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Friday, April 12, 2024

Gainesville mayor discusses gun violence, traffic safety in 2024 State of City Address

Harvey Ward remains positive in his outlook of the year after challenges in 2023

Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward addresses city residents and officials at the 2024 State of the City Address at the Santa Fe College Blount Center on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.
Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward addresses city residents and officials at the 2024 State of the City Address at the Santa Fe College Blount Center on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.

Taking the podium at Santa Fe College’s Blount Center, Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward started his annual State of the City Address by talking about snow.

He compared the city’s trials over the past year, such as budget cuts, layoffs and its divorce from GRU, to a snowstorm that struck the area out of the blue exactly 125 years ago. 

“We've plowed a lot of unexpected snow together,” he said. “But we found that we continued to find a way over, under, around and through.” 

Ward’s address celebrated Gainesville as a city “on the move,” and touched on East Gainesville developments, arts and culture, gun violence prevention, traffic safety, affordable housing and more. 

Many of the address’ main points stemmed from emails Ward received from community members. The first said the city wasn’t doing enough for East Gainesville. 

“That is a historical fact,” he said to address the email’s complaint. “But this commission is working hard to change the future.”

The city has focused on developing the Cornerstone Campus, located on Southeast 20th Street and Hawthorne Road, he said. The campus is the home of the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center, which supports 22 local businesses, and the future UF Eastside Health Clinic, set to open later this year. 

The city has invested over $2 million in the clinic, as well as mitigating wetlands and building new roads along the campus. Ward hopes these investments will attract grocery stores, mixed-use office developments and retailers to the area.

Ward went on to emphasize the importance of Gainesville’s arts and culture on the community’s well-being.

“Gainesville punches way above our weight when it comes to arts and culture,” Ward said. “Not only as a place to enjoy the art others have created but as a sought-after workplace for artists in every venue. So much so that I've taken to calling Gainesville ‘Florida’s cultural capital.’ ”

Last October, the city celebrated its cultural roots by awarding local musician Laura Jane Grace the key to the city. At the address, Ward awarded local authors Cynthia Barnett, Jack Davis, Lauren Goff and Joe Haldeman the first-ever Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. 

Ward also outlined the city’s efforts to curb rising gun violence, which it declared as a public safety crisis last February. 

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“To date, the city of Gainesville has invested more than $53 million in funding to provide or support gun violence prevention programs and services citywide,” he said. 

On top of programs, the city hosted a summit last August, hired a gun violence prevention and intervention program manager and increased collaboration with first responders. 

Another crisis the city focused on in 2023 was traffic safety. Gainesville adopted a “Vision Zero” policy in 2018, aimed at eliminating pedestrian deaths in motorways. 

“If we have even one cyclist or pedestrian death, that’s one too many,” Ward said. “But it’s important to mark progress where it’s made.”

After declaring a traffic violence crisis in January 2023, Ward said the city has seen 22% fewer serious injuries to cyclists and pedestrians, and 10% fewer deaths, compared to the previous year. 

The city also received $8 million in federal funding to improve a four-mile section of University Avenue. Ward said the funding will lead to a slower road, as well as more landscaping and improved bike lanes. 

Ward highlighted continued efforts to improve the city’s affordable housing options. Using $500,000 earned from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city plans to revitalize the Pine Meadows and Lake Terrace areas in East Gainesville into affordable housing.

“This marks a significant step toward [turning] this area of east Gainesville into a thriving, inclusive place for all residents.”

After his address, local high school student representatives were given the chance to meet with Ward and city officials.

Contact Henry DeAngelis at hdeangelis@alligator.org. Follow him on X @hadeangelis.               

 

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Henry DeAngelis

Henry DeAngelis is a third-year journalism major and the City and County Commission reporter for the Alligator. In his free time, you can find him on the basketball court or deep in a good book.


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