President Nixon gives a speech at Hemming Park in 1960.
Historically, squares were the center of communities, and they traditionally helped shape the identity of entire cities. Sometimes a fountain was used to give the square a strong image: Think of the majestic Trevi Fountain in Rome or the Swann Fountain in Philadelphia's Logan Circle. The image of many squares was closely tied to the great civic buildings located nearby, such as cathedrals, city halls, or libraries. Today, creating a square that becomes the most significant place in a city--that gives identity to whole communities--is a huge challenge, but meeting this challenge is absolutely necessary if great civic squares are to return.
Hemming Plaza has historically been the civic focal point of downtown Jacksonville. However, since the opening of the Jacksonville Landing, the public space has been replaced by the Landing's courtyard and Metropolitan Park for many special events. In the two decades of its abandonment, it is now used as a day center for city that still refuses to invest in a real facility outside of the heart of downtown.Now surrounded by City Hall, City Hall Annex, Jacksonville Public Library, the federal courthouse, and the Ed Ball Building, it still has the potential to be a civic destination. To ultimately rid the park of its identity crisis, short and long term improvements should focus on the return of increased programming and the creation of a homeless day center.
Turning around Hemming could be as simple as increasing programming or allowing temporary vendors like food trucks to generate additional foot traffic in the immediate vicinity.