LIVABLE – WALKABLE CITY OF ALACHUA
The Good Life Community
Article by Rosanne Morse
Just 13 miles north of Gainesville, FL home of the University of Florida, lies a town that would like to meet you. The City of Alachua is an authentic original walkable community. Founded in 1905, the downtown district is a thriving business and residential community for all sorts of families.
Art By Kathleen Requesens
Alachua naturally evolved around humans, not automobiles, and continues the tradition of encouraging connection among neighbors, businesses, government, resources, and supports safety, physical fitness, and social interaction. So, yes, we do feel safe, welcome and comforted in our little town.
As people fly along on I-75, Exit 399 at Alachua is a great place to stop and rest. Get to know us. We have great restaurants, wonderful parks, and charming shops. The year in Alachua is sprinkled with family events from the Alachua Spring Festival to the Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting. We have a spectacular 4th of July Celebration and we welcome fall with Scarecrow Row and a series of Shop, Dine and Stroll events. Alachua is the perfect day-trip from points all around North Florida. It’s a friendly welcoming step back into a time and place that invites you to sit a spell and chat.
We as human beings have an imperative to “belong”. From birth, humans rely on other humans to survive; so having connections contributes to our sense of comfort and well-being. We belong to families, communities, schools, religious and sectarian organizations. While we like our alone time, we also find comfort in being connected to one another in livable communities.
Livable communities are often also called walkable communities and simply defined as communities that provide comfort to humans. All of us know uncomfortable places when we are in them. These are the places where vehicle speeds are high; we don’t see other people walking; buildings look the same; there is starkness; and we don’t feel safe, welcome, or comforted.
Time after time, the word “connectivity” comes up in our planning documents and designs. People genuinely know each other and quickly welcome newcomers. News travels by word-of-mouth first over breakfast, lunch or at the local churches, hardware store, or dress shops. Law enforcement and Public Works are friendly neighbors who help solve problems. A long network of sidewalks allows us to walk from Main Street to City Hall, through parks and ball fields, the dentist’s office, local banks, the grocery store, and even the fast food places. Need to get your car fixed? Yep, you can walk easily to and from the repair shops! Feel like a hair cut, massage or an exercise workout? Yep, we’ve got a fitness center and health and beauty services for all sorts of requirements! Main Street is lined with interesting architecture, sidewalks, vintage human-friendly lighting, easy parking and a wide variety of shops and hometown restaurants. Linked via sidewalk is the Alachua Towne Center providing more restaurants, a grocery store and other local services.
The City of Alachua, through its origins and planning is a comfortable community:
1) Alachua is designed for people – not just cars. Seriously. The downtown district accommodates bikes, pedestrians and cars. Cars do not have overwhelming dominance. Cars move at speeds safe for the area and traffic is distributed through a variety of streets. It seems obvious, but when streets aren’t friendly for walking, people avoid being there. Streets are lined with trees and sidewalks, on-street parking offers a useful buffer between people and traffic. These buffers allow for homes and other buildings to line the streets and create a pleasant homey environment. Streets like these create a welcome setting for kids, bikes, old folks strolling, and health walkers.
2) Downtown offers a sense of place and destinations. Sidewalks, preserved or restored buildings, parks and public spaces all exist in a way that creates a sense of place and celebrates the community character. Homes and historic buildings watch over the street and help define the sense of neighborliness. Destinations can be reached within a 5-or 10-minute walk: parks, schools, shops, banks, doctors and dentists, restaurants, and a variety of services.
4) Alachua is authentic. Alachua has naturally evolved rather than been artificially contrived. It honors its character and history and retains a sense of real people having lived real lives. All neighborhoods and downtowns change over time and take on new elements. Yet, our 21st century souls yearn for the warmth and comfort of a place that is authentic.
5) Diversity and variety keeps things interesting. Alachua is a community that is diverse in people, housing and business types and opportunities. Taking a walk in downtown isn’t boring, it’s a time to see lots of different things, meet and chat with lots of different people. Walking in downtown Alachua helps us keep connected, and that, after all, is quite a natural healthy way to feel!
6) Employment. Life is good here in Alachua and we have a significant number of large employers for a town of our size. The City of Alachua while supporting tradition also encourages economic development through the Progress Corporate Park, the University of Florida Sid Martin Biotechonogly Incubator, Santa Fe College Campus, Intermed Medical Products, Hunter Marine, RTI Biologics, Sandvik Mining & construction, Lowe’s, Sysco, Dollar General, and Walmart Distribution Centers, and Hipp Construction. In Gainesville, 13 miles south along I-75 there is a thriving education and healthcare community providing employment to thousands.