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,

GNV Meander

Listen, “Cycling is red hot!” I heard that on NPR, and who am I to argue with NPR. Plus I noticed that the last time I walked through Walmart there were hardly any bicycles left.

The good news is that Gainesville is a great cycling city, especially if you stick to neighborhood streets. This is a nearly 13 mile ride I like to do that takes me through some of the the great neighborhoods of Gainesville proper. The best way to see a city is on the back of a bicycle. So why not take the GNV Meander? Here’s the Ride With GPS link:

I begin in Forest Ridge because everybody has to begin somewhere and that’s happens to be where I live. Home of the world famous Alfred A. Ring Nature Preserve.

At 1.1 mile I enter Oak View neighborhood (be careful crossing 13th Street, wait for a break in traffic.) It’s an appropriately named neighborhood because it’s got some of Gainesville’s best tree canopied streets. Plus I saw this nifty classic Ford pickup that, according to the hand-written sign on the back window, still has its original engine and runs great!

At 1.6 miles enter Grove Street neighborhood (be careful crossing 6th Street). It’s home to the world famous C&G Brewery, Mo’s Garage and the Monday Farmer’s Market. Plus its got kickass murals and street art. What’s not to like?

At 2.2 miles you are in Pleasant Street. One of my all-time favorite neighborhoods it’s got historic buildings, classic shotgun houses and an intimate feel. Plus the Big Red Church! You can feel the neighborhood renewing itself all around you.

At 2.5 miles you will arrive at Main Street (be careful crossing). If you want to refresh I recommend Charlie’s Snow Shack for saved ice or, just across the street Vine for something hotter. Also, before you cross Man Street check out the murals right around the corner from Charlie’s. They’re great.

Cross Main and you are in the Duck Pond. Sweetwater Branch meanders through here. You’ve got the Santa Fe Spring Arts House, the LaCosta House, the weird wooden winged sculpture and the world famous “Dump Trump” sign. Great neighborhood.

At 2.6 miles you have arrived at the Thomas Center. Giant oak trees, great fountain, wonderful Spanish style architecture and a sculpture that looks like dried fish hung out to cure. You will likely see folks doing yoga or picnicking on the lush green lawn. Need a break? Go inside and catch the latest art exhibit.

Continue your meander through the Duck Pond and, at 3.5 miles, you will enter the Bed & Breakfast District. You’ll know you’re there when you see the oddly disturbing mural on the wall of the convenience store just on the other side of University Avenue. Cross with the light. The old homes turned B&Bs are spectacular. Not to mention the quaint cracker style cottages that dot the neighborhood.

At 3.9 miles you enter Sweetwater Branch Park. To the right is the Matheson Museum complex. It’s a skinny park and before you know it you’ll exit where the library headquarters faces off against the federal courthouse. The courthouse is where Nixon tried to railroad the Gainesville Eight, but failed in the face of stubborn Gainesville jurors who had a better concept of justice than the whole Justice Department. (By the way, for about half a block you’ll be headed the wrong way on a one-way street, so maybe use the sidewalk for that stretch).

Downtown is Hipp! What more is there to say?

At 4.6 miles you are back in the B&B District. Why? Why the hell not? It’s a great neighborhood to meander through.

At 5 miles you are going to take a right onto the rail-trail that will take you through Springhill to Depot Park. Check out the Cotton Club and Perryman’s Grocery. But whatever you do don’t miss the collection of murals on the GRU walls at SE 5th Avenue and SE 8th Street. They are spectacular!

If I have to explain why you want to ride through Depot Park (at 5.5 miles) you might as well stay at home. It’s simply Da Bomb!

At 6.8 miles you will get onto a rail-trail that will take you past First Mag Brewery (where you can cycle-through to buy beer), after which you will skirt Porters and enter the Innovation District. Watch out for sunbathing students.

At 8 miles you will cross University Avenue at the light and enter UF campus. Gator Country! And you will be in the heart of the old historic campus district, which will one day be car-free if the UF strategic planners are to be believed.

At 8.6 miles you are going to make a right out of Newell Drive (which nobody drives on since it’s a pedestrian mall) onto University Avenue. You will immediately get into the turn lane and turn off University Avenue onto NW 16th Street (ALL THE WHILE BEING VERY CAREFUL TO WAIT FOR A BREAK IN TRAFFIC SO YOU CAN CROSS SAFELY). Now you are in Midtown, home of more student apartments than is humanly possible to count. But it’s got some great restaurants and cafes as well.

