The University of Florida has a new “front door” — the Northeast Gateway, which is the first step in turning the core of our campus into a pedestrian realm.
The Northeast Gateway, accessed from University Avenue, is a major portal to our university and now has a look and feel befitting a top-five institution of higher education. The next phase will be the Union Walk project, which will link Tigert Hall to Tower Plaza, Gator (Corner) Plaza and Newell gateway. In time, we will have a primary walkway through campus that showcases the beauty of our buildings and landscape, with memorable spaces for large gatherings.
The university does not control the properties that border the campus — including areas along 13th Street and University Avenue currently under construction, which are governed by the city of Gainesville. That said, our partnership with the city ensures that new developments are complementary and also address needs of our campus community.
We do have say over the greenspace within our campus as a whole — from its edges to its core, its roadways to its natural systems. We have prioritized greenspace in 31 conservation areas within the nearly 2,000 acres that comprise our main campus.
These areas were identified in 1995 and reconfirmed in a collaborative process that included faculty, staff and students in 2005. A similar update process is underway now to develop enhanced management strategies for these areas. Together, nearly one-third of our campus, 457 acres, is in designated conservation areas; another 99 acres are designated in other open space categories.
These conservation areas receive our highest efforts to preserve, manage and protect their natural features and status as native habitats for flora and fauna. We have adopted buffers and restrictions to keep them as natural and pristine as possible given their location within an urban environment.
We have creeks, ponds, wetlands and woods; thousands of trees, including heritage trees and pollinator plants; wildlife that ranges from egrets, eagles, osprey, owls, bats and woodpeckers to deer, otters and Florida’s famed alligators.
Our dedication to conservation helps us fulfill our role as a pilot for the Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary Program — we were, in fact, the first university in the country to set up university-wide environmental planning standards with this nonprofit organization.
Our campus is beautiful and we are constantly finding ways to enhance its natural and built environments. We know that a quality landscape provides an important sense of identity for a collegiate community. It also plays a part in prospective students wanting to attend UF and in the health and happiness of the students, staff and faculty already here.
Inviting outdoor spaces offer our campus community places to gather and collaborate; to ponder and study; to sit quietly and be refreshed.
Our campus offers a respite from the city that surrounds it. I hope you will visit the new Northeast Gateway, take a walk around the courtyard adjacent to Tigert Hall and see for yourself how our vision for a truly spectacular university environment is taking shape.
Carlos Dougnac is the assistant vice president and Linda B. Dixon is director of planning in the Planning, Design & Construction Division at UF
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This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Carlos Dougnac, Linda B. Dixon: UF working to create welcoming campus