GNV’s people to people connector

Listen, I don’t want to appear overly excited here.

But this is huge!

An artist’s conception of what a “day lighted” Sweetwater Branch Creek might look like in a revitalized Power District.

MKSK, the consulting firm that is working with the city and UF to craft a master plan for downtown GVN, has submitted its preliminary recommendations.

MKSK is connecting the dots for a more prosperous downtown.

There’s a lot to unpack in it…the need to grow businesses, increase density, provide affordable housing and more.

But for right now, I want to focus on two recommendations in particular because..well, because they support a couple of visions that some of us have been working to turn into reality for the best part of two years now.

It’s time to stop treating Sweetwater Branch Park like a neglected stepchild.

First is the importance of transforming Sweetwater Branch Park from a neglected backwater into a “Downtown Jewel.”

Simply put: Great downtowns have great parks. Sweetwater Park is downtown’s park. But very often it is more like a litter-strewn, little used refuge for street people.

Despite periodic city cleanups Sweetwater Park tends to be a neglected strip of green all but disconnected from daily downtown life.

The last time I saw anybody “enjoy” the creek was when somebody pitched a tent by its waters and lived there for an extended period. That’s GNV stewardship?

Falls Park used to be lined with abandoned warehouses and other rust belt relics. Now it’s Greenville’s downtown jewel

What’s the point of having a creek side park if the city, as it has for years, allows the creek to all but disappear under a thick growth of weeds and exotic vegetation?

We know how to create a successful urban park. All it takes is a commitment from city government.

The opportunities to turn Sweetwater Park into a downtown jewel are limitless.

UF landscape architect graduate Allison Deffenbaugh proposed this redesign for Sweetwater Branch Park in 2010.

Sweetwater Park ought to be a downtown asset. The city should be sponsoring Shakespeare in the park there. Let’s have “paint-outs” for local artists, or book sales and festivals under its spreading oaks. It needs an amphitheater. The creek should not just be made more visible but more accessible as well, with winding trails and wooden bridges along its path.

Gainesville landscape architect Richard Berry’s proposed that Sweetwater Branch Park have a “Walk Through History” feature.

Which brings me to an equally important recommendation in the preliminary plan.

A car-free connector between surrounding neighborhoods and downtown.

A handful of residents have been supporting a greenway to connect Depot Park, Sweetwater Park, the Duck Pond, the Thomas Center and many other central GNV cultural and recreational attractions. This bike-ped loop would follow the course of Sweetwater Branch creek on the east and then link up with the 6th Street on the west.

“There is a lack of continuous walking, biking and transit connections in the downtown area,” the consultant points out. Development of the Sweetwater Branch Greenway Loop would go a long way toward connecting downtown with its surrounding neighborhoods.

And making neighbor-to-neighbor connections is crucial.

A walkable and connected downtown is a successful downtown.

Downtown feels isolated from surrounding neighborhoods – Springhill, the Duckpond, Porters, Pleasant Street and so on – precisely because it is cut off from them by often intimidating, urban “stroads.” A bike-and-ped friendly greenway loop can connect downtown to all of its neighbors.

Here’s our vision for a Sweetwater Branch Greenway.

It would connect Sweet Water Preserve in the south to Tom Petty Park in the north. It would be the thread that would knit together Grove Street, Santa Fe College’s new GNV campus, Innovation Square, The Cade and much more.

The good news is that virtually all of the land and right-of-way necessary to accomplish this is already in city, county or school board hands.

We can make the Sweetwater Branch Greenway Loop downtown Gainesville’s people to people connector.

We can make this work GNV!

Please follow our Sweetwater Branch Greenway Loop page on Facebook to keep abreast of events and progress. And tell your city commissioners that you are on board with the Sweetwater Branch Loop Greenway and the rehabilitation of Sweetwater Branch Park.

Ron Cunningham, FreeGNV.


  1. I enjoy reading of positive ideas and suggestions that will connect the people in the central areas of GNV.

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