Happy New Year, Gainesville.
I know, but it’s an old habit with me.
When I became higher education reporter for The Sun, in 1976, it felt like this town ran more on the academic calendar than the Gregorian. And so, as editorial page editor, beginning in the ‘80s, I got into the habit of issuing new year’s greetings at the end of August. Because who wants to wait until January to celebrate the obvious?
This is supposed to be our time of renewal. When we shrug off the old and embrace the new. Right now, while tens of thousands of students and educators descend on Gainesville from the world over.
It’s when you feel the quickening of social and cultural life. The football weekends. The Accent speakers. New performing seasons at the Hipp and the Phillips Center.
Gainesville comes alive and anticipation is in the air. Downtown rocks until the wee hours…every night. And we are confident that, this year, there will be no need to “wait ‘til next year” for that championship.
Ah, but this year…
If this indeed be Gainesville’s new year, we face it with more trepidation than anticipation.
Some students will do more learning on line than face-to-face. We know when live classes are supposed to commence, but we don’t really know whether the new semester at UF and Santa Fe will last into December or fold within days in the face of an uptick of Covid cases.
And we know that when UF sneezes Gainesville gets a cold.
Football? Maybe a 10-game conference schedule. Maybe just a game or two….or none at all.
Fest? Forget it, Downtown clubs may or may not open for business. We’ve already lost some familiar local landmarks, like Leonardos 706 and Civilization. And more will likely follow. And when January does get here, the forecast for fireworks at Depot Park is not looking good.
Talk about a sign of the times. Cycling through Midtown the other day I saw one that read “No Lease: Month to month.”
We desperately want a return to normalcy. But now we don’t even know what the new normal is going to look like in two weeks, let alone two months.
Oh brave new year that has such uncertainty in it.
But here’s the thing about our new year. About any new year.
It is always a good time to look ahead to better days than these. To resolve to do better. To work harder. To double down on our city’s depth of intellectual resources and spirit of innovation.
We are a university city. We are a city of educators and health care professionals and scientists and entrepreneurs. We, of all people, ought to be capable of shaping Gainesville’s new normal rather than having it thrust upon us.
And make no mistake, Gainesville already has a lot on its plate. Issues of equity, an affordable housing shortage, a looming eviction crisis, mounting unemployment and questions about how to build a more resilient local economy.
If there was ever a year for the much heralded Gainesville-University of Florida strategic partnership to prove its worth, this is it. We are limited only by the bounds of our collective imagination.
With so much at stake, it’s never too early to start the clock on 2021.