The historic Porters neighborhood was the recent recipient of a 2019 American Planning Association Florida Project Award of Excellence for its “Neighborhoods as Community Assets” project.
The award was the result of a collaboration between the City of Gainesville and the University of Florida’s College of Design, Construction and Planning. The research initiative, one of seven jointly funded projects by the City of Gainesville and the University of Florida, looked at how we might build strong neighborhoods through inclusive development and community preservation.
The aim of the “Neighborhoods as Community Assets” project was to design and test a new approach to neighborhood planning by directly collaborating with and empowering neighborhood residents.
Neighborhood narratives are stories and themes that residents can collectively share with others that help to articulate a neighborhood’s shared values. By highlighting the people, places and things that define a community, the Neighborhoods as Community Assets project helps to preserve history and neighborhood identity.
Urban planning scholars have studied the existence and use of neighborhood narratives for decades, but this project was the first to create a participatory process with the aim of resident empowerment.
Platted in 1884 by Dr. Watson Porter, the Porters Neighborhood has a rich history. During a time in which it was highly unusual for African Americans to own land, Dr. Porter sold property in the area exclusively to African Americans.
Today, the predominately African American neighborhood is a tight-knit community bound together by a strong sense of place and multi-generational heritage.
In recent years, the neighborhood has felt tremendous pressure from encroaching development, causing concern among residents. The 15-month pilot project took a new approach to community planning by drawing upon the community’s assets to establish a neighborhood narrative.
“We were able to come together and talk about our narrative and who we really are and what this community really means to the residents who live here,” said Gainesvillle City Commissioner Gigi Simmons.
Simmons represents district 1, which includes the Porters Neighborhood, and is a lifelong resident of the neighborhood herself.
“It has been critical for us to have this relationship with the University of Florida. Now we have a better understanding of our neighborhoods — the needs and concerns — and we can all work together to make sure we can happily coexist.”
This project came about when UF Senior Vice President and COO Charlie Lane, as part of the university’s Strategic Development Plan, announced a call for proposals that utilized the UF campus and greater Gainesville community as a living laboratory to address real world problems in the local community.
Lane’s office received 62 proposals from about 40 departments and centers throughout UF in just over a month. Seven were ultimately chosen for funding, including the now award-winning one comprised of faculty from the College of Design, Construction and Planning.
“We’re delighted that APA Florida honored our project, Neighborhoods as Community Assets,” UF Urban and Regional Planning Associate Professor and project lead Kathryn Frank stated. “Our project represents a radical reorientation of neighborhood planning, because unlike traditional neighborhood planning, which expects neighborhoods to insert themselves into city planning, our project showed how to engage with neighborhoods on their terms, to find out who they are, what they want for the future and what they need to make it happen. In this way, through ‘participatory neighborhood narratives,’ historically marginalized neighborhoods can become stronger and cities can recognize the existing assets of these neighborhoods and make policies for their protection for everyone’s benefit.”