Richard G. Skinner III was a discussion leader at TEDxJacksonville's recent salon at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens. The evening's theme was the environment. After watching three pre-recorded TED talks those attending broke into three groups that focused on Jacksonville's environmental/conservation needs. Richard led the discussion on embracing, promoting and growing Jacksonville as the "City of Parks". In this op-ed he expands on the discussion that took place during the TEDxJacksonville event.
Jacksonville – “City of Parks” is not the first image that comes to mind when describing Jacksonville’s great assets, but it should be. With over 83,000 acres of parks and preserves that are comprised of National Parks, State Parks and city Preservation Parks, Jacksonville can rightfully claim to have the largest urban park system in the United States. We refer to this as our Preservation Park system. Our Preservation Parks are those natural significant lands within the Duval County border that have been acquired to protect and preserve our natural, cultural, or historic settings in perpetuity. Many of these parks lie along the St. Johns River or connect to an extensive estuarine preserve.
Image courtesy of www.TimucuanTrailParksFoundation.org
While other metropolitan cities are built out beyond the limits of what is reasonable to sustain over the long run, Jacksonville is far ahead of that problem by having set aside these natural lands. Development usually trends toward the “beautiful places” but as a result often segregates them from the public. Once lost they can never be fully recovered. That is only part of the equation. So much of our quality of life is directly connected to how we take care of our natural environment. Clean air and water as one example are our most precious resources. These preserves and parks provide natural protections by filtering the water through salt marshes, serving as clean water recharge areas, providing capacity for storm surge, and cleaning our air through expansive tree canopies. Best of all, these places have been preserved for everyone to enjoy.
Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. Image courtesy of www.TimucuanTrailParksFoundation.org
Here is an interesting fun fact: in the Business Journal’s 2013 top 25 tourist attractions in the Jacksonville area our Preservation Parks are ranked 1 (Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve – including Ft. Caroline and Kingsley Plantation) and 2 (Talbot Island State Parks). Do you know how many cities can make the claim that they have national and state parks within the city limits? More importantly, all of these parks are within a 30 minute drive from downtown Jacksonville. Most of the city Preservation Parks abut other significant regional or state parks, or significant tracts of potential greenlands that one day could be connected.
Jacksonville can and should be thought of as a “City of Parks”. When the leadership begins to recognize the inherent value of our extensive Park system as integral to our quality of life, then this message will begin to resonate. Think of the great cities of Florida and ask yourself what makes us different. I would say it is the natural resources available to everyone. We can already make the claim that we have the largest park system within the city limits in the country. We can already say that our top 2 tourist attractions (visits per year) are within those parks. We are the only city in Florida that has the potential to create a connected ring of parks around the entire city. In addition, these parks offer a great variety of active experiences: hiking, kayaking, fishing, boating, on and off-road bicycling, camping, horseback riding, and birding to name a few. The cultural and historical experiences are also extensive, from Kingsley Plantation and early plantation farming, Ft. Caroline and the Huegenots to Camp Milton and the Civil War. Our parks are full of local stories, legend, archaeology and history.
Cedar Point Park. Image courtesy of www.TimucuanTrailParksFoundation.org
The significance and value of our parks needs to be at the forefront of every elected official and city leader. For too long our Parks have taken a back seat in the discussion about quality of life. Funding for parks has got to be a priority if we are to be a great city.
The Timucuan Trail Parks Foundation is the only non-profit that serves this collection of National, State, and City Preservation Parks. In fact it is the only organization of its kind in the country that serves all three entities under one “friends” organization. Go to our website (TimucuanTrailParksFoundation.org) and find out what is going on in the Preservation Parks and how you can get involved. Become a member and let your voice be heard.
I would ask do we want to be the “City of Parks”? It is up to all of us to make that happen.
Richard G. Skinner III
President, Timucuan Trail Parks Foundation
Richard grew up in Jacksonville as part of a family that settled in the area in the late 1800’s. Experiencing the natural land in north Florida was as much a part of his early life as formal education. He graduated from Emory University and Boston Architectural College and received the Scholastic Award, Certificate of Merit. He has practiced architecture with his firm, Richard Skinner & Associates since 1990. His firm has received numerous awards for craftsmanship and design. Richard has received the John Dyal award for civic involvement from the American Institute of Architects, Jacksonville Chapter.
Richard has served on the Mayor’s Parks Commission Task Force under Mayor John Peyton in 2006, and Chaired the JEDC Downtown Jacksonville Pedestrian and Open spaces task force in 2007. Richard participated in the Historic Designation of Riverside and Avondale and co-chaired the neighborhood development of Boone Park. Richard has served on the Boards of Greenscape of Jacksonville, Hope Haven Children and Family Clinic, The Trust for Public Land, and currently serves on the Dean’s Leadership Council for the Carpenter Library at UNF.