At 9.1 miles you are going to cross University Avenue at the light to once again enter campus. This so you can see The Swamp, the O’Dome and other monuments to athletic braggadocio. Get your photo taken with the big gator or the three UF football legends.

BTW: When I did this ride Stadium Road was closed for construction so I had to retrace my route back to Emerson Hall and then proceed west on University Avenue (there’s a bike lane) to get to NW 23rd St. If Stadium Rd is finished when you go proceed west and then take a right just past Presley Stadium. From there you can cross University Avenue at 23rd Street (AFTER WAITING FOR A BREAK IN TRAFFIC TO CROSS SAFELY OF COURSE).

At 10.3 miles you will enter Palm Terrace, one of Gainesville’s great hide-in-plain-sight neighborhoods. It’s very classy with a few Tara-like mansions and what not. But the best thing about riding through Palm Terrace is the steep hill that will take you down to 8th Avenue. It’s a thrill ride. Short but sweet.

OK, 10.7 miles and you have arrived at NW 8th Avenue. If you want to linger and maybe add some mileage, hang a left and follow the Solar Walk exhibit to Loblolly Nature Preserve. It’s well worth the extra effort. Otherwise cross 8th and take the boardwalk that will connect you to Mason Manner.

At 11.5 miles you are going to turn right on 16th Avenue (wide sidewalk and bike lane, take your choice) and then turn left unto NW 23rd Street (ALWAYS BEING CAREFUL TO WATCH FOR TRAFFIC AND CROSS SAFELY) for a brief swing through Brywood and back to Forest Ridge.

End of ride. Congrats. You’ve done the GNV Meander.

Happy New Year GNV

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.

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

Just another brick

One of the joys of cycling in Gainesville is coming across murals that I haven’t seen before. Today while meandering through Springhill on my way to Depot Park I spotted a freshly painted wall on SE 7th Street behind the old GRU complex.

The artist who did this wall put me in mind of the classic old Yes albums designed by Roger Dean. So I’ve taken the liberty of adding some old R&R lyrics from the old days to add, um, context.

When the levee breaks I’ll have no place to stay. Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan.

With apologies to teachers everywhere.

Deadheads never die.

Cue the posse.

Yes lives.

These last few murals I found on an obscure wall tucked away in one corner of the Cade. Gator stuff but sort of surrealistic nonetheless.

I love this town.

What would RQM say?

In these times of Covid chaos and confusion I wonder: What would RQM say?

That would be Robert Quarrels Marston. Scientists, physician, scholar, and the man who invented the modern University of Florida.

Marston was a sort of an early Dr. Fauci who believed in science and didn’t mind questioning authority.

As a Rhodes Scholar he studied at Oxford under the tutelage of Sir Howard Florey, one of the Nobel Prize winners who gave the world penicillin. As the nuclear era blossomed he did groundbreaking research on what happens to the human body after total irradiation. He edited a book called “Medical Effects of Nuclear War.” At the University of Minnesota his speciality was bacteriology and immunology.

Marston bucked the politicians when necessary. He integrated the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in the face of resistance from then-Gov. Ross Barnett. And when Richard Nixon wanted to declare “war” on cancer, Marston, then director of the National Institute of Health, said it was bad science to concentrate all resources on one form of illness to the neglect of others.

Nixon fired him.

But never mind all that. RQM’s finest work, his masterpiece, was remaking a backwater southern football school into top ten world class research university.

I was writing for the Alligator when Marston was named president of the University of Florida, in 1974. And during much of his tenure in Tigert Hall, I was higher education reporter for the Gainesville Sun. I talked to him and wrote about him on an almost daily basis, and it was clear that UF hadn’t seen his like before.

Marston’s predecessor hailed from the ranks of good old boy politics. Stephen C. O’Connell longed for the days when freshmen still wore beanies, and he simply couldn’t cope with the rising anti-war, pro-civil rights sentiment among students who came here to learn and ended up occupying O’Connell’s office in protest. His chief fund raiser once told me that the only time he could get O’Connell to leave the state was to go to SEC meetings.

