January 26, 2022
In The Public Interest

Low Hanging Fruit

Yesterday, the Florida Times-Union editorial called for local elected leaders to do the obvious in historic downtown, Jacksonville’s Northbank.  TU’s editors lament one-way streets, narrow sidewalks, coin-operated parking meters, the lack of shade trees, and lack of parking signage (http://jacksonville.com/opinion/20181230/sundays-editorial-more-action-is-needed-downtown-in-2019).  In addition to these obvious — obvious — improvements, we should add a need to install recycle bins, periodic pressure-washing of public sidewalks, and a downtown public park, all measures that would indicate that we actually care about the place.

It’s called civic pride.

Why is doing the obvious in downtown Jacksonville so very difficult for our mayor and city council?   Other cities, small and large alike, seem to do quite well with this low-hanging fruit.  One doesn’t have to travel far.  Historic St. Augustine exudes civic pride. Its contemporary parking meters tell the story.  After all, this is the era of smart phones and Apple Pay! 

For years, downtown development ideas have included these smaller more obvious improvements.  The city’s community redevelopment area plan (the Plan), which supersedes the previous Downtown Master Plan, dated September 2014 and administered by the Downtown Investment Authority calls for all these measures.  

The report is lengthy and comprehensive (381 pages) and can be found at dia.coj.net.  Look for Downtown Development Reports.  

While its major emphasis is a need to develop downtown housing, the Plan also calls for shade trees, an urban walkable park that connects existing and future green spaces (think Toronto’s urban park), two-way streets and wider sidewalks.  

The housing piece includes measures to develop what is now being called The District in San Marco and the Shipyards along the Northbank near the stadium.  These high-end developments are generational and capital intensive, and while they no doubt will provide housing for some of the 50,000 residents downtown must accommodate to be vibrant, they don’t address the obvious low-hanging fruit called for.  

Why can’t we do the obvious?

Here are a few random shots from downtown that underline the issue:

Written by
Sherry Magill

Sherry Magill is a community leader and retired private foundation executive. She is a co-founder of Jaxlookout.

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  • I agree. Let’s improve downtown by envisioning it as pedestrian friendly. A walkable downtown does not have to be devoid of vehicular traffic. Take a good look at Main Street in Greenville SC. Traffic, pedestrians, and downtown commerce are integrated as a win, win. For infill development to be successful in downtown, a traffic calming and parking strategy is paramount to public safety and for shoppers. These are doable and can be implemented with little angst. Send a unambiguous signal to our community that downtown is vital to our economic well being by creating an environment that’s both esthiscally pleasing and welcoming to residents and visitors.

  • True, and it isn’t limited to downtown. For several years I was a planner in the city’s parks department. I observed during that time, and still do, that the major damage done to our parks is by park maintenance, who operate on an inflexible schedule often taking large vehicles onto muddy fields following a rain where they leave extensive damage. And, the damage goes un-repaired for months.

    There’s no sense of pride, no sense of personal ownership or responsibility for public lands. I believe this lack of civic pride is what keeps our city from realizing its full potential. And the sad part is, it is something that can be solved by a cheerleading mayor. Love him or hate him the one thing you can’t deny about Jake Godbold was that he was a cheerleader who united the community. The same can be said for John Delaney, and look what he accomplished. Why our past two, and current mayor, can’t see that is a mystery.

Written by Sherry Magill

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