Gainesville Feels: Living Within Neon Nature

Gainesville Feels is a series that features Gainesville citizens seeking to capture the essence of Gainesville through art, word, and motion.

Gainesville Feels: Living Within Neon Nature

It's something you notice while flying into Gainesville Regional Airport or when you're above five stories in any building here.

Where did Gainesville go?

Get high enough in this city and it all just... disappears into forest. Literally all landmarks, major roads, and iconic gothic halls just… go.

Aerial view of downtown Gainesville in the early morning. Cam Riley for startupGNV.

At first it seems impossible. A trick of the light or just looking in the wrong direction.

But after living here for 8 years, I can tell you it's not. It’s just the special kind of everyday magic you get from living in a cypress wetlands amongst the highest concentration of freshwater springs in the world.

Trees and vegetation in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Cam Riley for startupGNV.

It’s green dead ends with plants the size of basketball players. It’s neon sunsets against spanish moss. It’s ponds with lilly pads. It’s roiling thunderstorms, hard driving rains, and delightfully thick forest air. It’s literally every day in Gainesville - good, bad, or otherwise the Gainesville green is waiting there for you.

Sidewalk path in Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. Cam Riley for startupGNV.

It's funny - I was in Gainesville when Amazon Spheres was announced. A bubble of forest amidst a massively expanding metropolis - meant to increase productivity through nature and suit the tastes of a new class of people demanding more connection with green.

When considering where to move or what a good community is, we often think of schools or housing markets. Jobs, parks, and elected officials. We think of practical things like the tax rates and we may think of leisure things like the local movie theater or bar.

All important for sure.

But what about the color green? What about leaves and flowers and vines and bushes and ecosystems and animal humanity that comes with them. Animals, bugs, and moss living their own lives alongside your life.

Aerial view of La Chua Trail. Cam Riley for startupGNV.

It's often said there's just something about Gainesville. It’s framed as an impossible mystery. An essence. A soul.

I believe Gainesvillians (Gainesvillianians? Gainesvillites?) have stumbled upon something most human cities haven’t figured out.

The actual right mix of flora, fauna, and home. The importance of green space. The balance inherent in living not just with plants and animals as the side show - but a co-equal branch of municipality.

Oak trees shading over a sidewalk and street. Cam Riley for startupGNV.

Oh the dead ends I've discovered that are insanely full of life. The way the light bounces off the spanish moss on literally every single tree. The amount of deer I've seen just running along my normal (and right off a main road - 8th Ave) running track.

Map of Gainesville, FL 32601, a zipcode with good running paths.

Hidden nature trails weave their way in and out of the city. And it’s a proper city - that’s the difference between here and any other place I’ve been around the world. It’s the balance between the resources a great city has (small businesses, truly great food and culture) and the sheer amount of biomass around us. I still find hidden ponds, fantastic tree houses, and gorgeous little green grottos within a mile of my apartment (which is less than a mile from the university).

A natural path through woods during the day. Courtesy of Benny Torres.

You’ll see hammocks just hung up all around the city. Picnics occurring at all times. The post-work trail run or spring swim or nature photograph aren’t a 30 minute drive or a 15 minute walk - they’re 30 seconds away.

The quiet the green creates, a quiet at night unlike anywhere else. Almost like a peaceful safe muffling.

And oh my, the journey to night here is such a spectacular show every evening. I’ve seen a lot of skies in my journey - but Gainesville is one of them that just absolutely sings every single night.

Small talk in other cities is about the weather. Small talk in Gainesville is about the sky, every single sunset and sunrise.
Sunrise at Lake Alice. Cam Riley for startupGNV.

Oranges pinks and purples. Neon colors that don’t have a name. Clouds that don’t form recognizable shapes but maybe were the basis for some of the more hallucinogenic members of our community. It’s a wonder every evening. The sort of banal natural wonder that provides an hour of entertainment every day with nothing else. Seriously.

Colorful sunset outside a CVS pharmacy in Gaineville, FL. Courtesy of Benny Torres.

I’m someone who loves consuming entertainment to the Nth degree but I can sit down outside during sunrise or sunset in this place and just feel - connected. The beauty demands quiet. Like the ocean in Hawaii or the sand dunes in Utah - except it’s right outside your window.

The front yards filled with massive jurassic looking plants or exotic looking flowers or with space for critters and sculpture that fit in with nature.

It's not about great landscaping. It's not about having a lot of trees. It's about using nature and truly living with it. The restaurants and the homes and the apartments and the schools aren't plopped down and then landscaped.

Aerial view of apartment buildings surrounded by trees. Cam Riley for startupGNV.

They're almost carved out of the forest in ways that make it feel integrated. In ways that connects and rests the soul.

It's not just about warmth or nice weather. It's about being able to breathe deep, to walk around and touch all this biomass. To be reminded of what a truly balanced human ecosystem might look like.

We hope this bit of content helped you understand Gainesville’s special place in our work, life, and heart. sparkGNV is community content and career collaborative intended to help express Gainesville’s unique story and recruit top talent to Gainesville’s tech and start-up community. Check out the jobs, companies, and other content GNV has to offer at sparkGNV and please consider sharing, following us, or giving us feedback!

Written by Benny Torres.

Benny is a freelance creative director and founder of Studio 2058, a  collective of creative young people at UF. He’s focused on using  storytelling, identity, and creativity to change the world.