Lauren Warhol Caldwell never intended to stay in Gainesville after she moved from New York for UF’s master’s program in the 90s.
20 years after earning her Masters of Fine Arts, however, she’s stuck around. In her time as a resident, she has developed a strong view of the place, and she has some complaints.
Warhol Caldwell and performance artist Tom Miller presented their satirical piece in development, “Jack and Jill Go Downtown,” to a crowd of about 20 people at the Black C Art Gallery Wednesday. The play, which they will perform again July 27, addresses the complicated parking, QR code menus and other issues in downtown Gainesville.
The show features Miller and Warhol Caldwell’s characters en route to a play at the Hippodrome Theater and details a series of comically inconvenient struggles that derail their trip.
Warhol Caldwell said the script was inspired by her and Miller’s shared frustrations about the difficulty of Gainesville’s inefficient downtown district. Most of the content, she said, came from improvisations between the two creatives.
The room filled with laughter from audience members familiar with the city’s pitfalls.
Former Gainesville Mayor Jean Chalmers, who held office from 1984 to 1985, stood among the attendees. The play reflected her recent experiences in the downtown area, she said, especially after she paid $75 in parking fees to visit the public courthouse.
Gainesville should go back to the days of parking meters, Chalmers said. Not only would meters create jobs, but the money collected would help keep streets clean and functional by financing the wages of parking ambassadors.
“I have a couple of quarters,” Miller’s character says in the performance after the couple finds a paid parking spot.
“It’s not that kind of paid spot,” Warhol Caldwell’s character says.
On the characters’ way home from their failed attempt at finding a parking spot, a radio announcement alert listeners of a murder in the downtown parking garage and the new contruction of luxury apartment complexes.
“The minute you get out of your car, you're afraid,” Miller said. “You're afraid you'll have to pay a fee. You're afraid you won't be able to fill out the information, you're afraid you might get shot.”
Streets residents can walk easily and leisurely will make downtown feel more like a city center, Warhol Caldwell said. To her, the growth and development of the area feels rushed with a lack of thought behind it.
“They’re growing downtown, which is great, but they’re growing it without solving the problems,” Warhol Caldwell said. “We’ve got a great thing here, so let’s get together and figure out how to make it more friendly”
Miller sees an unhealthy competition between a growing city attempting to innovate and out-of-town developers trying to cash in on luxury student housing. These luxury buildings, coupled with rent prices he described as astronomical, drive low-income workers out of Gainesville and worsen homelessness, he said.
When the characters in the play finally arrive downtown, most businesses are closed, revealing an empty and quiet city center. Among the crickets and inactivity, the two reflect on downtown’s status as a community hub.
Miller does not know what the most effective solution is, but he said he knows how to find it. Gainesville can either model its parking after similar-sized cities with efficient parking options or consult UF for help instead of out-of-town consultants, he said.
During a question and answer segment after the play, one audience member jokingly proposed residents take the matter into their own hands by “guerilla-dismantling” all parking signs.
Because of downtown’s unwelcoming parking situation, the fringes of Gainesville — like Celebration Pointe, located west of Interstate 75 — have begun to sprout with life, Miller said. Their newfound popularity drains downtown of its patrons, he said.
Establishments like Cry Baby’s, The Bull and The How Bazar keep the downtown dream alive, Miller said. The pedestrian-friendly block parties and arts-focused events hosted by the How Bazar are the kind of community events downtown Gainesville needs to thrive, he said.
The community has to declare its support of the arts and downtown creative spaces by attending shows, Warhol Caldwell said. She encouraged residents to seek out events and performances, even when parking makes it a hassle.
Fern is a junior journalism and sustainability studies major. He previously reported for the University and Metro desks. Now, he covers the environmental beat on the Enterprise desk. When he's not reporting, you can find him dancing to house music at Barcade or taking photos on his Olympus.
Kristine Villarroel is a second-year journalism student at the University of Florida and a staff writer with the Avenue. In her free time, you can usually find her making playlists or talking about the full moon.