When Marston came to UF, Shands hospital was pretty much housed in a single building, its finances were in disarray and an influential state senator in South Florida was talking about blowing the whole thing up and starting over again…preferably in Miami.

But Marston changed everything. He raised tens of millions of private dollars to improve and expand UF academics and its research capabilities. He paved the way for entrance into the prestigious Association of American Universities. Under his leadership UF became one of three state universities housing the broadest range of academic disciplines on a single campus.

He created UF’s Eminent Scholars Program and turned the university into one of the nation’s top destinations for National Merit Scholars.

Just this week UF announced that its faculty and scientists raised a record “$900.7 million in research funding in fiscal year 2020, despite many activities being paused for more than two months by the pandemic.” UF’s powerful research and grants machine owes its very success to the culture change and mission refinements that Marston oversaw during his 10 years at Tigert Hall.

A Renaissance man in the fullest sense of the term – he even dabbled in the science of fisheries – Marston passed away here in Gainesville in 1999. He was a gentle Virginian with a dry sense of humor and a wry smile.

I only bring all this up because I’ve been thinking about what RQM would have to say about the politicians and university presidents who are so insistent that we play college football in the midst of a Covid pandemic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis argues that “To take away (the football) season would be short-circuiting the dreams that so many of our student athletes have worked for, in many cases, their whole lives.”

Which is poli-speak for: What doesn’t kill these kids may possibly make some of them richer…at least the few who will eventually get to the NFL.

And FSU President John Thrasher, surely our latter-day Stephen C. O’Connell, assures us “We know that we can do it safely. We think it’s in the best interest of our student athletes.”

Which is NCAA-speak for: We will lose a ton of money if we can’t exploit our unpaid student athletes to rake in ESPN royalties.

Make no mistake, we are talking about turning student athletes into lab rats for our viewing pleasure. Throwing them into close contact in a sport that punishes the human body and lowers its resistance even when there isn’t a plague to complicate things.

All for our personal entertainment and the glorification of our alma mater.

Marston wasn’t anti-sports. His administration built the O’Connell Center, the O-Dome, so UF could up its basketball game. But neither did he salivate over the prospect of national titles. He used his Saturdays in the President’s Box to win Bull Gators over to his vision for a stronger, smarter and more comprehensive graduate research university.

Personally I think RQM – scientists, physician and scholar – would have been rendered speechless, at least initially, by the insistence that the game must go on no matter the consequences. Never mind the inevitable infections. Never mind all of the things scientists are still learning about the long term negative impacts of the coronavirus on the human body.

On the plus side, even as we continue this, um, infectious tailgate culture of head-banging and old school rivalry, a whole army of scientists and physicians over at the health center will continue to frantically search for treatments, cures and vaccines…all of which require lab rats.

What would RQM have said? Not no. Not even hell no!

“What in the world are all of you thinking?” that gentle, soft-spoken and always polite scientist, physician and scholar would have asked.

Because Marston would have understood the coronavirus. He would not in a million years have understood what strange malady infects a body politic that breeds the likes of a DeSantis and a Thrasher.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves

What’s the difference between Trump conservatism and Gainesville liberalism?

When he killed Obama-era fair housing rules Trump bragged that he did it so suburbanites won’t be “bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood.”

But we Gainesville liberals aren’t comfortable demonizing the poor. So when we want to torpedo affordable housing we call it a sneaky plot to benefit greedy developers.

That certainly took care of GNV Rise, a modest proposal to incentivize lower cost housing construction in Gainesville that died in the face of nearly hysterical opposition from neighborhood associations.

That was in 2018, and virtually nothing has happened on the affordable housing front since.

But, listen, things are going to come to a head pretty quickly.

Call it the looming clash of the moratoria.

There’s a good chance the city will impose a development moratorium in an attempt to head off the spread of student housing into historic black neighborhoods like Fifth Avenue and Pleasant Street.

A time out period of, say, a year, would give the city time to engage in better neighborhood comprehensive planning, advocates say.

Maybe so. But another moratorium is going to be lifted a lot sooner than that – the stay on evictions of people who have lost their jobs to the coronavirus crisis and can no longer pay their rent.

When that happens, homelessness is going to explode, both locally and nationally.

And “people of color” will be “especially vulnerable,” to the coming eviction crisis, reports CNBC.

