I will remember 2020 as the year I rekindled my love affair with Gainesville. And oddly, because of Covid.
No question, the pandemic knocked us all off our game. Often in jarring fashion. Sometimes leading us down paths of tedium, boredom and even borderline depression.
It was clear as early as March that this wasn’t going to be a “normal” year. It would be a year of lockdowns, closures, social distancing, face masks, resentments and rebellions…all conspiring to isolate us one against another.
Daniel Herriges, an editor with Strong Towns, recently wrote: “One of the best ways to deeply understand the place you live is..to slow down. Way down. Take a walk around your city, without a concrete plan or destination.”
Way ahead of you, Dan. That was my Covid year in a nutshell.
Only I cycled rather than walked Gainesville. Day after day after day. Hundreds of miles all told. Snapping photos as I went. All the time minding my social distancing Ps and Qs.
And noticing things I hadn’t really paid attention to before.
This from a guy who has been writing about Gainesville for nearly half a century.
Like the growing seediness of our downtown. And the boarded-up abandonment of the Boulware Springs waterworks…literally where Gainesville was born. And the empty storefronts and weedy lots on University Avenue.
But my observations weren’t all negative. Over the course of the year I made a concerted effort to track down as many murals as I could. Taking hundreds of photos and posting them on my blog. I followed Gainesville’s meandering creeks, weaved up and down the streets of charming neighborhoods (by the way, this was a great year for yard signs: “Here right matters.”)
And I noticed that, Covid notwithstanding, home grown entrepreneurs were still gamely trying to make it in GNV: The 4th Avenue Food Park. The mom-and-pops springing up on a Main Street we redesigned to be more people friendly. The vitality of Grove Street. The renewal of Pleasant Street, one house at a time.
One day I followed the path of the much-ditched, diverted and buried Sweetwater Branch Creek. That sobering experience led to a series of Sun columns and blogs about how we might simultaneously reclaim Sweetwater, revitalize a long-ignored downtown park and create a urban greenway that would connect cultural treasures like the Harn, the Cotton Club, the Matheson and the Thomas Center. And now we’ve got some civic-minded folks working to make that concept a reality.
And in the process of all that aimless wandering and wondering, I fell back in love with this town. And I’ve been giving a lot more thought to who we are, what we are, where we’ve been and where we are going.
Listen, if we can’t learn from our Covid year and figure out how to make Gainesville a more resilient city, then shame on us. We are creative people and these times demand creativity.
It’s still going to be a while before we get back to “normal.” In the meantime we really need to go into 2021 thinking about how we can make Gainesville a post-Covid success story.
I love this town. I have since I first got here in 1974. And I am here to tell you that no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done…you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Happy New Year Gainesville. You won’t believe what’s coming in 2021.