Two tall red-and-gray gateways that read “Welcome to Porters” and a sidewalk connecting the community to downtown Gainesville are not only boosting that neighborhood’s aesthetics and pride, but its safety as well.
“There was previously no sidewalk structure on that road,” said Nathalie McCrate, Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency project manager. “The Southwest Fifth Avenue project was a project designed to serve the needs of the community.”
McCrate said before the sidewalk was built – it was completed in August along with the gateways – kids could be seen walking with backpacks in the streets.
“People are glad there’s a place to walk besides the road,” said McCrate, who also said it was a prime opportunity to connect the Porters community to the rest of downtown.
“It’s not just a sidewalk project, it’s much more than that.”
The new 0.4-mile sidewalk and 8-foot gateways is at the end of South Main Street and Southwest Sixth Street. It also is the reason why, on Oct. 22, the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency won the Out-of-the-Box Award from the Florida Redevelopment Association. The award recognizes city projects that take a different approach in furthering a community’s redevelopment goals.
The awards program received 112 entries from CRAs all over Florida, said Gail Hamilton, CRA director for the city of Zephyrhills. But Gainesville’s application was outstanding, she said. The committee members thought it was a great approach to the project and could be utilized by large or small cities.
Gigi Simmons, a resident of the Porters community, said the sidewalk project has greatly enhanced the quality of life and provided children with a safe place to travel. She said it is a beautiful project that has fulfilled a need in the community, and she now sees families walking together on the sidewalk.
“It has definitely made a difference in the community in a positive light,” she said. “We can be identified as a community that is up and coming and a more family friendly, tight-knit community.”
Steve Smith, who owns S&S Cleaners on Southwest Fifth Avenue, said the project has shown the city’s commitment to improving the area in a significant way. He said twenty years ago, the roads weren’t even paved and some residents of the community felt like they were being overlooked.
“They completely redid my parking lot storefront, so it’s been a real improvement visually,” he said. “I think it has shown the residents and the visitors that the city is serious about giving Porters some of what it’s finally due.”
He said the improvements have created a higher sense of pride among the residents.
“It’s bringing a different type of resident into the community,” he said. “There’s a lot more people walking their dogs, riding their bikes. People who are accountable, people who want to have a pleasant, urban life without visible street crime.”
Smith said there is no longer visible street prostitution or drug dealing, which can also be tied in with police actions that have improved the safety of the neighborhood.
“Historically, we have had complaints of drug sales in the Porters neighborhood,” Ben Tobias, Gainesville Police Department spokesman, wrote in an email. “We respond with both enhanced visual patrols to discourage that behavior, and we also use our Gainesville Alachua County Drug Task Force to investigate cases against local drug dealing.”
Tobias said both tactics have produced a safer Porters neighborhood. He said making enhancements, like the Southwest Fifth Avenue project, to increase the quality of life in an area usually helps to drive out crime. The sidewalk project turned into a community event that brought the neighborhood together, he said.
People who live and work in the Porters community are very appreciative of what has been done to improve the safety with the building of the sidewalk, Smith said.
“Our customers are appreciative,” he said. “And I know the residents in the Porters area are quite pleased to now finally be getting some attention.”