“We know evictions have always had a disproportionate impact on tenants of color due to discrimination and lack of wealth,” John Pollock, of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, told the network.

We’ve been talk, talk, talking about Gainesville’s affordable housing shortage for years.

And the fall of GNV rise is a textbook example of why Gainesville remains all talk and no action.

Essentially we expect our commissioners to achieve goals that, on their face, appear to be mutually exclusive.

1. Lower housing costs so that everybody can afford to live in Gainesville.

2. But protect existing residents from policies that, homeowners perceive, will hurt their property values.

You would think a progressive university city like ours would be up to solving that conundrum, right? But town-gowns can be just as obstinate when it comes to deciding who should be allowed to live where.

“My own city of Berkeley, renowned for its ‘progressive’ values and liberal politics…for 50 years…has suppressed new housing of all kinds and now has an almost unsolvable problem of affordability and homelessness.”

This from Dorothy Walker, founding president of the American Planning Association in an important Streetsblog essay.

“The fact is, local control over land-use decisions has obstructed efforts for racial justice and social equity in housing since the beginning of our profession,” she argues.

If you think a one-year time out will finally give Gainesville “equitable development,” you haven’t been paying attention. It’ll do no good unless we are willing to confront, and change, long entrenched zoning and land use restrictions that “perpetuate classism and racial segregation,” as Walker puts it.

Single family residential zoning, for instance, is the most rigidly enforced, and effective, instrument for segregation in American society.

Trump understands that, and he intends to use that ugly truth to his advantage.

We Gainesville liberals probably get it too. But…greedy developers.

Housing crisis defined

Here in Gainesville we will likely impose a moratorium on development so we can try to work out some longstanding issues involving gentrification, affordable housing and equitable development. Ours is a university city so I’m sure we are capable of coming up with creative solutions to (so far) intractable problems.

But while we’re waiting for the city to get on with it I thought I’d offer up a little reading list so we all better understand what the issues and the obstacles are.

By the way, catch my upcoming Sunday column in the Gainesville Sun for a bit more on this always volatile issue.

First, let’s try to define the problem, shall we.

I recommend this essay in Strong Towns that basically lays out the difficulty communities experience in trying to come to grips with affordable housing and equitable development. Joe Cartwright says that when it comes to housing, cities face two different public policy goals that would seem to be mutually exclusive.

“The same municipal governments that require that housing on scarce urban land be taken up only with resource-intensive, high-building-cost single family homes; that use zoning to separate out unwanted apartments, shops, transit lines, and other uses on the grounds that they might hurt home values; and promote neighborhood beautification and other projects on the grounds that they will raise housing values, also issue affordable housing reports trying to understand why home prices aren’t lower, and levy ‘impact fees’ on new development for the alleged crime of, you know, raising home values.

“We are, in conclusion, profoundly conflicted as a nation when it comes to housing,” he continues, “we want it to be affordable, but we also want its prices to rise fast enough to be valuable as a financial investment. That’s a contradiction we need to acknowledge if our housing policy debate—and, ultimately, our housing policy—is going to be coherent and constructive.”

For a deeper dive into the housing conundrum, I recommend this Streetsblog USA piece by Dorothy Walker, who is founding president of the American Planning Association. If we want to so something about racial justice in our communities, she says, we’ve got to take a hard look at locally based zoning codes and land use regulations that have been designed explicitly to foster racial and economic inequities.

“Local control is why so much land is reserved for single-family housing — raising property values while walling off much of the city to all but the wealthy.  Local control also has thwarted the development of denser communities that enable more affordable housing, ignoring the need to serve the housing needs of both new and existing residents,” she writes.

As an example she cites her own university city, Berkeley, Ca. “Berkeley can claim credit for being a sanctuary city, for its open-mindedness and for being a birthplace of student activism. Yet for 50 years it has suppressed new housing of all kinds and now has an almost unsolvable problem of affordability and homelessness.”

She continues: “The fact is, local control over land-use decisions has obstructed efforts for racial justice and social equity in housing since the beginning of our profession. As long as the people who own land and are already housed have total control over growth and change in their communities, we will never achieve true racial justice and social equity. And, as long as local control enforces prohibitions on urban growth, we will sprawl ever-outward into green fields and agricultural lands, exacerbating climate change and land degradation.”

