Urban Connectivity: Hogans Creek parks

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

Parks can play an important role in the urban landscape. Beyond typical recreational uses, urban parks offer people a refuge from city life, a place where they can relax and get away, socialize, and be in contact with nature. At the same time, urban parks can be the focal point of their surrounding community. Whether a venue for stewardship activities or cultural fairs, a park can help bring a community together and strengthen its identity.

The contribution a park makes to its community, however, is only as great as the community’s willingness to use it. A variety of factors – from safety issues to design elements – can make a park incompatible with visitors’ needs, resulting in a space that becomes undervalued and scarcely used. Nowhere are the consequences of this greater than in urban areas where access to green space is limited. One of those areas in question, improperly maintained for decades and in need of revitalization, lies in the heart of Jacksonville… Hogans Creek’s and it's chain of parks.

Hogans Creek and its parks, highlighted in "green", form what could be the epicenter of a cultural and recreational scene bringing to major urban neighborhoods (Downtown & Springfield) together, creating synergy along its borders in the process. 



The greenspace bordering Hogans Creek, originated as Springfield Park in 1898, when the Springfield Development Company deeded 40 acres of low-lying land to the city, from Laura to 10th Streets. The city then went on to purchase another 20 acres between Main and Liberty Streets forming a continuous park along the creek to the St. Johns River.

In 1914, Dignan Park, the space between Main and Hubbard Streets hosted a Confederate Veterans Reunion, which attracted more than 48,000 soldiers. Soon after this event, it became known as Confederate Park.

In 1927, the city approved a bond to beautify the area and prevent flooding from the Hogans Creek. Completed in 1929, the improvement project channelized the creek with 6,300 feet of bulkheads, six bridges, three ornamental footbridges, 10,000 square yards of sidewalks, decorative balustrades, and light fixtures. This Klutho commissioned project converted the large park area into one of the most scenic promenades in the city.

Since the park’s creation, the greenspace served as a natural firebreak during the Great Fire and was the original home of the short-lived Jacksonville Subtropical Exposition and the Jacksonville Zoo, which would eventually relocate North of the Trout River. Unfortunately, over the years, the area has been forgotten and neglected, deteriorating into what exists today.


As opposed to Hogans Creek's parks, Riverside's Memorial Park serves as a local example of a well-maintained public park recieving high usage and benefitting the Five Points District that has sprung up around it's borders.  As nice as it is, it pales in comparison to what the Hogans Creek area can become with proper maintenance.




Over the last decade, there has been an increased focus on the lack of greenspace within the downtown core. This has resulted in the city focusing on finding away to destroy landmarks like Friendship Fountain and spending millions of dollars in the process to create new, yet disconnected, public spaces along the St. Johns River. In the meantime, Jacksonville’s premier chain of parks and it’s many positive features, including its connection to the St. Johns River has become an undervalued and neglected public space.

Its been proven that green space can also lead to greater social cohesiveness. Well maintained park-areas, such as those lining Hogans Creek are not only are used more often, but also strengthen neighborhood social ties. In addition, these settings can encourage a sense of ownership and empowerment in the community. A higher priority should be given to restoring the creek and parks because of its large scale, historical assets, number of cultural and educational establishments lining its borders and it potentially being the glue to draw residents from Springfield and Downtown together.



This image is taken from the Boulevard Street overpass.  One can clearly see an abundance of trash floating in the creek and the remnants of what was once a mile long pedestrian greenway paralleling the waterway. 


While cities like Oklahoma City and Indianapolis have created channelized waterways from scratch, to draw tourist, we've turned our back on ours.  This area near 5th Street, between Springfield and Sugar Hill, still has Klutho's original 1929 era balustrades in place.

The high level of decay and neglect can been seen in this image taken from the Pearl Street Bridge, just north of FCCJ's downtown campus.  Although the waterway may be heavily polluted from years of industrial run-off, the least thing the city could do is mow the grass on a regular basis.  In addition, there has been discussion by various neighborhood groups of the State Board of Health Building (fenced in structure on the right), being converted into a museum.


This original ornamental pedestrian foot bridge, once connected Confederate Park with Downtown's Ocean Street.  There is a plan to rebuild the pedestrian greenway, also shown above, later this year.  However, due to a lack of funding, lighting will not be included.  $700,000 is needed to light the entire path, that will be used for vehicular free roller-blading, jogging and cycling.  Ironically, that's the exact amount of money set aside for the creation of ill-advised pocket park, proposed along with the Greening of Main project, a streetscape the will strengthen the connection between the parks, downtown and the St. Johns River.

