The Southside: Jacksonville's First Edge City

April 8, 2008 35 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Edge cities develop at or near freeway intersections and airports and they rarely include heavy industry. They are large geographically because they are built at automobile scale. In Jacksonville, the Southside has developed into our first true Edge City.

What is an Edge City?

Edge cities typically consist of mid-rise office towers surrounded by massive surface parking lots and manicured lawns.  Instead of a traditional street grid, their infrastructure networks consist of winding parkways (often lacking sidewalks) that feed into arterial roads and freeway ramps.


Edge Cities are impossible without the automobile.  This is fitting because the first Edge City was Detroit's New Center, which was developed in the 1920's, three miles north of that city's downtown.  As streetcar systems were shut down, expressways expanded and automobile ownership surged, these secondary downtowns exploded with growth during the mid to late 20th century.  Today, Washington, D.C's Tysons Corner is the classic example of an Edge City containing more office space than downtown Atlanta, GA.

 As of 2005, Tysons Corner, VA had 25.6 million square feet of office space making it the largest office district on the East Coast after New York City.



Five rules for a place to be considered an Edge City:

1. It must have more than five million square feet of office space.  This is enough to house between 20,000 and 50,000 office workers, as many as some traditional downtowns.  As of 2006, over 7 million square feet of office space was located within a three mile radius of Deerwood Park North.







2. It must have more than 600,000 square feet of retail space, the size of a medium shopping mall.  This ensures that the edge city is a center of recreation and commerce as well as office work.  St. Johns Town Center alone contains over 1 million square feet of retail space.





3. It must be characterized by more jobs than bedrooms.






Despite the resident boom in condominium development along Gate Parkway, this area is still known for its proliferation of office complexes.






4. It must be perceived by the population as one place.

The Southside's area would be equal to Downtown, plus San Marco, Riverside, Springfield and the entire Northside.


5. It must have been nothing like a city 30 years earlier.

The Gate Parkway area in 1994.



The Gate Parkway area in 2006.

Source: Edge City: Life on the New Frontier by Joel Garreau


The Future:

Some planners believe that Edge Cities may turn out to be a 20th-century phenomenon because of their limitations.  Residents of adjacent low-density housing areas tend to be resistant towards their outward expansion.  Because their internal road networks are limited in capacity, densification is far more difficult than traditional Central Business Districts characterized by grid networks. 

 Example: Despite being less than 20' away, Deerwood Park Blvd. abruptly ends in the parking lot of an office complex next door.  This forces all of PHH's traffic onto Gate Parkway.


Most also can not be sufficiently served by mass transit because they were built at automobile scale.  Lang and Lefurgy (2003), believe that the revitalization of edge cities may be the major urban renewal project of the 21st century.  An example of this can seen in France, where, in a reversal of most U.S. cities, the downtown is upscale and some of the suburbs are the slums.

Jacksonville's challenge today will be to develop the Southside in a manner that keeps if from taking the same economic downfalls that negatively impacted the Arlington Expressway, Emerson Street and Norwood Avenue corridors as suburban growth moved on to greener and cheaper pastures.