Redesigning University Avenue
The stretch of West University Avenue between 6th and 13th Streets was the focus of a week long design workshop presented by Dover, Kohl and Partners of South Miami this week. Dover, Kohl was hired by the city for the design project which will provide recommendations for turning this area into an aesthetically pleasing connection between downtown and the University campus. The challenge will be to accommodate more people without sacrificing livability.
The workshop began on Saturday, October 2 with a 6 hour design charette at the Matheson Center and was attended by over 100 residents, civic leaders, and planners. Participants in the charette first saw a short presentation on how the process would proceed throughout the week. Leading the presentation, Victor Dover asked everyone to think about why the area is NOT what we want it to be and what to do to change it. Next, everyone split into groups, each to arrive at a vision for what the area should look like in the future. The study area also encompassed the College Park/University Heights neighborhoods to the north and south of University Avenue. Each group was given colored markers, and other drawing tools to use to put their ideas on a table sized map.
When the groups were finished, each drawing was posted for everyone to review and a representative from each group briefly explained the ideas behind the drawings. Although each group had some different ideas, most participants generally agreed on many points, among them:
1. Narrow the street from four to two lanes.
2. Widen the sidewalks.
3. Add streetscaping, including trees, pedestrian friendly lighting, and medians.
4. Replace existing parking lots with garages that would have retail/office space on the street level.
5. Establish a build to line to bring structures closer to the street, with 2nd floors built out over the sidewalk.
Before adjourning for the day, a short "open microphone" session was held to allow anyone a chance to make comments or suggestions or ask questions. James Schmidt, coordinator of the Civic Media Center, reminded participants that many of the residents of the area were minimum wage earners who worked at the local businesses and restaurants and that any plans for the area should not result in their being "designed out of the neighborhood."
Dover, Kohl set up a "working headquarters" at the Holiday Inn on West University Ave. on Sunday and, as we go to press, the final recommendations are being put together for a concluding presentation on Thursday, Oct. 8 at the GRU Building. Members of the public were able to drop in at any time during the week to offer their suggestions and comments.
This latest initiative is part of an ongoing process city officials have undertaken to transform the city into one which offers its citizens more sustainable transportation choices, establishes well defined neighborhoods, and places more value on our sense of community. In May, the city adopted the Traditional City Development Standards, which will result in a more pedestrian friendly environment by requiring large buildings to be oriented to the street, instead of having huge, treeless parking lots staring out at the thoroughfares. Additionally, the city has been encouraging transit ridership and is working on several rail trail projects. And this year alone, the city has designated $100,000 for sidewalk construction.
As planner Kevin Lynch noted in a pioneering study in 1965, the city is presented as a moving view from the main roads. The view from this portion of West University Avenue has become blurred, with cluttered intersections, and parts of the area almost indistinguishable from others. The ongoing visioning process, fostered by city officials, will be necessary to restore the area to the tree lined avenue it once was, one which will attract people and entice them to leave their automobiles behind in order to fully enjoy the neighborhood.
The visions of new, smarter, more compact growth means a significant change in growth trends and land development codes, but the vision seems to be a popular one with everyone involved in the process.
It is clear that growth must be contained (not stopped) to slow Gainesville's relentless march to the Gulf of Mexico and that this is possible by promoting this type of redevelopment and infill instead of watching growth consume more and more greenspace out in edge city. The resulting plan here will be going against the grain but such efforts have been successful in many other places. This effort is about community building and enhancing the qualities of Gainesville that make people want to stay here once they've seen it. If the city is successful with this project, it spells success for similar efforts in the future.
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