Get out of our bedrooms

As a student of irony I can’t help but admire the city commission’s passion for renter’s rights. In that cause commissioners have been pondering an ordinance that has landlords pulling out their hair and predicting that it will send rents sky high.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in favor of the ordinance.

But the irony is that city government is itself Gainesville’s biggest violator of renter’s rights. And has been for decades.

Listen, this is a liberal town. Everybody says so.

We celebrate diversity. We hang banners on Pride Week. We welcome all regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.

But since the 1970s city government has occupied our bedrooms, our living rooms and our kitchens in the most intrusive manner imaginable.

Simply put, the city says that no more than three people can share a house unless they are legally related.

How is that not a violation of our civil liberties? Of our right to free association?

I was a student at UF in the 1970s when the city imposed that restriction. And nobody pretended that it was being done for any other purpose than to keep students from infesting the city like…oh, I dunno…head lice.

It’s not like we are Black Jack, Missouri, which used a similar ordinance in 2006 to tell Fondray Loving, Olivia Shelltrack and their three kids that they couldn’t live in the five-bedroom house they had purchased.

Not so long as they lived together out of wedlock.

University of Missouri law professor Rigel C. Oliveri cited that case in a 2016 Florida Law Review article, in which she argued that a decades-old Supreme Court case upholding the right of cities to do what Gainesville and Black Jack do is “wholly incompatible” with “modern jurisprudence.”

We have “seen profound changes in how Americans live: increased numbers of people are living together outside of wedlock; nonmarital births and child-rearing are on the rise; and the Supreme Court has recently recognized a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Direct governmental regulation of private intimate conduct, such as fornication and adultery, has diminished almost entirely.”

Nonetheless, she wrote, some local governments continue to “interfere with people’s ability to live together outside of a traditional marital relationship.”

Lately, we’ve been talking a lot about affordable housing. Amid all the sound and fury generated by the discussion, GNV Rise fell but ADUs rose.

But still nary a word about the impact of Gainesville’s last-century restriction on access to affordable housing.

“We haven’t talked about it as a rule, I think, because of political pressure” from neighborhoods close to the university, says Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who wants to abolish the ordinance. “It is one of the impediments to affordable housing.”

That’s certainly the contention of the Bedrooms Are For People initiative, which aims to relax similar restrictions in another university city, Boulder, Col.

“Given the pandemic, we are now seeing more people losing their jobs, not able to find work, they are facing eviction,” campaign organizer Eric Budd told Reason magazine, “this would allow people more housing options, it would allow people to share resources, allow people to help each other if they come into financial trouble.”

Boulder commissioners resorted to legally questionable tactics to keep that initiative from going to a vote. In this town we seem to take the position that it’s simply not a suitable conversation for polite company.

Hey Gainesville, get out of my bedroom!

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at Email him at

Emerging BLM leaders

I wrote this piece for the current issue of Gainesville magazine.

Ariel Lane caught herself crying in her refrigerator. Wallace Mazon got tear gassed in Iowa.

Then Lane pulled herself together, and Mazon came home to Alachua County. And they both went to work helping to organize two of the largest and most diverse demonstrations Gainesville has seen in years.

Each united by a common theme: Black Lives Matter.

And both Lane and Mazon say those demonstrations were just the beginning, not the end point, of their work.

Lane moved to Gainesville 7 years ago from a D.C. suburb. She works for a local high-tech company that builds drones for the Defense Department.

“On May 27th the George Floyd story was everywhere,” she recalls. And her 8-year-old son, Liam, saw a news story about Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

“He asked me if this was going to happen to me…and my heart just rolled,” she said. “I was doing some things in the refrigerator and I broke down in tears. Nobody wants to have their child see them crying.

“I told him that it was all fine, but that was a half-truth because I didn’t actually know.”

Soon after that incident, Lane decided to organize a Black Lives Matter demonstration, and she began calling up friends. “I figured if every friend called up 10 of their friends we’d end up having 50 people show and then call it a day.

But it didn’t work out that way. She started a Facebook page to publicize the event. “By Wednesday evening we had 855 people in the group. By Thursday we had almost 3,000 people.”

All this for an event that she had done so far very little preparation for.

But things came together quickly.

City Commissioner Gail Johnson “reached out to me and said ‘Listen, we have to talk. This is going to be much bigger than you thought.’ We needed to have GPD set up barricades, close the road and provide an escort.”

Then the local chapter of Dream Defenders volunteered to hand out water and face masks. “Out of nowhere,” medics on bicycles came forward to provide first aid assistance, “which was great because it was going to be hot.” Someone volunteered a flatbed truck as a speaker’s stand. One friend hand-made and distributed more than 100 signs.

