The Nicest Place in Mississippi: Florence Gardens in Gulfport

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2020 FINALIST
"A Neighborhood Unites"

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Neighbors become friends and friends take care of each other.

Florence Gardens, a tiny neighborhood on the north side of Gulfport, is marked by neat, new houses and empty lots waiting for families to build their dream homes. It’s a planned community within the larger city of 72,000 on the coast. There’s a vegetable and butterfly garden, which the children adore. Florence Gardens is a great place to raise a family, according to resident Hope Goldin, who moved there two and a half years ago to be closer to her three adult children.

“We’ve really come together,” says Goldin. “COVID-19 really brought us together.”

Despite the coronavirus lockdown, despite many businesses having to close their doors, neighbors found ways to come together as best they could.

On Father’s Day, there was a neighborhood daddy-daughter dance as the Gulfport-wide dance hosted by the city was canceled due to the pandemic. Father figures and children enjoyed a day of food, dancing and music; even with proper social distancing the normalcy of the dance was a refreshing change from quarantine life.

gulfport lighthouseRichard T. Nowitz/Getty Images
The virus has brought out the best in the community.

Waffle House, a southern diner chain, hosted a pop-up to sell its food as grocery store shelves went bare. And food trucks of all different cuisines have been making trips to the neighborhood. Once, during karaoke night organized by the neighborhood, a neighbor who owns a Hooters restaurant had wings served to everyone to keep spirits up. And residents also came together for peaceful prayer protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The entire community came together after the death of George Floyd—Christian, Jewish, Black, and White,” Goldin says. “The police chief, the mayor, and the fire chief were present with their families at the prayer protests. We love our police officers but we don’t approve of what they [police] do in other cities.”

On Tuesday, June 16, the Gulfport City Council voted unanimously to remove the state flag, which has the Confederate emblem on it, from buildings in the city, including City Hall. “This today humbles me more than anything that we could do in a vote to make a difference,” Councilwoman Ella Holmes-Hines told the local Sun Herald.

The Nomination

During the quarantine the neighbors in our large development of homeshave joined together with pop up restaurants, outdoor movies, karaoke nights, professional entertainers, Memorial Day parade with hamburgers, hot dogs, snow cones, cookies and members of a local band for more entertainment. We have senior citizens living next door to families with infants as well as school age children. Everyone joins together but social distances. At risk neighbors have special early times at pop up restaurants. Every week different neighbors organize 1 or 2 events and different food trucks for the whole neighborhood. The neighbors built a boat launch on their own and we also have a neighborhood garden. It is so wonderful for all ages and has made the quarantine so much better.

My husband and I have 3 children who all have moved to the neighborhood. Our son and daughter in law moved 10 years ago after their wedding, our daughter and son in law moved 3 years ago and our youngest son 6 years ago. We moved 2 years ago to be near our 3 grandchildren.

Our neighborhood was friendly but everyone had their own group of friends. Since the quarantine events we have expanded our groups. The senior citizens without nearby grandchildren enjoy other neighbors grandchildren. We had never met our neighbors across the street after 2 years, but now we enjoy chatting with them.

More people (especially when gyms were closed) would walk the streets visiting with people rocking on their porches.

Yesterday was our Memorial Day neighborhood parade with antique cars, hot rods, exotic cars, golf carts and children on bikes. Tonight is outdoor movie night. When we thank whoever organized a particular event they always insist a different neighbor did all the work.

The neighbors are very happy and having lots of fun during a miserable situation.

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