OK, so the obvious answer it to get rid of single family residential zoning, like they’re doing in Minneapolis, right? Not so fast. It’s just not that simple, according to Emily Hamilton’s essay in City Lab.

“What’s needed is more “missing middle” housing. The term refers to any low-rise construction that is denser than detached houses: backyard cottages, townhouses, small walk-up apartment buildings,” she writes. “Although single-unit zoning limits these useful types of housing, so do myriad other restrictions on how and where housing can be built: minimum lot size requirements, parking requirements, height limits and more.”

No, if we want to do affordable housing right, we’re going to need to do a deeper dig into our code book. She writes “if dozens of rules limit where and how new housing can be built, getting rid of one constraint doesn’t accomplish much.”

Hamilton points to the city of Houston as a success story in that regard. “It doesn’t have use-zoning, which means that housing — including apartments and other multifamily housing — is permitted anywhere private covenants don’t restrict it. In 1998, Houston policy makers reduced the minimum-required lot size for a house from 5,000 square feet down to 1,400 square feet on all of the land within the city’s I-610 loop. This made it possible to replace a single-family house with three. In 2013, the 1,400-square-foot minimum lot size requirement was expanded to cover the entire city. Thousands of townhouses have since been built that wouldn’t have been permitted before.”

Ok, got it. But, really, what’s the urgency? After all, we’ve been coasting along for years on the same old codes. To answer that question check out another City Lab piece, one with the ominous headline “COVID-19 is killing affordable housing, just as it’s needed most.”

“While housing advocates have been calling attention to the imminent danger of evictions and homelessness amid a pandemic and economic downturn, the Covid-19 crisis also stands to exacerbate the nation’s sizable affordable housing shortage, thanks to a brutal convergence of factors,” writes Patrick Sisson. “It’s clear that, as out-of-work Americans get displaced, the need for affordable housing will only go up in the short term. The long-term question is, can government action find a way to address the growing gap?”

And then there’s this Route 50 analysis “The need to keep renters housed is getting more urgent, advocates say.”

“Americans owe more than $21.5 billion in overdue rent, according to one recent analysis that underlined the urgency of the housing crisis facing American renters as the coronavirus pandemic drags on. With eviction moratoriums ending in many cities and states, experts are warning of an impending wave of families being forced out of their homes with devastating collateral consequences if immediate action is not taken to keep people housed.”

And make no mistake, when the eviction hammer finally falls it’s not going to be pretty. And the people who are going to get hurt worst are the ones who are already suffering from a shortage of affordable housing.

“By one estimate, some 40 million Americans could be evicted during the public health crisis,” reports CNBC.  “It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen,”  said John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel.”

That story, titled “How the eviction crisis will look across the U.S.” continues: “People of color are especially vulnerable. While almost half of White tenants say they’re highly confident they can continue to pay their rent, just 26% of African-American tenants could say the same.”

So yeah, if we’re ever going to do something about homelessness, equitable development and affordable housing in this city, now is a pretty good time to act. And for a helpful primer on the issues at hand I’d recommend this 2017 Strong Towns analysis by Spencer Gardner titled “The 5 immutable laws of affordable housing,” and “3 strategies for achieving affordable housing.”

“The high cost of housing increasingly impacts cities of all sizes, and it’s an incredibly challenging and controversial topic. Left-leaning folks might point to big developers or prejudiced, “NIMBY” residents as the causes that keep people from securing and maintaining affordable housing. Right-leaning people may blame the government for its overreaching regulations into private housing matters, or suggest that people who choose to live in expensive cities need to manage those consequences themselves.

“Spencer does not propose a one-size-fits-all solution nor does he point to one or two root causes of affordable housing challenges. Rather, he sets forth a framework of concepts to keep in mind as you think about how to improve housing affordability in your community. His ideas apply whether you live in rural Nevada, New York City, or anywhere in between.

I would pay special attention to point 3: If your zoning code mandates expensive housing, housing will be expensive.” And strategy 1: “Reduce minimum lot sizes and reduce density restrictions in single-family zones.”

And finally, from Wikipedia here is a primer on exclusionary zoning: What it is, why we have it and why it’s so hard to get rid of.