“Nine of us got together the night before and had a meeting with GPD,” she recalled. “And I’m like ‘is this really happening?’ I was shaking like a leaf.”

That same night there had been unrest in Atlanta,” she recalled. “My mom called me and said ‘Do you see what’s happening? Don’t get arrested!’”

On that sunny Saturday morning, May 31, people began to gather in Depot Park – arriving at first in twos and threes, and then by the dozens and then by the scores. White and black, young and old. Moms pushing their kids in strollers. Dog owners decking out their best friends with BLM signs.

Before long it became apparent that marchers would be numbered, not in the hundreds, but at least a thousand, and perhaps two thousand strong.

“I still get choked up when I think about it,” Lane said. “There was a man in a wheelchair. A woman showed up with her horse. If I really think about it long enough it feels like a dream. I think I floated outside my body for a while.”

Reaching out through a friend, Lane had contacted Reuben Faloughi. Now a University of South Florida psychologist, Faloughi helped organize a series of demonstrations at the University of Missouri after Michael Brown was killed in 2014 by a police officer in Ferguson.

Brandishing a megaphone and a strong voice, Faloughi kept the crowd chanting and on message as the not-so-small army departed Depot Park and proceeded down Main Street to assemble for a rally at the Bo Diddley Plaza.

“I think it was a beautiful event,” Faloughi later said of that first large Gainesville BLM march. “It was well executed and we handled a lot of unknowns. There has been a lot of contention with police, and I was really happy for the support from (Gainesville) police. But they also gave us enough space to avoid confrontations. It was a good balance.”

Mazon, an Alachua County native and recent University of Florida graduate, was a little late to the Gainesville BLM scene, having recently been tear gassed and arrested during a George Floyd’s protest in Des Moines, Iowa.

“I was working for a group there called Sunrise Movement,” he said. “I was going to come home a bit earlier but I had to go to court.”

Mazon is a member of the Gainesville chapter of Dream Defenders, or GoDDsville. Shortly after his return, the group had organized a campus demonstration at the law school and president’s mansion, and then began to lay plans for a much larger march that would start at UF and proceed downtown.

“It was a team effort,” he said. “Honestly, most of the people there were very passionate about organizing and were hungry for change.”

Like Lane, organizers posted this second march on Facebook. Unlike the downtown march, Dream Defenders wanted no official Gainesville police escort. “We are an organization of young people who want to redefine what policing means,” he said. GPD “asked if they could help and we said ‘no, we’re good.’”

The killing of “George Floyd doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” he continued. “It happens because of both government action and government inaction.”

By early Saturday evening, June 14, an estimated 1,500 demonstrators had assembled in front of the O’Connell Center and then marched off campus to University Avenue. Unlike the earlier demonstration, Mazon said this event was intended to closely focus on some issues of racial contention that are specific to Gainesville itself.

“What you got was more of a history lesson about Gainesville and what was going on in the community,” he said. “We went to Seminary Lane to talk about gentrification” and the displacement of residents in that traditionally black neighborhood. “We walked through Pleasant Street, and we went to the courthouse to talk about the origin of the police. And then we went on to Porters Quarters.

“We wanted people to see what was going on in our community.”

Paul Ortiz, UF history professor and author of “An African American And Latinx History Of The United States,” remembers Mazon as one of his brightest and most articulate students.

“He was an excellent student, he always connected his love for history with his passion for organizing,” Ortiz said. “And he’s a uniter, he brings people together. He’s the type of person who says ‘let’s not just have a rally, let’s think about the real systemic changes that have to happen.’”

And on that score, neither Lane nor Mazon consider the demonstrations they helped organized as end points in their participation.

Lane has formed a non-profit group, March For Freedom, to work for change within the community. “Our message is providing equality through empowerment in our own neighborhoods,” she said. “We’re working on voter rights issues, and on neighborhood improvements.” For instance, much of east Gainesville is “a food desert,” she said. “There is no urgent care service. There are long stretches of roads with no lighting.”

Neither has Lane forgotten the event that originally drew her into activism. “We want to have an open discourse between the police department and the constituents of Gainesville,” she said. “A lot of people feel there is not an open conversation.”

Likewise Mazon say the Dream Defenders intends to continue to shine a light on inequities in Gainesville.

“We’re gonna defund the police, that’s what going to happen,” he said. “We will lobby our city commissioners get involved in the process. We want to reallocate these funds to the community. We’re going to get our people registered to vote and continue to do actions like these until we get what the community needs.”

E. Stanley Richardson, a longtime community activist and Alachua County’s poet laureate, took hundreds of photos to help document the march Lane initiated. And he remembers Mazon from the young man’s days at Santa Fe High School.

