Mayor Harvey Ward and Gainesville city commissioners focused on past success and future plans at the 2023 State of the City, from the Vision Zero initiative to translation services and the Eastside Sports Complex on Tuesday.
Since swearing-in as mayor, Ward said he’s talked with many mayors from cities across the nation, attending two conferences in Washington, D.C. He said Gainesville wrestles with the same problems as most cities.
“We’ve also found something else,” Ward said. “The truth is that we’re closer to solving those challenges than a lot of other cities are. We’re moving forward more steadily here in Gainesville because of the quality of our community, the dedication of our partners and the good ideas and participation of our neighbors.”
Ward highlighted the city’s mix of energy sources during the speech. He said Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) uses around 30% renewable energy compared to an average of 4% across Florida, fulfilling a stated goal of the community and city.
He noted that renewables could constitute around 50% of GRU’s energy mix following the installation of a solar array. Gainesville has already contracted with a third-party to find an appropriate location, and that item will return at the commission meeting on Thursday.
Ward also announced the creation of a new city dashboard called ThriveGNV. The dashboard shows statistics about traffic accidents, building permits and transit ridership.
The dashboard pulls information from at least the last 10 years, and Ward said the tool will improve in the coming months. You can access that dashboard here.
Ward added that the city needs to take the time to celebrate the small steps forward.
“I want us to recognize the days when we get it right; we get it right a lot,” Ward said. “I want us to get better at celebrating each other—to spend a little more time doing victory laps around the things that bring us together and maybe a little less time on what drives us apart.”
Short videos featured each city commissioner speaking on key city topics.
Commissioner Bryan Eastman brought up the city’s Net Zero by 2045 goal. He also brought up the city’s Vision Zero goal—no pedestrian or cyclist deaths—and Zero Waste by 2040 goal.
“I knocked on thousands of doors over the course of the campaign and heard a lot of issues that people want to see us address—things that I want to see us address—to make Gainesville the city that we would all like to see,” Eastman said in the video.
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut spoke about changes coming to Citizens Field and the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi purpose Complex. She said the city will do whatever it needs to bring back an exciting and revised area—whether that means redo, remodel or implode.
Commissioner Reina Saco talked about advances in how the city interacts with citizens who don’t speak English or prefer a different language. She said all city departments can now use interpreters to understand and deal with any call for service.
She added that the city will translate any city documents that a citizen needs into their desired language along with any responses from staff.
Commissioner Casey Willits focused on renovations to Forest Park. The remodel started this week and is scheduled to finish in the fall.
The improvements include field drainage, field lighting, addition of a 2/3-sized soccer field, turf replacement and irrigation modifications, 13 new shade structures, 30 new bleachers, pickleball and basketball court surfacing, creation of small and large off-leash dog parks with amenities and a new pavilion.
The project will cost more than $3.5 million from Wild Spaces Public Places funds and a $200,000 matching grant from the state.
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker spoke on the A. Quinn Jones Museum and using the arts to create a less violent city. Duncan-Walker has put forward a proposal to create a cultural arts center as an antidote to gun violence.
Commissioner Ed Book spoke on civility and treating everyone with respect as they go about the city’s business—a platform he ran on in the 2022 campaign.