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: