When you imagine Jacksonville twenty, thirty or even fifty years into the future what do you see? Will it be a destination city, perhaps even a “Gateway to Florida,” where droves of national and even international tourists flock to spend a few days reveling in all that our vibrant city has to offer? Will Downtown be a bustling hub of business and recreation filled with restaurants, hotels, museums, and entertainment venues that draw crowds of locals and visitors both day and night? Will neighborhoods and areas along our wide, sparkling river offer scenic walkways lined with shops, bistros and bars punctuated by parks and shaded places to sit, relax and enjoy our beautiful city?
A visionary group of local architects and urban designers, organized through Jacksonville’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), have done more than just imagine these scenarios. They have taken the initiative to conceptualize a plan tentatively referred to as “River of Lights” that will showcase and connect the most vital components of our city in a compelling and revolutionary way, whether they exist today, are in development, or have yet to be conceived.
Chris Flagg, FASLA, of Haskell says the plan came about when the group of forward-thinkers got together a little over a year ago and essentially asked, “How do we create points of destination and draw people to Downtown, the North Bank, and the South Bank other than a fireworks show?” Downtown development was finally gaining momentum after a “long economic hibernation,” and a number of upcoming projects including Unity Plaza, the Laura Street Trio, and Peter Rummell’s Healthy Town (now referred to as The District) were individually generating their own level of excitement and anticipation.
Although the group, which, in addition to Flagg, counts Tom Duke, John Zona, Ted Pappas, Dave Engdahl, Brandon Pourch, and Chris Allen among its members, agree that each of these projects has its own merits, they also feel it is necessary to incorporate each new project, along with recent or more long-standing buildings or areas, into a more cohesive plan that can provide inspiration for the future of the city as a whole. “We are trying to make Downtown remarkable, the ingredients are there – they just haven’t been connected,” says Tom Duke of Thomas Duke Architect, PA. “It’s kind of like a coral reef: put some structure down there and then let it take off and bloom.”
Article written by Eva Dasher