Walking through this city, one notices quite a few places of business that, more than any others, scream “Gainesville.” Satchel’s Pizza, Maude’s Cafe and the Hippodrome State Theatre are among the most well-known of these hyper-local joints. Though much of the city is structured around UF, if you want to get a look at the real Gainesville, you need to step beyond the comforts of campus and frequent the wide array of small, local businesses Gainesville has to offer. Sure, we’re no big city like Atlanta or San Francisco, but there is a unique flavor to Gainesville — a combination of small-town America and big-name campus — and the businesses and events that make it a one-of-a-kind city.
But recently, dear readers, that’s all been changing.
For the most part, the cookie-cutter-suburban-shopping-plaza feel has been localized to Archer Road. While there are shopping plazas in other parts of the town, the Butler Plaza area really is a prototypical image of suburbia: one shopping plaza bleeding seamlessly into the next one, two Publix stores, a Wal-Mart and a Target competing for shoppers, an Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse and Bonefish Grill for all your weeknight dining pleasures. You get the idea.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with suburban shopping plazas, of course. We won’t deny the appeal of Target and Publix within walking distance of each other and the easy bus routes leading from the area back to campus. The chain restaurants are cozy and familiar. Having multiple options for groceries and supply shopping is always a comforting feeling; This is a vital part of any growing city.
But lately, there’s been a creep of sub-urbanization in the areas of Gainesville that host more unique assets of the city, namely on West University Avenue, the corridor that connects Midtown, downtown and the stretch of street in between the two hubs.
With the construction of two properties near the intersection of West University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street, students will soon be within walking distance from a Publix, a TargetExpress and a host of chain restaurants. No longer will on-campus freshmen without meal plans or car access have to make the long trip to Butler Plaza by bus. Having everything within walking distance will definitely make things easier for students and create a new, sleek and modern aesthetic.
But development is a double-edged sword, bringing with it a loss of that special little something that makes Gainesville, well, Gainesville. Sure it’ll be cool to have those big brands near campus, but it’s jarring to see a big, colorless building next to smaller establishments that have been there for decades, that have cultivated loyal and dedicated customers, that serve food and create an atmosphere you can’t find anywhere else in the world. It’s jarring to see those places slowly pushed out in favor of corporations.
Within the next five years, the landscapes of our city will change. Within the next 10 years, Gainesville will evolve as suburbia starts to filter in and take control of the more unique corners of the city. We might come back with our children and not recognize the sidewalks we once walked.
Development is always a Catch-22. It is good to look forward, to envision a future for the city — and in this case, for students. But when that pushes out spaces residents have made their own, spaces that set Gainesville apart from other towns, is it really worth it?