The monument to Women of the Confederacy was completed in 1925, in Confederate Park.  Long abandoned and given up to vagrants, Confederate Park, even with its patches of grass and broken down benches has become a more inviting place from less vagrant activity and regular lawn care.

Karpeles is the world's largest private holding of important original manuscripts and documents.  One of Karpeles nine Manuscript Library Museums is located along Hogans Creek, at the corner of Laura and First Streets.  Karpeles and Sprinkles Children's Museum are two of several cultural attractions along the Hogans Creek corridor not even promoted by the city or the Convention and Visitor's Bureau. 

This year the JEDC will unveil a new downtown wayfaring signage program.  Hogans Creek's chain of parks and its attractions, like Karpeles, should be included as well, considering they only lie a few blocks north of Hemming Plaza.

The Jacksonville Jewish Center, along Klutho Park, was recently purchased by a local developer.  Redevelopment plans could include a mix of uses including additional museum space, lofts and limited retail/sidewalk dining, facing the park's bandstand, fountain, soccer and baseball fields.

Riverside Park lies just north of Five Points.  Notice how a park's appearance can greatly improve with simple additions like trash cans, benches, lighting and regular lawn care.  What will it take to get these things in Jacksonville's largest urban park?




Hogans Creek's mile long chain of parks form to make up the only urban parkspace in the core with a diverse collection of recreational and cultural uses.  Recreational opportunities include basketball and tennis courts, tot lots, a dog park, jogging trails, baseball and soccer fields.  Cultural attractions range from the Old City Cemetary to Sprinkle's Childrens Museum and Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum.  In addition, there are several lofts projects in the works, FCCJ's campus, Bethel Baptist's campus, the Waterworks, Shands Hospital, Springfield's homes and the old armory stretching along it's borders.  Unfortunately, the decades long neglect of the park as turned the corridor into a barrier, instead of the public meeting place it once was and still can be.  Below are two examples of successful large scale urban parks in communities that many of us may have visited at one point or another.  With decent maintenance, our 30 acre urban park can bring just as much success to our core, as these have in Boston and Savannah.



The Boston Common is a public park that connects Downtown to other urban districts, like the Back Bay, Beacon Hill and Chinatown.  If properly developed, the parks lining Hogans Creek can combine to do the same for Jacksonville.


Boston Common is Boston's 
most famous public park and the oldest city park in the United States, dating as far back as 1634. It is 50 acres in size. The Common is bounded by Tremont Street, Park Street, Beacon Street, Charles Street and Boylston Street. A visitors' center for all of Boston is on the Tremont Street side of the park.

Its purpose has changed over the years. It was used as a camp by the British before the Revolutionary War, and was where they left from for the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Up until 1830, it was used for cattle grazing. It was also used for public hangings up until 1817, most of which were from a large oak which was replaced with gallows in 1769. Mary Dyer was hanged there in 1660.Today it serves as a public park for all to use for formal or informal gatherings, or just to enjoy the park and its surroundings. Events such as concerts, protests, softball games, and ice skating (on Frog Pond) often take place in the park. Famous individuals, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pope John Paul II, have also made speeches at the Common.



Forsyth Place was the first large park created in Savannah, other than the squares, designed as part of the city plan by General Oglethorpe in the eighteenth century. Stylistically, the Park belongs to a later era, and was influenced by the urban renewal of Paris, in the 1850's. Primary reasons for the park included increasing fresh air and green space, create investment opportunities and to increase nearby property values.

Today, Forsyth Park serves as a great example to how a well maintained large-scale urban park benefits the communities surrounding it. Unlike most public park spaces in Jacksonville, Forsyth, like Hogan’s Creek’s parks, has a number of residential and commercial uses directly fronting it’s borders. It also includes a wide mix of uses that attracts a diverse range of residents and tourist on a regular basis.

On its 20 acres are a glorious white fountain dating to 1858, Confederate and Spanish-American War memorials, and the Fragrant Garden for the Blind, a project of Savannah garden clubs. There are tennis courts and a tree-shaded jogging path. Outdoor plays and concerts often take place here. At the northwest corner of the park, in Hodgson Hall, a 19th-century Italianate-Greek Revival building, you'll find the Georgia Historical Society, which shows selections from its collection of artifacts and manuscripts.



URBAN CONNECTIVITY: STATE & UNION: http://www.metrojacksonville.com/content/view/281/57/