“Exclusionary zoning was introduced in the early 1900s, typically to prevent racial and ethnic minorities from moving into middle- and upper-class neighborhoods. Municipalities seek to use zoning to safeguard the health, property, and public welfare by controlling the design, location, use, or occupancy of all buildings and structures by the regulated and orderly development of land and land uses. That sometimes inadvertently limits the supply of available housing units, such as by prohibiting multi-family residential dwellings or setting minimum lot size requirements, which may deter racial and economic integration.”

More later.

Two years of smoke and fire

Burn Down This World

By Tina Egnoski

A book review

Celeste Leahy circa 1972 crashed a Florida Blue Key banquet with Betty Friedan, performed guerrilla theater on University Avenue with the Vietnam Veterans Against The War…and made Molotov cocktails with her friends.

Celeste circa 1998 lives in a house on the St. John’s River with her teenage son, works at dead end jobs…and positions goddess figurines at her window to ward off the wildfires that are sweeping through Florida in that meanest season.

These two iterations of the same woman, separated by 26 years, might never have reconciled one to another had not big brother Reid – nomadic poet and an almost mythical figure in family lore – suddenly reappeared in Celeste’s life to rake up long suppressed regrets and recriminations.

“Burn Down This World,” by Tina Egnoski, is an intimate examination of one woman’s unfulfilled life set against an backdrop of heat, smoke, riots and smoldering resentments.

Some of the heat still radiates from three days of rage at the University of Florida, when Celeste and other anti-war protestors clashed with police and national guardsmen. (“I had a rock in each hand when the first tear gas canister lobbed over our heads…The gas entered my throat and I couldn’t breathe.”)

Author Egnoski was not on campus during the riot years, having attended and graduated UF in the 1980s. Much of the history and background for her novel was accumulated while she worked as a UF librarian.

Longtime residents may appreciate the book for its glimpses of campus and Gainesville life circa 1972, when students combed Micanopy cow pastures for mushrooms and got high at the Halloween ball. This when they weren’t cursing Richard Nixon or occupying then-President Stephen C. O’Connell’s office. (“When O’Connell finally opened his office door, he looked haggard.”)

In her campus days, Celeste recalls “the place to drink was Rathskeller. The beer there was cheap and cold.” Then there was the time “We went to see Mudcrutch” and “instantly developed crushes on Mike Campbell and Tom Petty.”

But “Burn Down This World,” is less an anti-war morality tale than a human-scale drama about how an impetuous act of sibling betrayal derailed a young life seemingly full of possibilities – consigning an adoring younger sister to a pale imitation of the existence she had envisioned for herself.

Instead of leaving UF with a degree and opportunities, Celeste would return home beaten and bruised, having been arrested and expelled. Meanwhile her brother hit to road, eventually to gain celebrity as the “voice of his generation.”

“I didn’t want to know how my mother felt” Celeste muses upon returning in disgrace. “I couldn’t take one teaspoon of her pain onto the gallons of pain I carried.”

When her absent brother finally does reappear, it is during that long hot, terrible summer when conflagrations forced the evacuation of entire counties. Celeste’s mother is in the early stages of dementia, her son is withdrawn and resentful…and suddenly Reid is once again the center of everyone’s universe.

“I said a silent and stupid prayer to the goddesses. Were they powerful enough to bring an end to both the fires and my anger at Reid?”

Egnoski tells this story of campus riots, raging fires and one woman’s inner turmoil in sparse prose and straightforward fashion. It is a quick read and all the more satisfying for it.

(“Burn Down This World” is published by Adelaide Books and sells for $22.30 paperback and $7.99 e-book edition.)

Jane Fonda speaks at the University of Florida, 1971

About the author

In “Burn Down This World” protagonist Celeste arrives at the University of Florida in the fall of 1971, having “missed the candlelight march to President Stephen O’Connell’s house after the Kent State shootings” as well as “Jane Fonda at Graham Pond.”

As it happens, Tina Egnoski, author of “Burn This World Down,” missed all of that as well. She graduated from UF more than a decade later, in 1983. But while working at the UF library, Egnoski came across a photograph of “Hanoi” Jane Fonda holding her anti-war rally at UF. And she began to conceive a story line that would ultimately connect the campus riots of 1972 to the Florida wildfires of 1989.

