By Dom Nozzi
January 15, 2001
The downtown is the fountainhead of civic pride for the community, and both keeping or building important civic buildings downtown is a vital way to achieve or retain pride.
When our significant government buildings are downtown, it sends a powerful message to residents and visitors that we are proud of our city. It is also an important way for our downtown to remain “relevant.” We need to encourage and retain a meaningful number of jobs, residences, and retail downtown. Sprawling, “Anywhere USA” cities (where “there is no there there”) have hemorrhaged their important “social condensers” (community gathering places and key symbols of government) to dispersed, outlying areas. We’ve already the main city post office move way out to the western fringe of the city, and this has been to the detriment of downtown. Fortunately, a post office remains downtown.
Keeping a county courthouse in the community downtown is an important way for a community to avert a “South Florida” future. It matters that we retain a sense of place. And a sense of community.
All this, by the way, is not to imply that I’m fully supportive of the current proposal for the downtown courthouse. I’m rather unhappy about many of its “downtown-hostile” design features. Some of these features try, in a juvenile way, to protect the building from a “Waco bombing.”
Other examples of design features that degrade the need for a welcoming, compact, walkable downtown is the incorporation of vast expanses of deadening asphalt parking.
Nevertheless, a downtown needs to retain its courthouse in the town center. Hopefully, in the case of the new Gainesville courthouse, surface parking will be incrementally replaced with active, downtown-friendly buildings.
Sadly, the old courthouse built in 1885 no longer exists (see photo below), and has been replaced by an unlovable modernist building (photo above).