For most students, Gainesville is only a four-year blip in their lives.
A city known as a college town that revolves around the University of Florida, Gainesville is a place for students to pass through. After getting their hands on a diploma, the majority of graduates will relocate to other areas in Florida, like Miami or Orlando.
But a few will choose to stay and call Gainesville their home — just like my dad did 23 years ago after completing his dermatology residency at UF.
When he realized he wanted to be his own boss, he decided to open a dermatology practice off of Tower Road called Gainesville Dermatology.
That decision has defined the past 20 years of my life.
Born in UF Health Shands Hospital, I grew up bleeding orange and blue.
I’ve attended more football games than I can count. I can fill a whole photo album exclusively with pictures I have posed with Albert and Alberta. I skipped down Sorority Row every Halloween as the sorority sisters handed out candy.
I watched Tim Tebow lead the Gators to a national championship in 2008 and even met him at a local restaurant when I was 6. I learned UF’s fighting song and chants as soon as I could talk.
I strolled along the damp shores of Lake Alice with my sisters before watching the bats fly at sunset. I marveled at the 13-foot alligators sunbathing at Paynes Prairie. I ran the same shaded paths through Haile Plantation every cool summer morning for cross country practice.
I shrieked in delight every time I saw the same family of deer that lived near my neighborhood off SW 91st Street. I got my first taste of nature photography using my little pink Sony point and shoot as I walked the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens.
And then, I saw destruction left and right as Gainesville began to expand at an exponential rate.
The beautiful park I played on as a kid in Tioga Town Center is now an apartment complex. The dense forest across from my high school is now a gas station and a Dollar General. The cliffs I would climb to gaze over The Quarries are now replaced by $1 million homes.
An expansive field off Newberry road that I watched firework shows on growing up is now a sprawling, multi-hundred home neighborhood. The winding path I ran on in the forest behind Tioga is barren, ready for a shopping complex. The hundred-year-old oak tree I drove by on the way to my childhood basketball games was chopped down, replaced by a blinding white sidewalk. The sports complex I first kicked a soccer ball, threw a football and swung a bat on is unrecognizable.
Places I grew up with — places that defined me and built me to be the nature-loving, outdoor going, multi-sport playing girl I am — are no longer there.
Climate change physically affects people in many ways, whether through rising sea levels, droughts or decreasing crop yields. It can’t be ignored that people are losing their homes and going hungry.
But practices that contribute to climate change, such as deforestation and gentrification, also cause emotional damage to people as they watch the things they love get destroyed.
I have been proud to call Gainesville my home for more than 20 years of my life, but it scares me to think of what else could be destroyed before I can graduate from UF myself.
Gainesville has many unique outdoor activities to offer and many magnificent places to see. I urge the community to go experience these spots for yourself — because it may not be long before the next housing complex takes its place.
Gabriella Aulisio is a photographer at The Independent Florida Alligator. Contact Gabriella at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @gabriellaulisio.