“I didn’t live here at the time of the fires,” she recalls. “My mother did, and she ended up having to evacuate. I wanted to have these two kind of threatening stories (campus unrest and fires) happening parallel to each other…this sense of danger building.”

Like her troubled protagonist, Egnoski grew up in the Melbourne area. Like Celeste she was also a military brat, the daughter of an Air Force careerist. But there the similarities pretty much end. Egnoski grew up with sisters and had no great sibling rivalry in her life.

“When I was working in the archives I helped history professor Sam Proctor go through a lot of old photos. That was when I was first introduced to the history of the university.

“I was attracted to the ‘70s because that’s when I came of age. And when I saw the picture of Jane Fonda, I thought ‘that’s so cool,’ and the idea (for the book) began to surface in my mind.”

Egnoski lives in Rhode Island, but she briefly returned to Gainesville in 2014 to finish researching her novel. In “Burn This World Down,” she said “I was trying to tell two coming of age stories” a quarter of a century apart.

“At 18 Celeste gets thrown out of UF and sent back into a life she was trying to get away from,” Egnoski said. “She doesn’t really grow emotionally the way she would if she had stayed away. The second coming of age is years later, when she finally has to let go of her past.

“I remembered the Jane Fonda” appearance and the events that followed. “That whole conflict was so rife with history that I wanted to relate it to a personal history. I wanted to have this sibling relationship and I wanted this event that pulled them apart for 25 years.

“It was too good to pass up. Just three days changed everything” in Celeste’s life.

Sweetwater forgotten

Gainesville landscape architecture professional Richard Berry shows off his never-implemented master plan for Sweetwater Branch Park.

Remember that time the downtown library took a slice of paradise and put up a parking lot?

Richard Berry does.

Berry is a longtime Gainesville landscape architect who did the exterior designs for the new library headquarters in the early 1990s. He sketched out a park environment connecting the east side of the library and the Matheson Museum.

“This is not what we envisioned,” he now says, ruefully, of the dirt parking patch between the county library and the city-owned Sweetwater Branch Park.

County vehicles parked on the dirt patch between the downtown library headquarters and the city’s Sweetwater Branch Park.

For that matter, it’s hard to believe the lot is even up to code. Would the city permit a private business to store cars on eroded land along the very banks of Gainesville’s most abused creek?

On the other hand, the city isn’t exactly known for its stewardship of Sweetwater Branch either.

That park itself ought to be an environmental showcase and a people-magnet for a downtown that has otherwise been given over to asphalt and concrete. Instead, it’s been allowed to degenerate into a litter-strewn hangout for street people…a park in name only that most folks prefer to avoid.

Certainly Sweetwater Branch today is a far cry from the “botanical wonderland” that earned it front page billing in the Gainesville Sun in December, 2005:

“Gainesville’s newest downtown destination is a garden of botanical delights,” the report began. “A dozen years in the planning and four months in the planting, the garden…is a community effort to preserve and beautify a piece of ground that almost miraculously escaped development as the city sprang up around it over the last century and a half.”

As it happened, Berry was also commissioned to design the master plan for Sweetwater Branch. He envisioned the park as a “walk through time,” where significant moments in Gainesville history would be commemorated – the civil war battle waged on the creek, perhaps a likeness of namesake Edmund Gaines, a memorial to yellow fever victims, or a remembrance of civil rights victories hard won.

Heck, maybe even a nod to the Gainesville Eight defendants who beat the Nixon Administration’s conspiracy charges. In his research, Berry came across photos of the alleged co-conspirators playing frisbee near the creek during court recess. “Why not give them a plaque?”

His master plan also showcased the creek itself by cleaning up Sweetwater Branch, restoring native plants, grasses and water flow and adding boardwalks and bridges.

Unfortunately, “less than 10 percent of (the master plan) was ever built” by the city, Berry said. “It could be a city jewel.”

Berry’s plan was titled “Sweetwater Botanical Garden and Greenway.” And with the city’s announced intention to dismantle the huge GRU maintenance facility, just south of the park, and redevelop it into the “Power District,” that greenway might have eventually run all the way to Depot Park and the Gainesville-Hawthorne trail.

Unfortunately if you walk through the park today it’s hard to imagine what all the fuss was about in 2005 when the Sun hailed Gainesville’s “garden of botanical delights.” The hundreds of plants donated and the physical improvements made haven’t been taken care of. And the creek itself is so choked with invasives and debris as to be nearly invisible.

