Nearly two years ago, city commissioners asked a simple, but important question: “How can the City of Gainesville, Florida, become more competitive?” What happened next is now fundamentally shifting the trajectory of our community’s development from that of a small college town to becoming a dynamic regional economic engine in the state of Florida. Gainesville’s unique answer to becoming more competitive is to reinvent itself as the most citizen-centered city in America.

We know that “The purpose of our city, is the people of our city.” So we’ve committed to redesigning our city around the citizens it serves. Our goal is make every citizen interaction and experience with city government feel as though the encounter was designed with them in mind. Human-centered design thinking aids the redesign of our processes so that all city activities help, celebrate, and guide our citizens – and then recede into the background, enabling citizens to make Gainesville the best possible place to live.

We are refining a strategic framework that positions Gainesville as a leader of a movement to become an iconic New American City. We are achieving that goal by building systems that use civic innovation to be more responsive to the needs of our citizens, which are informed by a set of principles that guide every collaborative decision-making opportunity between local government, citizens and community partners.

One example of more responsive government is the creation of a Department of Doing under the City Manager. The department is comprised of various city staff members who facilitate the process of starting or growing a business in Gainesville. It serves as a testbed for work team development to move the vision for citizen-centered service forward. Its staff applies design thinking practices to create seamless processes to get answers for citizens to achieve success in a helpful, transparent and timely manner.

Recent accomplishments include a complete redesign of the department’s physical workspace to make entry areas in the Thomas Center B building more accessible to citizens. Improvements include new entryway stairs and ADA ramps, redesigned lobby space and much more. The redesign reinforces our broader intent that at every intersection with a citizen, our front doors will be transparent, intuitive and more user-friendly.

The redesigned space also reflects the department’s heightened commitment to enhanced online service. An online chat tool empowers citizens to speak directly with staff members for assistance. Whether searching for information about the city’s First Step process or seeking guidance regarding home renovations in a historic district, the chat function provides additional citizen access to information. Another online e-tool is called Project Dox.

This tool enables developers to electronically submit and monitor development projects as they pass through the city’s review for utility, building, zoning and planning compliance. The Department of Doing’s online toolbox also includes a “Right Site” zoning portal tool, which allows anyone thinking of opening a business in Gainesville to determine where that business or project is permitted. All these useful tools are on the city of Gainesville website at: www.cityofgainesville.org.

City Manager Anthony Lyons also combined the offices of Strategic Planning, Communications and Marketing, Economic Development, Intergovernmental Relations, as well as added a Director of Citizen Centered Gainesville to form a Strategic Initiatives Department. Its mission is to research and offer policy direction and help guide organizational development toward becoming an iconic New American City.

The Strategic Initiatives Department has led the successful effort of aligning the city’s Strategic Plan Framework with the University of Florida’s Strategic Development Plan. The department is also working to identify, coordinate and implement key aspects of a historic agreement outlining strategic collaborations between the city and university. Through the agreement, both the city and university have formalized a working relationship that mutually benefits each entity in areas including economic opportunity, business development, housing, neighborhoods, culture and the arts, safety, transportation, technology and environmental stewardship.

In the past year, outcomes from the agreement include more than $350,000 in research awards to seven UF – City of Gainesville research projects. Selected projects range from studying successful approaches to entrepreneurship to public acceptance of autonomous vehicle technology. A joint fellowship opportunity sponsored by the City of Gainesville and the Bob Graham Center for Public Service is enabling four University of Florida students to work collaboratively with experienced city leaders to provide solutions to intractable local issues.

The rapid pace at which our community is changing requires us to speak in new ways about the direction we are heading. The department has worked with a local agency to develop a transitional city branding strategy which will roll out shortly to help publicly define what a New American City is and why it is important for Gainesville to lead the way.

These are but a few of the hundreds of exciting changes occurring in city government that exemplify our pride in being in the vanguard of Gainesville’s transformation into a preeminent New American City.

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