The destiny of the Main Street pocket park was predicted by urbanites long ago and now the prophecy has come true. Today Metro Jacksonville suggests some ways to turn a lemon into lemonade.
Establishing a goal
The Main Street Pocket Park was created as a part of a plan to expand greenspace in the downtown core. Pocket Park backers believed that its proximity to the Main Library would make it a popular place for library users and residents looking for greenspace in a sea of concrete.
Why the dream failed before it began
This pocket park was doomed from the start strictly because of location. For an urban public space to be successful, it needs to be located in an area with a mix of uses that feed the space a diverse amount of activity on a continuous basis.
Due to location, there's little reason to visit the Main Street Pocket Park on a regular basis.
Identifying the problems
While location can be identified as the general problem, there are several negative elements that combine to make the location undesirable. To overcome these factors, the problems must be identified.
1. Surface Parking Lots
Great public spaces normally have complementing pedestrian friendly uses adjacent to them. Surface parking lots can be considered one of the most negative uses for an urban core. The Main Street pocket park has surface lots located directly to the north and south. Little to no activity for the park is stimulated by these neighbors.
2. Salvation Army
The park's east border sits adjacent to the Salvation Army's surface parking lot, which is separated from the park by iron fencing. This means the entire east border is dead space.
3. Using the Park
While the park looks nicer than the surface parking lot it replaced, it is designed in a fashion that makes it difficult to use for anything more than a dog's public bathroom and vagrant rest stop. One of the things that makes it difficult to use this greenspace is the large number of planters and the lack of a dedicated sidewalk system to navigate through the public space. In order to get from the west side of the park to the east side, library-going picnickers either have to walk around the park or through the planters.
4. Main Street
While the public library is adjacent to the park, the public space is located on the back side of the library and that side is separated from the park by downtown's busiest one way street. Not only that, the library has its own outdoor courtyard as well as a cafe that opens up onto Hemming Plaza. Needless to say, if library users are going to utilize outdoor space, it is most likely going to be Hemming Plaza or the courtyard.
Overcoming the problems
So now that the problems have been identified, the next goal is to find a way to overcome them.
1. Take advantage of visibility
While the traffic on Main is certainly a negative in drawing library patrons to the public space, the high level of through traffic does mean the park enjoys a level of visibility that most downtown public spaces can not take advantage of.
At present, the visibility element is a negative because the park is dominated by vagrants. The City of Jacksonville must find a way to turn the park into a destination itself. If that can be done, then the visibility factor becomes a plus that will attract a more diversified group of users to this space.
Because the space is basically a grass yard with limited landscaping, this means a number of flexible uses can take place in its borders with relative ease. Bringing in a mix of permanent and short term uses will continue to feed the space with visitors.
3. Lease out the library garage retail spaces
For some reason the retail spaces in the library garage are still incomplete and not leased. This means either the leasing rates are too high for the market or the owner is refusing to lease them for some reason. If these spaces were made available at the market rate, new uses occupying them would bring more people into the immediate area, exposing them to this struggling public space.
4. Make Park a Destination
Right now, there is nothing special about this space. It needs a theme. Maybe a tot lot or interactive fountain to take advantage of the children using the library nearby. Perhaps a monument representing a significant event or person in Jacksonville's history? Whatever it may be, a built in theme would be another draw giving residents a reason to visit.
5. Built-in Retail
In addition to the things above, many cities are including areas for small retail shops, restaurants and vendors in their public spaces. The Main Street Pocket Park would be an ideal site for this type of use because of the heavy amount of traffic using Main Street. Bringing in built-in retail would also turn the park into a revenue generator for the city.