Our organic city

Three snapshots in time:

Snapshot 1. It’s 1974 and I’m writing for the Alligator. During a staff lunch in a nicely appointed courtyard across from campus, one of our reporters looks around and opines that the space is a good example of urban renewal.

Snapshot 2. It’s 2010 and I’m sitting in that same courtyard. My favorite restaurant, Cafe Gardens, is closing after a three decade run. As a last meal it’s a sad occasion.

Snapshot 3. Now it’s 2020 and another favorite haunt, The Swamp, is gone. So is the courtyard and the building that once housed Cafe Gardens.

Things change. By definition urban renewal is never a one-and-done.

We’re all upset over the loss of The Swamp as it used to be. It was a Gainesville institution. But I don’t buy some of the bitter comments I got on Facebook when I posted a photo of the demolition: “This is what infill and gentrification look like. Congrats to all of you who voted for this. You won!”

Not sure when exactly we voted for infill and gentrification. I do remember that Cafe Gardens closed because the family that ran it got out of the business. And that the old Swamp is no more because the people who owned it made a new business plan.

And I’m not sure what we as a city could have done to keep those buildings, that courtyard, or those institutions just the way we liked them.

I do know this. A city, any city, is like a living organism. It can simultaneously grow (Midtown), stagnate (downtown), and even germinate in unexpected and wonderful ways (check out the 4th Avenue Food Park).

But it is always changing.

A lot of us miss the old county hospital…my kids were born there. But its replacement, Innovation Square, is slowly transforming and strengthening the town-gown fabric that is Gainesville’s urban core.

Would we be a better community if thousands of UF students were driving in from apartments near I-10 instead of walking to campus? Maybe. But it seems to me that the clustering of apartments around UF – yes even the high rises that we love to hate – is urban renewal as it’s supposed to work.

I know we’ve all got a hate-on for The Standard because it ruined the town forever. But personally I blame that notorious South (of here) Florida developer W. McKee Kelley for destroying Gainesville’s village-like ambiance.

He’s the one who started constructing the Segal Building. In the 1920s.

No, seriously. Gainesville used to be a railroad town, but the railroads left. Then it was a college town. Now we’re a university city. And I believe we are a more mature, interesting and diverse community for our growing pains.

Does that mean our land use and development codes are where they should be? No, we clearly need a better vision for how we grow and what that growth will look like. I assume that’s why we’re getting ready to have a moratorium on development.

Gentrification is an issue for another day. But if they ever do put infill on the ballot I’d vote for it. Because we know what the alternative is: Celebration Point, and Butler’s “town” center. Big boxes. And traffic jams on Archer and Newberry roads as people funnel themselves to and from sprawling subdivisions that keep spreading west toward the county line.

We have already met the enemy, and it isn’t The Standard.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at Email him at

The new downtown market

Listen, we’ve got your fresh artisan guacamole here, your speckled peas, broccoli and radishes across the way and your microgreens at the booth next door.

On the paleo diet? Wild Man’s got your wild hog, wild gator and wild shrimp. Is organic your bag? Here’s Frog Song, Grown-N-Grace and Weavers Whimsey.

A couple of guys over there are playing cool jazz for a hot summer afternoon.

Oh, and there’s beer. Because what’s the point of having a farmer’s market at Cypress & Grove Brewery if you can’t get a beer?

I know, there has been much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth since we learned that the Union Street Farmer’s market abandoned its longtime venue at the Bo Diddley Plaza and decamped to Celebration Point.

But you don’t have to drive clear to the other side of I-75 to get your smoked mullet-fresh honey-and-home made tempeh fix.

It’s just that Monday is now the new Wednesday. And Gainesville’s center of home grown produce gravity has shifted 10 blocks north.

“We are the new downtown farmer’s market,” says Monica Albert, founder of the Grove Street Farmer’s Market. And sure enough, some of the same folks who hawked their goods at Bo Diddley on Wednesday are among the 30 or so vendors now setting up at the brewery on Monday.

“I think it’s all going to work out beautifully,” says Albert, aka “The Blade,” proprietor of Mo’s Garage, where they fix hair, not cars, on NW 4th Street.

And talk about timing, good and bad: Albert began organizing the Grove Street Farmer’s Market before anybody ever heard of coronavirus and without a clue that the venerable downtown market’s days would be numbered.

Almost as soon as the new market began putting up tents the town was locking down. But food being an “essential service,” the Grove Street show went on.

“The biggest challenge has just been absorbing the whole crisis itself, keeping spirits high and the momentum going,” she said. “It’s imperative that all vendors wear masks and gloves while handling produce. We encourage patrons (to wear masks). When the majority of people are practicing common sense, people kind of fall into line.”

