The vibrancy of cities comes in all shapes and sizes. Many believe that what works in internationally known comsopolitan settings may not be applicable for cities that have struggled with embracing walkability, such as Jacksonville. If we look hard enough, we may realize that this type of view should be challenged. Despite the diversity around the globe, all lively cities, downtowns and urban cores have something in common: being pedestrian friendly.
In early January 2014, Jacksonville's leaders and downtown advocates raved about developer Toney Sleiman's plans to breathe new life into the Jacksonville Landing. Mayor Alvin Brown went as far as to put "world-class" and Downtown Jacksonville in the same sentence claiming, "The time has come to tear it down and build a world-class development in its place."
World-class is defined as "ranking among the foremost in the world; of an international standard of excellence; of the highest order." That's a pretty high bar to pole vault over. Can downtown Jacksonville become world-class? As the Boston Celtics' Kevin Garnett shouted after winning the 2008 NBA Finals, "Anything is possible," so we should never say never. However, it doesn't hurt to have a visual idea of what a world class urban environment actually looks like.
Paris, the capital and most populous city in France, fits the definition of world-class. Dating back to 4500-4200 BC and situated on the River Seine, it is home to more than 2.25 million residents and one of the world's leading business, cultural, entertainment, and tourist centers. The city's 114-year-old subway system carries 9 million passengers each day. The streets and architecture are properly scaled for the human instead of the automobile. There are also 74 public libraries. Furthermore, called the "international capital of style" along with New York, Milan, and London, Paris is a globally known epicenter for the fashion industry. When it comes to culinary dominance, it is by many that Paris is second in the world to only Tokyo. In short, Paris is the epitome of world-class.
Ironically, at 40.7 square miles, the city of Paris is not much larger in land area than Jacksonville's 30.2 square mile urban core. Can Jacksonville truly become world-class? Maybe, but it will have to involve a radical departure from the local revitalization and development strategies we've grown accustomed to over the years.