Illustration: Riverfront Parks Now
“Downtown Jacksonville is clearly at a defining crossroads, and we implore city leaders to recognize what is at stake: the last, best chance to create a “Riverfront for All.”
Jacksonville should follow the lead of cities that have successfully combined signature riverfront parks, connected trails and well-designed Riverwalks to attract residents, visitors, events, and developer investment, while also providing protection from sea level rise and flooding.
This proven approach will cost less and give us more, especially since the city already owns riverfront land. Riverfront parks yield returns on investment that are superior and long term. What’s more, they improve the quality of life for city-wide residents of all socio-economic groups.
Other river cities have faced similar forks in the road. Civic, business and elected leaders from these cities, including Chattanooga, St. Petersburg and Greenville, have all recognized the wisdom of their decisions to prioritize public space. In fact, these destinations have become great sources of civic pride and economic growth.
We can, and should, do the same thing for Jacksonville. Now is the time to ask City Council leaders to implement this 10-point path.
1. Prioritize public space. First and foremost, prioritize and invest in meaningful public riverfront parks and green spaces.
2. Go big, world-class, and inclusive. Engage a world-class urban design firm to design a 40+ acre connected park between Metropolitan Park and the Shipyards. We need spaces that are welcoming and accessible to all people and provide ways for our community to come together with a variety of desired amenities and activities.
3. Promote connectivity. Preserve a generous and continuous ribbon of green spaces and connected parks and trails along the Northbank to allow for multiple paths for bikers and pedestrians, shade and landscaping. These paths should connect to the Emerald Trail and all downtown destinations including the Southbank.
4. Let our river breathe. It is essential to significantly expand the setbacks from 25’ to 175’ for new development proposed for city-owned property along the St. Johns River to allow for a natural green buffer to protect against flooding.
5. Utilize green resilient solutions. Implement proven green solutions for stormwater management and to mitigate sea-level rise, storm surge and climate change. Incorporate plenty of shade trees to protect against the heat, add beauty, and help slow and filter runoff.
6. Don’t block our existing views. We support robust development across Bay Street which maximizes the benefits for both the development and the public to enjoy the park amenities and river views. Any structure on the river side of the street should directly enhance the public uses and be located along Bay Street, leaving a green buffer of at least 175’ from the river.
7. Make streets into boulevards. Transform Bay Street and A. Philip Randolph into pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined boulevards incorporating wide sidewalks, planted medians, shade and street furniture.
8. Plan for maintenance. Support the creation of a non-profit Riverfront Parks Conservancy.
9. Riverfront playing, not parking. Refrain from building visible parking structures between Bay Street and the river.
10. Plan for the Jacksonville we all desire. This is a game-changing opportunity for the city, not just an amenity for a downtown neighborhood. By planning a well-designed, visually interesting public space with a variety of attractions and amenities, our riverfront can entice Jaxsons from all walks of life to come and spend the day.
Let’s make sure we have ample space not only for play areas, cafes and bars, native plants, and cultural activities, but also for hosting large events, concerts, tailgates, and festivals such as our future Super Bowl, NFL Draft, Gator Bowl, and Florida-Georgia parties!”
— Nancy Powell, Jimmy Orth, Natalie Rosenburg, Susan Caven, Ted Pappas, Barbara Ketchum, Michael Kirwan, The Riverfront Parks Now Coalition, Guest Columnists, The Florida Times Union