A River Runs Through It(Part 1)

For anyone traveling over the bridges of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, it can sometimes feel like we are separate from the river that weaves its way through the city. A 2021 Public Space survey found that only 19 percent of Jaxsons go to the riverfront often to enjoy greenspace and the outdoors. Limited areas for residents to access the riverfront or interact with nature have restricted opportunities for the city to have the bustling waterfront vibe that so many other metro areas offer. Since 2014, Jacksonville has enjoyed some of the country’s fastest population growth; the migration from large cities during COVID-19 only further accelerated that growth. There are nearly 8,000 residents now living downtown, which is projected to double over the next five years. As new construction projects break ground, the city must make capital investments in accessibility and infrastructure that contribute to a vibrant and safe urban core. 

With a landmass of more than 840 square miles, Jacksonville’s population and tax revenue are dispersed broadly, and management of the public realm is complicated. While downtown Jacksonville comprises 0.3 percent of the city’s land area, it is also responsible for 13 percent of the total economic output. A recent analysis by Riverfront Parks Now also shows more than 50 percent of the riverfront downtown is now city-owned, in contrast to the remaining riverfront in Duval County, which is 90 percent privately owned, giving the city the unique opportunity to develop an iconic riverfront for all. Looking at the economic impact of riverfront parks in other cities, investing in the public realm has proven to yield an even more outsized effect on a city’s economy. In 2020, the City Parks Alliance, an independent, nationwide membership organization dedicated to urban parks, released a collection of case studies from 11 cities demonstrating the benefits of urban parks. 

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Author: Arbus

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