What would it take to get Gainesville to dust off Berry’s master plan and finally do right by downtown’s park? For starters, citizen champions who are willing to advocate for Sweetwater Branch and insist that the city’s long reign of neglect end.

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

Optic delusions

The Average Bureaucrat, by Salvador Dali.

On Thursday I repeatedly called a telephone number for one of the city pools hoping to talk to a live human being. But I kept getting a recorded message that said – and I am not making this up: Do not leave a voice mail. Voice mail is not checked.

Listen, even if I were Dali’s Average Bureaucrat I’d have to think long and hard to come up with a better “Shut up and leave us alone” message than that.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my city and I often rise to the defense of our local government. But these are trying times, and in a crisis message matters more than ever if you want to maintain public confidence. Perhaps city officials have been too busy dealing with the coronavirus to worry overly much about message. But the longest running, and truest, complaint I’ve ever heard about city hall is that the people in charge there don’t know how to tell Gainesville’s story. And of late Gainesville’s optics have been terrible.

The new social distancing boxes at Bo Diddley Plaza.

Case in point: The other day I saw a grinning photo of Commissioner Harvey Ward on Facebook. He was standing in front of Bo Diddley Plaza showing off its new social distancing markings. “Did not know it was possible to love this community plaza more,” he said.

So I rode my bike downtown and, sure enough, those new community distancing boxes, made out to resemble Bo’s celebrated square guitars, are very cool.

You can see them clearly, even standing behind the yellow-caution tape that is supposed to keep the public away from their cool new social distancing boxes.

You can even admire them from the other side of the blue Park/Facility Closure” signs.

So what is the message: Gainesville practices social distancing, but just not here? Then why bother to create the boxes?

Sweetwater Branch Park

Case in point: If there’s anything that people need after weeks of lockdown is open green space in which to walk, run, sun and stroll – all while observing safe social distancing protocol of course. One block away from the taped off BD Plaza is Sweetwater Branch Park. It is downtown’s park. It is the city’s B&B District park. It is three blocks of creek and cool green space in the middle of a concrete and asphalt city center.

It is also neglected, litter-strewn, weed-choked hobo jungle that few people care to set foot on. City Manger Lee Feldman once told me that workers were using the lockdown to take care of a lot of overdue maintenance downtown. Apparently Sweetwater Branch Park wasn’t on the list. Last week a group of civic minded volunteers went out and cleaned up the park because, apparently, the city can’t be bothered.

What is the message there?

Possum Creek skate park

Case in point: Attempts to keep skateboarders out of the Possum Creek skate park were not working, so the city dumped loads of mulch on the ramps to stop skaters in their, um, tracks. Instead they created instant media celebrities out of the skaters, parents and others who went to work shoveling the mulch out of the way. This while bemused police looked on.

Message? Anyone?

Case in point: The city announced it would block off three sections of downtown streets so restaurants could feature open air dining and thus avoid the limits placed on indoor seating. After several restaurants objected the city ended up closing just a narrow slice of SW 2nd Avenue. And then proceeded to block it off with concrete monstrosities that look like nothing so much as an urban tank trap.

Good intentions, bad optics.

The former Union Street Farmer’s Market.

I could go on. Certainly the loss of the long-running Union Street Farmer’s Market to Celebration Point won city government no accolades. That market used to take place on Bo Diddley Plaza. What if city officials had, instead of closing the plaza, established and enforced thoughtful social distancing protocols that might have allowed the open-air market to continue in place? Imagine people actually being able to use those social distancing boxes in the plaza.

Feldman is still new to Gainesville, having arrived just before things went to hell. He likes to call city residents neighbors and city employees community builders. But I would argue that the employees who recorded that “drop dead” parks and rec message, put social distancing boxes behind no trespassing tape, let downtown’s public park go to seed, thought mulch was the answer to enforcing a public health measure, turned a downtown street into Checkpoint Charlie and said so long to the farmer’s market were not engaging in community building in any sense of the phrase.

Message matters, Gainesville. If I were Feldman I’d borrow Mark Sexton from the county and let him give Messaging 101 lessons to Gainesville’s community builders. If you can’t tell the city’s story convincingly, people are going to draw their own conclusions.