City officials hope to create a more equal Gainesville in 2018.
At the State of the City Address held Wednesday afternoon at the Gainesville Police Department, local officials highlighted the accomplishments of the past year and projects of the upcoming year. They hope these projects will make Gainesville a national model of the New American City, a city other cities look to as a model.
To do this, Mayor Lauren Poe said the city will need to not only incorporate technology-driven initiatives and continued development, but also address the racial and socioeconomic disparities in Gainesville.
“Not until every one of us is welcomed, not until every one of us has the same opportunity and not until every one of us is able to achieve their full potential, will we rest,” Poe said.
He also praised the city for its resiliency in the midst of a tumultuous year. Visits from both Hurricane Irma and Richard Spencer prompted a state of emergency and ultimately demonstrated the strength of the community, he said.
“During two of the most stressful and chaotic moments in recent memory, we showed our unity, supported one another and lived our values,” Poe said.
Gainesville Regional Utilities manager Edward Bielarski celebrated the city’s decision to purchase the Deerhaven Renewable Energy Center. Since the purchase was made Nov. 7, the plant has saved GRU more than $9 million, he said.
GRU is working with the City Commission to help Gainesville look to the future. This will include the installment of smart streetlights that have sensors to adjust the amount of light they emit, which the city estimates will save millions of dollars, said city manager Anthony Lyons. The city also announced it will be deploying four driverless buses in the spring.
Poe acknowledged work the commission needs to do. One of the biggest obstacles to the growth of Gainesville is the glaring inequality that persists throughout the city, he said.
“So long as we have not achieved full equality, we have much more work to do,” Poe said.
More than 35 percent of African Americans and just over 30 percent of non-white Hispanics live below the poverty line in Alachua County, Poe said.
To combat the racial and economic divide in Gainesville, the commission will be implementing policies to keep young men of color out of the criminal justice system, he said.
Poe said the commission will work with police to develop a strategy to arrest fewer people.
Tom Mason, 53, tuned into the State of the City Address via Facebook Live. The Gainesville resident was pleased to hear the city was turning its attention to racial and socioeconomic inequality in Gainesville.
“I completely agree that that has to be at the top of the list,” he said. “One of the things I think that we really need to work on is the great divide of the city between the East and the West.”
The various projects of 2018 are all focused on making Gainesville a citizen-centered city, Poe said.
“When I see a complete community, I see a Gainesville where every person, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, gender or geography is able to succeed,” he said.