Brentwood is an urban Jacksonville neighborhood in the middle of a transition. Here you'll find an area that consists of gridded streets, urban blight, significant historic structures, large public open spaces and recent revitalization projects.
Brentwood makes up a portion of a large area known as Metro North. The streetcar suburb got its start from an expansion of residential growth northward from downtown, through Springfield, one hundred years ago.
Brentwood enjoyed a long period of economic success all the way up to the opening of Gateway Mall in the 1950's. While the mall remained a major destination for decades, Brentwood's fortunes began to fall when the Jacksonville Expressway Authority's freeway projects cut off the community from other neighborhoods to the west and south. After decades of being one of Jacksonville's highest pockets of crime, signs of revitalization are now visible in the community.
Several of Brentwood's east-west streets were severed with the construction of I-95. While I-95 was critical in the overall economic development of Jacksonville, the ill effects of not properly integrating it with nearby streets and neighborhoods is evident in Brentwood.
Brentwood Photo Tour
Brentwood Park is a large public park that was created in 1929. It stretches from 21st to 28th Street and includes a Parthenon-like bandstand designed by Roy A. Benjamin in 1932.
During the heyday of Brentwood and New Springfield (now separated by MLK Parkway), Pearl Street developed into an urban commercial corridor. Like many older sections of town, the area has seen better days, but as the residential sections redevelop, so will the commercial areas.
Main Street Corridor
Originally called Pine Street, Main Street is the major road that connects Brentwood to neighboring communities to the north and south. Today, it's the home of many commercial businesses and the elaborate Andrew Jackson Senior High School.
The North boundary of the neighborhood is the abandoned CSX "S" Line rail right-of-way, now owned by the city. Evergreen Cemetery lies where Main Street meets the S-Line ROW. Evergreen opened in 1881 as an alternative to Old City Cemetery in downtown.
Like many urban residential districts, Brentwood's gridded streets are lined with a diverse collection of architectural styles and residential uses. Driving through them is also like a storybook of history illustrating periods of progress, blight, preservation, and now revitalization.
The Good, Bad and Ugly
Redevelopment is a great thing and its definitely happening in Brentwood. However, in some areas, new developments illustrates the City of Jacksonville's lack of attention to the importance of urban land planning.
Once the site of the Brentwood Housing Projects, this site was recently redeveloped as a part of a Hope IV project into a new community with a mix of single family residential, apartments, and a senior citizens complex.
While intentions may have been good and what is here today is better than what previously existed, our community's ignorance of urban planning resulted in this new development being laid out and approved in a manner that still cuts this neighborhood from its surroundings, thus limiting the potential for the spreading of redevelopment nearby.
This 10 foot steel fence separates the new development from Brentwood Park, which is a decently maintained large public space that includes ballfields, greenspace, a playground, and an elementary school. This is the direct opposite of Hope IV projects in other communities that are laid out to integrate with the surrounding neighborhood.
For comparisons sake City West (shown below) in Cincinnati, is also a Hope IV project. However, instead of surrounding the community with a layer of steel bars, the development was made to integrate with the rest of the nearby neighborhood. Today it's difficult to tell where the Hope IV project ends and where the surrounding neighborhood begins because the project has stimulated the reinvestment of adjacent properties.
If JTA has their way, things can get a lot worse for Brentwood. JTA's planned BRT route parallels I-95, a major negative from a pedestrian friendly point of view in the community. Since BRT also does not spur economic redevelopment, Brentwood could miss out on a great economic redevelopment opportunity, that uses the S-Line for a regional rail system connecting residents with other areas of the metropolitan area.
The Northside BRT line will have to be constructed as an elevated expressway over the MLK and I-95 interchange, thus increasing the costs of the system, without bringing any economic redevelopment.
By comparison, if the S-Line is used for rail transit, replacing the concept of BRT, the bridges where the line would cross MLK Parkway and I-95 are already in place.
In conclusion, Brentwood has just as bright a future as any other neighborhood in Jacksonville. However, the level of its success will be heavily influenced by decisions the city makes in regards to embracing urban planning concepts and mass transit that encourages economic redevelopment.
Next neighborhood photo tour: San Marco