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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Mayor Lauren Poe wants Gainesville to look a little more like Rome.

Sipping wine outside a cafe in Rome, Italy, Poe watched people ride bikes, lounge on benches and catch up with one another.  

“It was the most vibrant, colorful and energetic street scene I’ve ever seen,” he said.

The memory of Rome’s dynamic public spaces inspired Poe to pick “Happy City” by Charles Montgomery for his third book club meeting.

On Sunday afternoon, 15 people sat in a semicircle inside the Headquarters Branch of the Alachua County Library District, located at 401 E. University Ave., with Poe to discuss the importance of public spaces in Gainesville. City planners, professors and citizens all contributed their thoughts, experiences and suggestions to the conversation about building a more citizen-centered city.

“I wanted to create a community-wide conversation on topics that I think are important to just building a better community,” Poe said.

Poe’s first two book selections focused on racial equality and attracted more than 100 participants, he said. Sunday’s discussion was more intimate and focused on the creation of high-quality public spaces that encourage a greater sense of community.

The city is currently undertaking two road projects on South Main Street and Southeast Fourth Street, which Poe said will create more inviting public spaces. Poe also hopes to make Gainesville a member of the Vision Zero Network, an international movement that strives to eliminate all serious injuries and fatalities on roadways.

Cooperation between UF and Gainesville is key to a strong community, Poe said. He hopes to set this example with a new project between Gainesville and UF to create better lighting in public spaces, including a citywide transformation to LED lighting, also known as light-emitting diode lighting.

Poe is also considering a “Bring It Out Front Night,” where citizens are encouraged to be in their front yard in the evening to build stronger relationships between neighbors.

Gainesville resident Gordon Tapper, 55, found the book club was a good opportunity for meaningful civic engagement, he said.

“If you want to be a part of a happy city, you kind of have to step up and participate more actively in activities that are already existing or go to commission meetings and make your voice heard,” Tapper said.

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