UF Students Push Possibilities for Plum Creek Land

Agriculture and an urban lifestyle can prosper side-by-side. At least, that was the theme at a recent project presentation from University of Florida students. The projects were created to illustrate potential development of Plum Creek’s vast landholdings in eastern Alachua County.

Created as part of Plum Creek’s Envision Alachua process, the 12 projects created by 39 students from the College of Design, Construction and Planning translated agri-urbanism into a wide array of proposals, including:

  • Hydroponic gardens grown on a tall tower that would serve as a community landmark;
  • An operation to “mine” phosphorous from Newnan’s Lake, much of which comes from the heavy phosphorous content in the area’s soil, for use as fertilizer;
  • A bridge across Newnan’s Lake that would include devices to filter out the phosphorous as well as improving access from east Alachua County to Gainesville;
  • Sunflower farming and a factory to produce sunflower oil and other products.

Todd Powell, Plum Creek’s Florida director of real estate development, welcomed the students’ creativity. “We were very pleased to see how the students were able to take an academic exercise and develop some truly innovative concepts,” he says. “A few of these ideas may very well work their way into our community designs—and there’s no doubt that the work of the students will influence us as we continue through the planning process.”

Pierce Jones, director of the Program for Resource Efficient Communities in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, also spoke at the meeting, which was held at the Curtis M. Phillips Center. Jones said that communities of the future need to be more compact to preserve natural resources and to keep homeownership affordable.

The community of Restoration that’s being planned in Volusia County illustrates the benefits of compact development, Jones says. The land upon which Restoration will stand was originally planned as a typical suburban development in 2006. Under pressure to be more sustainable, the developer shrunk the community’s footprint, reducing the cost of roads from a projected $383 million to $238 million and potentially saving a billion gallon of landscape irrigation water a year, Jones says.

The new community of Prairie Crossing, Ill., features a 100-acre organic garden, Jones notes. He cited an article in the Wall Street Journal that quoted Ed McMahon of the Urban Land Institute: “Agriculture is the new golf.”

According to Jones, there is great possibility for adding more innovative agriculture to eastern Alachua County, where the area’s farmers already are producing blueberries, pecans, strawberries and organically grown produce.

Jones also said that an example of the type of job training that the Envision Alachua Task Force foresees is already taking place at Eastside High School’s Culinary Arts program.

Daniel Iacofano, a principal in the Berkeley-based MIG, Inc.—and the facilitator for Envision Alachua—applauds the projects as showing the unique possibilities for the more than 17,000 acres of Plum Creek land that’s part of the Envision Alachua process.

“This work will help create the job factories of the future that we need to spur on,” he says.

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