagers, young people and welfare recipients). But all that will have to wait because the City Commission has their hands full with this fliering issue.
That's it! Madison is home of THE KIOSKS that several Gainesville City Commissioners are so fond of and want to bring to a former-Money-Magazine¨-#1 -City-in-America-near-you. How could I be so blind?
The majority of kiosks in Madison are on State Street, the main drag between the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin State Capitol Building. It's a lot like University Avenue except State Street is two lanes and is closed to all auto traffic. (Except delivery trucks and, of course, police. How else are they supposed to harass young people hanging out on State St. You don't expect them to walk around like everyone else do you?). The sidewalks along State St. are about 15-20 feet wide and the kiosks are about 30 yards apart interspersed with benches and sidewalk cafes. The fact that State St. is closed to cars also means that bicyclists can ride in the road rather than the sidewalk without fear of getting killed by an impatient motorist, and pedestrians can use the whole sidewalk.
These differences aside I tried to find out a little more about the history of the kiosks. I mean if Madison, this poor excuse for a Money Magazine's¨ #1 City in America could have kiosks, dadgummit so could Gainesville. So I tracked down one of those always-complaining-about-something student activists, Ben Manski of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Alliance for Democracy, and asked him a little about the kiosks.
Manski, who was born and raised in Madison, told me that the kiosks were originally set up about 20 years ago by a Madison Mayor who wanted to make State St. more pedestrian-friendly. So he closed State St. to cars, widened the sidewalks and put kiosks up all over State St.
Ben said that the Kiosks are cleaned regularly by city employees. He said that every so often someone will set one of the kiosks ablaze or that drunk idiots (loosely translated as Frat Boys) will often climb up on them after a night of celebrating at their favorite bar. I asked a few other students if the kiosks meant that people didn't flyer on telephone poles anymore and if there was a criminal penalty for doing so. They said fliering on poles still occurred, just a little less frequently on State St., and that they weren't sure about any sort of penalty for posting on city poles.
It was clear what Gainesville had to do to become Money Magazine's¨ #1 City in America again. So I snuck my way into the computer lab and wrote a letter to the Honorable Gainesville City Commission about the task before us:
Dear City Commissioners,
Hope you aren't working too hard. If past performance is any indication, I'm sure you're not. I am in Madison, Wisconsin right now and have figured out how to regain our distinction of being Money Magazine's¨ #1 City in America! All we have to do is:
1. Close University Avenue (from about Main St. to NW 24th St.) to all cars.
2. Widen the sidewalks along TRFKAUA (The Road Formerly Known As University Ave.) by 20 feet.
3. Put up kiosks all along TRFKAUA.
4. Mount a massive public education campaign to let people know about the changes (maybe we could sell that brown carpet y'all bought a while back to finance this?)
5. Rename TRFKAUA, "Piotrowski Avenue" as a tribute to all my hard work in making us Money Magazine's¨ #1 City in America again! (It may seem like a mouthful, but it's the same length as University Ave!)
Yours in constant service,
About a week after I had finished this article and mailed my letter to the City Commission I got news that my entire trip, research and effort had been for naught. Madison hadn't been named Money Magazine's¨ #1 City in America just because they had kiosks and we didn't; that was just part of the story. My fingers trembled as I read the headline: "Mother Jones Magazine Names University of Wisconsin-Madison #1 Activist School"
D'oh! How could I be so stupid? Of course! Student activism clearly had more to do with being Money Magazine's¨ #1 City in America than simply having kiosks. Now, I'm not saying Gainesville doesn't have any student activism--far from it. But while students in Madison were merrily fliering on kiosks, students in Gainesville were risking arrest, collecting petition signatures and attending City Commission meetings to keep fliering legal--and Money Magazine¨ didn't like that.
Having failed at returning Gainesville to Money Magazine's¨ #1 City in America and at finding a solution to the seemingly unsolvable problem of fliering in Gainesville, I packed my bags, said good-bye to my newfound friends in Madison and drove off into the sunset in search of the answers.
Mark Piotrowski is a former leader of UF's Freedom Coalition. He currently works for the Center for Campus Organizing in Boston, Mass.
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