New Town Success Zone Investment Plan

December 23, 2011 9 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

A look at Transform Jax's recent presentation to HabiJax concerning its efforts in helping to revitalize one of Jacksonville's neediest urban neighborhoods.

Habijax looks for major new impact

You can find the impact of Habijax throughout Jacksonville's neediest neighborhoods.

In some areas, there are batches of Habijax housing. In a few other areas, you will find a Habijax house here and there.

In most of those older neighborhoods, you can easily spot the Habijax houses - they are the only new ones.

Now Habijax is moving toward a new model, becoming an important part of the New Town Success Zone.

Habijax intends to transform an entire neighborhood in what could be a model for other Habitat groups in the nation.

It's a dramatic idea funded by a $400,000 grant from Wells Fargo. But that's just seed money. Habijax intends to match it about three times over with a private fundraising campaign.

Mary Kay O'Rourke, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville, expects this project to last five years.

Look at a map of the New Town and College Gardens areas, and the impact is amazing.

There are various colored dots that represent the homes to be improved. The dots practically fill up the map.

There will be some new housing with 12 new homes planned for this spring with supervision from Northeast Florida Builders.

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During Summer 2011, Transform Jax was offered an opportunity to provide urban planning advice to Habijax as they move forward with their New Town initiative.  The presentation below is a brief summary of planning efforts that have been done to date.

Transform Jax was founded in May 2011 as a result of a common desire between a group of urban core planners to continue the effort to make innovative urban core revitalization concepts discussed throughout the community a reality.  The group's vision is to improve the vitality and quality of life in Jacksonville's downtown and urban core neighborhoods through creative, innovative, attainable, and sustainable solutions.

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Developed during the first decade of the 20th century, New Town is a traditional African-American working class community and the focus of a major neighborhood revitalization initiative. During its early years, the neighborhood enjoyed considerable growth due to a streetcar line that ran down Kings Road and the presence of multiple rail lines throughout the area. Surrounded on the West, South and East by industrial uses, the majority of the community was employed in the industrial and railroad sectors.

Like many inner city communities, New Town's economic prosperity has been in a state of decline since the mid 20th century. Since 2000, the neighborhood's population has decreased 17% while vacant housing units have increased 45%.

After understanding the history of New Town, Transform Jax performed a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats analysis on the neighborhood.  Neighborhood strengths included the presence of Edward Waters College, Jacksonville Farmer's Market, and the area's industrial base.  Another strength that can easily be overlooked is the neighborhood's existing urban form.  The presence of the existing urban street grid and building fabric means the revitalization process does not have to start over from scratch.  Instead, it's history, culture, and physical assets can be re-utilized, strengthening the area's character long term.

New Town's weaknesses included a lack of public park space, poor maintenance of public right-of-way (ROW), limited connectivity to downtown due to Interstate 95, and incompatible suburban infill.

Opportunities to build upon included recent Kings Road streetscape enhancements, the proposed Success Park, the S-Line former railroad ROW , and the neighborhood's traditional mixed-use development pattern.

Originally developed as a walkable community, several parcels in the neighborhood are more suitable for multifamily housing.

13 to 21% of New Town's residents rely on public transportation. The addition of mixed-use development creates an opportunity for job creation and services within walking distance as opposed to an over reliance on JTA to better serve the community's needs.  Opportunities for mixed use commercial districts in the neighborhood exist along several corridors including Beaver Street, King Street, the S-Line and Myrtle Avenue.

Threats to New Town's future, history, and culture include ignoring the needs and wishes of the existing community, incompatible infill due to the City of Jacksonville's suburban zoning regulations, and demolition of existing building stock.  Autocentric zoning practices resulting in suburban infill development helps destroy the historic pedestrian scale environment of New Town.  Poor planning coordination of public and private projects leads to a waste of public resources.  The S-Line Greenway is an example of waste due to poor planning coordination.  This multiuse path was constructed in the center of a 60' wide former rail corridor that will also be the path of a commuter or light rail line providing connectivity between the airport, Shands, Northside neighborhoods and Downtown.  Funded by the 2030 Mobility Plan & Fee, when this transit project is constructed, the greenway will have to be demolished and rebuilt.  This process could have been easily avoided with better coordination between public agencies.  Better coordination would have resulted in the path in a manner that would have allowed for future rail to be installed next to it, as successfully demonstrated in cities like Detroit, Seattle, and Charlotte.

Clustering complementing uses within a compact setting is one of the most efficient revitalization concepts for urban neighborhoods.  Local successful clustering examples can be found in Springfield, with new infill housing along Market and Silver Streets, and the College and King intersection in Riverside.  Applying this concept with Habijax, quick transformation block by block can happen by clustering infill development were feasible.  With this information in mind, a series of graphics highlighting parcels already owned by Habijax and vacant properties possibly available for acquisition was created.  When all information discussed above is combined, the Tyler Street corridor starts to stand out as a possible location for the initial clustering of infill development. Tyler Street is a major secondary roadway that connects the residential heart of New Town with Edward Waters College/Kings Road and Beaver Street/S-Line Greenway.  Tyler Street's characteristics include a fairly wide path of pavement between curbs, sidewalks and a mix of uses within a walkable setting.

In 2012, Transform Jax anticipates continuing to assist Habijax in implementing these concepts as a part of their development plan for investment in New Town.

Article by Ennis Davis