Celebrating the Pedestrian
Landscaping Downtown Jacksonville
Mother Nature was kind to Jacksonville. With the St. Johns River coursing through Downtown, we have an abundance of riverfront property. But rarely has a major city’s biggest asset been so underutilized. Before Downtown Jacksonville can become a player in the modern world, we must first embrace its natural beauty. The Riverwalk is Downtown’s first true ode to the river, and its popularity is a testament to the lure of pedestrian-friendly public spaces. This may be an intrepid idea, but it certainly isn’t new.
One year ago, an expert panel representing a wide variety of perspectives, including the Downtown Investment Authority, St. Johns Riverkeeper, Downtown Vision, the Health Planning Council, and many other civic associations defined priorities for the Northbank Riverfront District, says Alan Wilson, chief design architect at Haskell.
Many enhancements were discussed, such as increasing public accessibility to the riverfront, developing designated walking paths, and improving existing biking and walking paths, pocket parks, and the Southbank Riverwalk. Ultimately, the idea was to create a healthier environment, and help capitalize on the river, says Wilson.
According to Ted Pappas, FAIA, architect and president of PBV Architecture, Downtown lost its competitive advantage as new buildings started appearing at the periphery and old, dysfunctional and vacant buildings in the core were overlooked until they were on the verge of disrepair. Along the way, as expressways were built and the city became more connected with its outer neighborhoods and suburbs, the pedestrian was ignored.
We must reverse this effect if Downtown is to attract permanent residents. A public space with trees, grass, fountains, and walkways should be ground zero of an urban core.
Friends of Hemming Park recently embarked on a transformation of Jacksonville’s oldest public park, hoping that it will once again serve as a “green urban gathering place” in the epicenter of Downtown.
Efforts, which include cultural community events and new amenities in Hemming Park, are sparking interest from Jacksonville residents and tourists alike, creating a hot new place out of an old space.
Public art – another type of landscape rejuvenation – is also spreading rapidly through the Downtown area. MOCA Jax recently added a new sculpture to the cityscape, and Sculpture Walk Jax in Main Street Park brings ten large-scale sculptures to Downtown in a public art exhibition that will remain in place until the fall.
Article written by Kate Jolley