The Union Street Market is no more because the city closed the Plaza and is not yet willing to open it up again. “We are able to continue to operate because we’re on private property,” Albert said. “Vendors have come (from downtown) to bridge the gap”

Which is not to say that the market’s current footprint is, um, set in stone. Albert hopes that, eventually, it will expand to the adjacent 6th Street rail-trail and stretch down NW 10th Avenue and around the corner to her own shop. “It’ll fluctuate some, but I have this number in my head. By the beginning of the year I hope to see 75 vendors here.”

Nobody is happy about losing a farmer’s market that has been a downtown tradition for years. But on the plus side, Grove Street is an up and coming center of home-grown entrepreneurship…eateries, galleries, clothing stores, coffee shops, pet stores and a community food pantry that is needed now more than ever. So why not a farmer’s market to help glue it all together?

“I have my business here and I love this neighborhood,” Albert said. “We are now up and running, and as we move forward, everybody’s happy.”

Long live the downtown farmer’s market.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog,

River of no return

For our latest edition of Armchair Traveler we take a look at one of America’s most scenic, yet threatened, river.

Because rivers run through me.

The gentle Suwannee. The gutted Apalachicola. The algae-breeding St. Johns. The doomed Ocklawaha.

So many great Florida rivers sacrificed on the altar of hyper-growth.

In my nearly half-century journalism career I have been obsessed with our rivers, returning to them again and again. And each time finding them a little dirtier and more stressed.

So naturally, while on vacation in northern Arizona, I wanted to get up close and personal with America’s “hardest working” river, the Colorado.

The liquid artist that carved nature’s ultimate sculpture, the Grand Canyon, out of the living rock.

The 1,450-mile behemoth that funnels life-sustaining water from Rocky Mountain snow fields to 36 million people scattered from Wyoming down into Mexico.

And a downstream rowing trip did not disappoint. Threading our way amid towering red sandstone canyons, from Horseshoe Bend to Lee’s Ferry, we could see large game fish lazing in water nearly as transparent as the Ichetucknee. And almost 25 degrees colder at that.

If Paradise had a river it would be the Colorado.

That is, if the federal Bureau of Reclamation built Paradise.

The word Colorado means red. So named by the Spanish explorers who discovered a much darker, more turbid and warmer river. Indeed, the abrasive power of its silt-laden water helped make the Grand Canyon what it is today.

But improving on nature is an American tradition.

At the Glen Canyon Dam Visitors Center you are informed that the dam was constructed “to benefit ecosystems and communities downstream …” That they made the Colorado run “cold and clear … so all can benefit.”

But other federal employees — rangers at nearby Grand Canyon National Park — complain that since the Colorado turned “cold and clear,” native fish and other species have gone missing and the ecology of the canyon floor has changed dramatically.

A small price to pay for progress, perhaps.

Because Lake Powell is itself a marvel of nature … or rather of artifice.

Flooding 185 miles of canyons has spawned a multibillion-dollar tourism trade. Marinas now host luxury house boats every bit as grand as any yacht tied up in Fort Lauderdale.

And then there’s Page. Built in the 1950s to house dam construction workers, it now sprouts hotels, resorts and luxury villas.

And a manicured emerald green golf course. And lush grass lawns and mediums. All fed by sprinklers that run in the middle of the day.

In the middle of the desert.

Since the turn of the millennium the Southwest has endured a drought of near biblical proportions. America’s two largest reservoirs — Lake Powell to the east of the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead to the west — are less than half full and falling fast.

As famous as the Colorado may be, it’s equally infamous for the stresses placed upon it due to over-allocation, overuse, and more than a century of manipulation,” says American Rivers, the monitoring group that has designated the Colorado America’s most endangered river. “Following decades of wasteful water management policies and practices, demand on the river’s water now exceeds its supply.”

Yes, more water is now taken out of the Colorado than goes in. It is the law of diminishing returns in action.

Four centuries ago, Coronado ventured into the great southwestern desert in search of the legendary Seven Cities of Gold. He came up, well, dry, because cities could not exist in such arid conditions.

Today the Cities of Gold all have names: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff and more. All are growing and all fight for more of the Colorado’s diminishing supply.

Throw in competing demands of the region’s multi-billion dollar agriculture and tourism industries, and America’s hardest working river is also its most litigated.

And what will happen when the Colorado is expected to feed, not 36 million people, but 40 million? Fifty million?

John Wesley Powell told us this would happen. In 1869 the great scientist and Colorado River explorer warned: “You are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights because there is not sufficient water to supply the land.”

Powell was booed down. But long after he was safely dead, they did name a reservoir in his honor.

Talk about adding insult to injury. Powell would have been appalled.

Perhaps in the end we are destined to join other civilizations that briefly flourished in this dry, arid and ultimately unsustainable landscape.

And the Colorado will once again run wild and free and untamed.