A New Porters Community Narrative Engages and Empowers the Neighborhood

Porters neighborhood residents and stakeholders have created a new narrative, which is an innovative tool to communicate what makes the neighborhood special and should be protected in the face of development pressures. The “Porters Community,” as it is often called, is a historically African American neighborhood located in Gainesville between downtown and the University of Florida. The Porters narrative consists of four themes, which speak to the neighborhood’s past, present and future. The themes explain that Porters is…home, engaged and inclusive, resilient and opportunity. The narrative is accompanied by graphics for each theme, and several central icons – a heart, a front porch and a tree.

The neighborhood narrative resulted from a 15-month engagement process, which was led by a nine-member steering committee of Porters residents and stakeholders, including Gigi Simmons, who was elected to the City Commission last May. Planning experts in the UF Department of Urban and Regional Planning initiated and facilitated the process, as one of seven projects funded through the inaugural UF-Gainesville Research Awards grant in May 2017. According to Simmons, “creating a narrative for our community was essential as we face the many pressures that surround our neighborhood. In doing so, we are able to articulate our concerns, educate our residents and help to create viable solutions that everyone can partake in.”

Steering committee member and resident Angela Wright summed up the Porters narrative as “Home is where the heart is.” The neighborhood narrative was unveiled to the public on August 11 at the 7th Annual Porters Summer Block Party. Children and adults learned about the narrative through crafts and games representing each theme, and they received mementos bearing the narrative graphics. A special memento was an original picture book that told the story of the Porters neighborhood through a conversation between a granddaughter and her grandparents, which connected to an activity to paint wooden hearts for display.

Now that the narrative is complete and documented in a 174-page report, Porters residents and stakeholders will share it with the city, university and non-profits to shape policies and programs in support of the narrative. Also, the process of creating the narrative may serve as a model for other neighborhoods. The Porters narrative report, graphics and book are available from Dr. Kathryn Frank, Associate Professor and Director of the Florida Center for Innovative Communities at UF.

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