Gainesville is one of three Georgia cities to benefit from the Downtown Renaissance Fellows pilot program, in which the city is paired with a college student in a 10-week improvement project.
University of Georgia student Elizabeth Lawandales will be working with city leaders to provide them with her expertise and skills on projects like green space planning and other streetscape improvements.
“We just had an initial meeting with her,” said Regina Mansfield, Gainesville Main Street manager. “We sat down with her, looking at long-term projects, things we are wanting to do. We definitely are utilizing her with her design skills.”
Lawandales, a landscape architecture undergraduate with the UGA College of Environment and Design, is expected to begin her position in Gainesville next week. She will be working with Mansfield and with Community Development Director Rusty Ligon.
One of her main projects will be helping to create an urban design handbook that officials could use as a reference for future improvement.
“The council may or may not at some point in the future want to formalize these,” Ligon said, explaining that the construction of a handbook was originally approved in the comprehensive plan adopted last year. “We’ll see what she comes up with. We want to have some standards in place for the future.”
He said that one of the primary goals is to develop a cohesive look and feel for the downtown area, saying that city officials want to be complimentary of the current look at the square.
Both Ligon and Mansfield mentioned that outdoor dining was becoming particularly popular in downtown Gainesville, so one of the things Lawandales might work on is determining where sidewalks could be expanded to encourage more sidewalk dining and pedestrian traffic.
With Mansfield, Lawandales will be working on some streetscapes of the downtown area.
The Carl Vinson Institute of Government’s Danny Bivins, program supervisor, said that Downtown Renaissance Fellows is in partnership with the Georgia Municipal Association and the Georgia Cities Foundation.
“They were the ones that chose these initial communities,” he said. “There will be an application process moving forward, but these they chose for a variety of reasons.” Bivins explained that the three municipalities — Gainesville along with Milledgeville and Porterdale — were selected for the pilot program in part because leadership and civic groups have already invested in the downtown areas.
“The Gainesville downtown is perceived as a healthy and vibrant downtown area,” Bivins said. “You have a great square, and restaurants and retail around that square.”
Alan Dickerson with GMA said that location had a lot to do with city selection, as well.
“Should this be a success, we would like to expand this to other design schools throughout the state,” he said. “But for the purposes of the pilot program, we needed to have three cities somewhat close to Athens, where the students will be based.”
Dickerson said they were also looking for enough variety in city size in the pilot program, which they believe they have found.
“Lastly, we want this pilot program to be a success, and so we were looking for cities that we thought had the abilities to implement some of the recommendations, and some of the work that these students do,” he continued.
Gainesville is paying around $1,400 for the 10-week program, matching funds put forward through the Georgia Municipal Association and its Georgia Cities Foundation.
Lawandales was one of more than 20 applicants to the competitive program.
“I’d say this is the best of the best,” said Bivins.
“It’s not only benefiting us but it’s benefiting her, because she’ll be able to take those sketches with her in a portfolio as she moves on in her career,” Mansfield explained. “We’re excited about working with Elizabeth, and I’m really excited to see what she has to offer, because these students that are coming out of school, they are up on the latest technology.”
While 10 weeks may not seem like an extensive amount of time to work on changing the face of a community, Mansfield believes this is beneficial to the community.
“If we can take her sketches and actually utilize and implement them, that’s even better, and that is ultimately what we want to do,” she said. “We don’t want her to come in and do some things, and then nothing happens with it.”