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City beautification board redefines its purpose, shifts toward public involvement

The Gainesville City beautification board discusses new proposals from Fernando Garcia and Camila Ochoa. “I see that as an opportunity… just seeing it is not fixing it,” Ochoa said. (Brett Posner-Ferdman/WUFT News)
The Gainesville City beautification board discusses new proposals from Fernando Garcia and Camila Ochoa. “I see that as an opportunity… just seeing it is not fixing it,” Ochoa said. (Brett Posner-Ferdman/WUFT News)

The Gainesville City Beautification Board met to reevaluate their mission statement and establish its plan for the next year during a public meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

As part of its annual report for the Gainesville City Commission, the board met to discuss the past, present and future actions of the group.

While the board is best known for the annual city beautification awards, the six-person group is looking to encourage new beauty, maintenance and safety initiatives around the city.

Some of these proposals include a heightened focus on community involvement, new sculptures around the city and more collaborations with other groups, like neighborhood associations.

Camila Ochoa, 25, and Fernando Garcia, 24, are two of the newer and younger members of the beautification board, according to voter records. The duo outlined many of their new ideas during the meeting, including changing the board’s mission statement.

Currently, the mission statement is “to improve the livability and quality of life in Gainesville and its surrounding areas.” However, Garcia proposed changing the mission statement to “increase quality of life for the residents of Gainesville through the enhancement of surrounding urban environment.”

This revised mission statement reflects the board’s push to expand outside their previous work on the Beautification Awards, and into the development of community-based programs that will encourage residents to beautify the spaces around them, said Garcia and Ochoa.

Garcia suggested that going forward, all future ideas should be filtered into three categories: developments and redevelopments, public spaces and residential workshops. He said this would ensure that the group tackles ideas from each topic on an annual basis, rather than focusing exclusively on one or two projects per year.

These changes come as there is a clear shift in the generational dynamics of the beautification board.

Chirayu Patel, 48, is a former architect and longtime member of the board who is reaching the end of his final term. While Patel was receptive to many of Ochoa and Garcia’s proposals in theory, he repeatedly cautioned against being too ambitious and getting involved with city politics based on his own prior experiences.

“Your generation lives very black and white, the whole fun in life is in grays.” Patel said about the proposals. “I’m not saying don’t do it, I’m just trying to avoid some failures.”

Arguably the most substantial proposals from Garcia and Ochoa were the development of new green spaces in East Gainesville. These would include new sculptures and fountains that Garcia said would create safe spaces for the community to gather.

While Patel made it clear that he supported the creation of these areas, he warned the board to do its homework before rushing to move forward. “When you want to implement it,” he said, “you need to understand the society, economics… and then see how you can do it.”

“I’m trying to help you, don’t get me wrong. I’m just trying to point out a lot of things," he said.

Another proposal was the creation of regular “culture and heritage walks” around the city. These would not only showcase the history, culture and community of Gainesville, but board liaison Chelsea Proia said it would also encourage local involvement in beautification activities such as trash pickup and invasive species removal.

The group also proposed closing certain streets, such as 6th Avenue, on Sundays to encourage people to explore their community.

One idea that was heavily supported by all members of the board was to bring back workshops for the community that educate people about the importance of beautification in their neighborhoods.

In years past, the beautification board held urban forestry workshops, but none have been held since the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim would be to hold one or two community beautification workshops throughout the year, while making the events more family oriented.

Despite the new, ambitious direction, the board says it remains committed to its previous endeavors, like the annual Beautification Awards. While some changes were suggested for next year’s awards to increase attendance, such as shifting the event to earlier in the summer and providing award certificates for consultants, the event still remains a large priority for the group.

While many of the ideas presented in Tuesday’s meeting were generally well received by the board, no formal proposals were presented or agreed upon.

Board Chair April O’Neal said that the group’s budget has largely remained the same each year, making the prospects of accomplishing many of these larger proposals a challenging long-term goal.

Another of the board’s challenges is the lack of membership. While the board should be operating with nine members, each serving three-year terms, there are currently only six members serving. With Patel’s term coming to an end, that number will shrink again to five.

To accomplish everything discussed at the meeting, Patel said “you need to be on the board for ten years.”

Patel said if Garcia and Ochoa had joined back in 2018, the board "would have done something by now.”'

It remains to be seen which ideas, if any, will take shape over the next few years, but the board will further discuss its plans at the next regular meeting on November 10th.

Brett is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.