Tag Archives: social condenser

The Need for Gainesville, Florida to Retain the Courthouse Downtown

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.”ct2

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 beenct replaced by an unlovable modernist building (photo above).

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Advice to a Friend About Finding a New Dance Venue

 

By Dom Nozzi

May 10, 2004

I have enjoyed “contra” dancing for over 25 years. Contra is an “old-tyme” form of dancing. It is a folk dance made up of long lines of couples. It has mixed origins from English country dance, Scottish, French dance styles in the 17th century, with strong African influence from Appalachia. Sometimes described as New England folk dance or Appalachian folk dance, contra dances can be found around the world and have much

Contra dance, Gainesville FL April 2007

popularity in North America and the United Kingdom where weekly or monthly dances and annual dance weekends are common. The dance is guided by a “caller” and tends to get its music from a live fiddle band.

A contra dance friend of mine in Florida – Tara – contacted me in 2004 to ask for advice about the local contra community seeking to buy a new venue building for contra dancing. Here is what I offered.

Hi Tara,

I’m flattered that you have contacted me to ask me about this. I have been seeing the email postings about this exciting proposal for a few days now and, coincidentally, was going to email you about it today.

First, I think it would be a very good idea for the dance community to own and have control over its own facility. Having full control over the scheduling of the building would be an enormous advantage over the current venue.

I don’t mean to rain on this encouraging parade, Tara, but I have very serious concerns about the Moose Lodge location on 23rd Ave. As a long-range city planner, it is my opinion that community-serving “social condensers” (of which the local dance community is one) should not be located away from a downtown location — a location that is essentially inaccessible by foot, transit or bicycle. In particular, inaccessible to the downtown residences.

There are a number of reasons why I believe community-serving “social condensers” should be downtown:

  1. They are an essential building block toward creating a “sense of community.” Like most cities, the town center is about the only place where a sense of community can be experienced, because the center is where residents gather for cultural, civic, political and entertainment purposes. When community-serving activities leave the town center, the sense of community declines.
  1. In the town center, there are “spillover” benefits. At the current location of the dance hall, it is easy for folks to walk to the hall from other town center locations, or to walk from the hall to various town center destinations. Due to the flight of such activities from town centers throughout the nation, there is “no there there” in the town centers of much of America.
  1. In my opinion, an essential ingredient in the creation and maintenance of a quality city, as the Toronto Planning Director once said, is that there is at least one place where people can choose to live without being forced to use a car to get to important, regular activities in life. Despite the erosion of town centers due to flight from them, many centers continue to serve the purpose of providing a car-free lifestyle choice to some extent. Folks who choose to live in the town center (thereby being able to take advantage of a less car-dependent lifestyle) would not be able to walk or bicycle to NE 23rd Ave, and find it more difficult to use a bus to get there.

Given the above, while I am thrilled about the idea of the dance community owning its own dance venue, a location on NE 23rd Ave would mean that (a) Our town would, overall, offer a lower quality of life for those opting for a car-free lifetyle; and (b) Spillover benefits to the town center associated with dancing would decline.

Finally, as one of those “weirdoes” who strives to live a less car-dependent lifestyle, I would sadly need to end my roughly 15 years of attending contra dances in town if the venue was moved to a place that was largely inaccessible to a person wanting to walk, bicycle, or take transit to dances.

Again, thanks for contacting me about this.

 

 

 

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What is a “Third Place,” and Why Are They Important?

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By Dom Nozzi

“Social condensers”—the place where citizens of a community or neighborhood meet to develop friendships, discuss issues, and interact with others—have always been an important way in which the community developed and retained cohesion and a sense of identity.

Ray Oldenburg (1989), in The Great Good Place, calls these locations “third places.” (The first being the home and the second being work.) These third places are crucial to a community for a number of reasons, according to Oldenburg. They are, Oldenburg informs us, distinctive informal gathering places, they make the citizen feel at home, they nourish relationships and a diversity of human contact, they help create a sense of place and community, they invoke a sense of civic pride, they provide numerous opportunities for serendipity, they promote companionship, they allow people to relax and unwind after a long day at work, they are socially binding, they encourage sociability instead of isolation, they make life more colorful, and they enrich public life and democracy. Their disappearance in our culture is unhealthy for our cities because, as Oldenburg points out, they are the bedrock of community life and all the benefits that come from such interaction.third-place2

Oldenburg indicates that there are essential ingredients to a well-functioning third place. They must be free or quite inexpensive to enter and purchase food and drink within. They must be highly accessible to neighborhoods so that people find it easy to make the place a regular part of their routine—in other words, a lot of people should be able to comfortably walk to the place from their home. They should be a place where a number of people regularly go on a daily basis. It should be a place where the person feels welcome and comfortable, and where it is easy to enter into conversation. And a person who goes there should be able to expect to find both old and new friends each time she or he goes there.

According to Oldenburg, World War II marks the historical juncture after which informal public life began to decline in the U.S. Old neighborhoods and their cafes, taverns, and corner stores have fallen to urban renewal, freeway expansion, and planning that discounts the importance of congenial, unified and vital neighborhoods. The newer neighborhoods have developed under the single-use zoning imperative—which makes these critical, informal social gathering places illegal.harrys-restaurant2

Oldenburg points out that segregation, isolation, compartmentalization and sterilization seem to be the guiding principles of urban growth and urban renewal. In the final analysis, desirable experiences occur in places conducive to them, or they do not occur at all. When certain kinds of places disappear, certain experiences also disappear.

 

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