Learning from Augusta, Georgia

February 16, 2007 2 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Located on the southern bank of the Savannah River, Augusta is Georgia's second-largest city and offers an interesting comparison for Jacksonville, regarding the concepts of urban revitalization.


Augusta was founded in 1735, by James Oglethorpe (founder of Savannah two years earlier), to provide a first line of defense against the Spanish and French. Upon the completion of the Augusta Canal in 1847, the city quickly became a leader in the production of textiles, gunpowder and paper. Unlike most southern cities, the community became very prosperous after the Civil War by growing into one of the largest inland cotton markets in the world.

Beginning in the late 1970s, businesses started leaving downtown Augusta for suburban shopping malls. That started a trend of urban abandonment and decay. To counter this trend, city politicians and business leaders promoted revitalizing Augusta's hidden riverfront (obscured by a levee) into a beautiful Riverwalk with parks, an amphitheater, hotels, museums, and art galleries. The first segment of The Riverwalk was opened in the late 1980s and later expanded in the early 1990s. However, the renaissance of the riverfront did not appear to be spilling over into Augusta's main street, Broad Street, as more businesses were leaving and more storefronts boarded up.

In 1995, members of the art community and downtown boosters started a monthly event called First Friday. It was a night festival whose aim was to bring crowds back to downtown. It featured local bands, street performers, and art galleries opened late. Since 1995, more businesses have started to return to downtown, including many new restaurants and bars. A block of upper Broad Street has been named Artists Row and is home to several locally owned art galleries.

In 1996, the City and Richmond County consolidated to form one government – Augusta-Richmond County.


Augusta Population 2005: 195,182 (City); 520,332 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1735)

Jacksonville Pop. 2005: 782,623 (City); 1,248,371 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1940: Jacksonville (173,000); Augusta (---,---)

Built in 1845 as a source of power, water, and transportation, the Augusta Canal is the only intact industrial canal in the South still in use today.  During the Civil War it was the site of the Confederate State of America Powderworks complex.  This image captures the Powderwork's (look for the Confederate flag) lone remaining stack in the background.

Needless to say, even Augusta has found a way to take advantage of this historic waterway from a tourism perspective.  Narrated one-hour boat tours along the canal depart four times a day, Monday through Saturday, and two times every Sunday.



Broad Street is the principal east-west street in downtown Augusta.  It's also internationally known as one of the widest city streets in the world. 



Broad Street's Artist Row was established in 1994 by the City of Augusta and local artist to provide working studios for visual artists, to preserve historic buildings and revitalize the downtown area.  Today, 13 years later, we can see the fruits of their labor in the form of a major stretch of Broad Street now being the home of multiple galleries, bars, and restaurants.

Broad Street's preserved historical buildings set an interesting background for popular bars and nightclubs, such as the Modjeska.


While the Artist Row concept has bought revitalization back to the core, there are still major sections of Broad Street awaiting a second chance on life.  The major difference between this corridor and our downtown's most troubled areas is that most of Augusta's historic commercial buildings still remain. 

At 17 stories, the Lamar Building (center), was the city's tallest structure when constructed in late 1913.  In 1974, famed architect I.M. Pei was commissioned by the building's owner to construct the glass penthouse at the top of the building.  Like the Haydon Burns, some love it and others hate it, but no one can deny that it's a unique combination of architectural elements and styles.  In other words, it has now become a unique visual icon associated only with the City of Augusta.

The Broad Street Mall was completed by I.M. Pei in 1977.  Due to the width of the street, it became a difficult proposition for pedestrians trying to cross during peak traffic hours.  The solution to this problem resulted in the removal of a section of the street's center and converting it into a linear urban park space.

Look familiar?  Like Hemming Plaza, the Broad Street Mall also is dominated by a Confederate Soldier monument.


The Augusta-Richmond County Courthouse Building.


At the end of the 1880's, Augusta was known as the heart of Georgia's cotton trade.  The Cotton Exchange Building (constructed in 1886) was where cotton farmers brought their bales of cotton to be weighed and sold.  Today, this historic block of Downtown Augusta has been preserved and now is the home to several locally owned restaurants housed in buildings that were constructed over 100 years ago for the cotton trade.



Even in a small community like Augusta, pedestrian friendly directional signage is easy to find and follow for those not familar with the downtown area.

Augusta's Riverwalk consists of two pedestrian walkway systems.  The first (shown above) winds along the Savannah River through a setting featuring a mature natural landscape.

The second walkway system is constructed on top of what was originally a levee system to protect the city from the flooding Savannah River.  After a series of dams were constructed upstream, the city was able to convert the actual riverfront for recreational development.

Everything in Augusta is not peaches and cream.  Old industrial areas along the riverfront resemble Jacksonville's waterfront during the 1960s, in the form of massive surface parking lots. 

This pedestrian walkway at the base of Reynolds Street connects the central downtown core with the riverwalk.  This picture was taken from the walkway constructed on top of the old levee system.

This Marriott hotel is an example of infill development for Augusta's under utilized waterfront.  Like Jacksonville, both communities have not taken full advantage of the mighty rivers and that lead to their founding. 

As mentioned earlier, Augusta's riverwalk is actually two separate walkway systems.  This amphitheater, which was built into the side of the old levee, is an example of taking advantage of the natural landscape. 



Augusta's inner city residential areas are an important aspect to the success of downtown.  Although the city has been hit by urban renewal in certain areas and some neighborhoods have been separated from the core by expressways, a decent amount of quality residential structures still stand and are occupied within walking distance of the Broad Street corridor and riverfront.


Linear parks are interesting and important element of Augusta's inner city street network.  Believe it or not, certain corridors of Jacksonville (ex. Main Street in Springfield) once had similar scenes such as this.  The preservation and continued maintenance of these urban park systems play an important role to connecting urban inner city neighborhoods in a pedestrian friendly manner with the central business district. 


Old Town's mature landscape and restored historic homes show what areas like Springfield and Durkeeville can become with continued renovation and rebuilding efforts of local citizens.  This is an important thing to remember for a city like Jacksonville because the ultimate success of our downtown core is directly related to the restoration and preservation of the dense Northside residential communities that all combined to make up what was the original city of Jacksonville, and not the suburban monster we've created since consolidation.