Urban Connectivity: FCCJ's Downtown Campus

January 7, 2007 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The modern college campus is changing. As available space decreases on urban campuses, schools are recognizing the wisdom of intergrating campuses into the surrounding urban envirnoment. In recent years there has been a visible blurring of town and campus, as urban densities becomes a 21st century reality. As a consequence, there is a growing demand for a more creative use of space. Locally, Jacksonville may not have a major urban university in it's core, but it does have a few places of higher learning, including one sitting in the heart of downtown, forming a major part of the barrier that separates downtown from Springfield... Florida Community College at Jacksonville (FCCJ).

The problem

The 1970's suburban design of FCCJ's downtown campus turns it's vibrant educational activities away from the street, converting what should be a 6,000+ student economic generator into a barrier; separating two of the city's most dense neighborhoods in the process.

Florida Community College at Jacksonville’s (FCCJ) Downtown campus opened at 101 W. State Street, between Main and Jefferson Streets, in 1977.  Although the campus is located in one of the densest sections of town, it further divided urban neighborhoods and limited connectivity with the construction of large surface parking lots, little to no street interaction between the school's facilities and adjoining public-right-of-ways.


As shown in this image, FCCJ's campus layout barricades the school's social and educational activities from the urban neighborhoods surrounding its facilities.  The existing design kills the growth potential of the campus and the areas immediately surrounding it.


The opportunity

FCCJ's downtown campus has continued to grow, however future expansion is limited because the forty acre campus is boxed inside an urban setting. Nevertheless, FCCJ has plans to construct additional classroom/office space and a parking garage on the 3 blocks of surface parking lots lining Laura. New infill construction offers the instant opportunity to make the college campus a more hospitable learning environment and economic generator for the surrounding community.


The three FCCJ parking lots earmarked for future expansion can be in the center of this image, just below the Hogans Creek greenspace. Today, these lots combine to form a visual and physical barrier between the pedestrian friendly atmospheres of Springfield and Downtown.


The solution

The solution is a simple one. Its so simple a special task force or consultant isn't needed. The answer is to make sure future structures built will turn the campus' activities inside out, bringing the campus' vibrancy out in plain view, embracing the surrounding streets and neighborhoods in the process.

With new facilities coming on-line, we have the opportunity to expand the school's educational opportunities and enhance the immediate urban area by opening and integrating FCCJ's enclosed environment to the neighborhoods and massive parks surrounding it.


Examples of successful urban solutions embracing connectivity


University of Michigan is an example of an urban campus that opens up to the surrounding downtown area of Ann Arbor, fueling the market for several restaurants, clubs, bookstores, theaters, and other types of businesses in a walkable setting.  In this image, general gathering areas and well maintain greenspace form the connection between classroom buildings and the downtown retail scene. 


This urban college classroom building is an example of opening a school's activities to the surrounding community.  Image this building sitting along Laura Street, instead of three blocks of surface parking.  Not only is the school's mission enhanced by exposing the learning environment to the passerbyer, the streets surrounding the building entrances become activity nodes and public gathering spaces, making the environment around it a more hospitable place to be.


Simple and common college establishments like the campus bookstore, cafeteria, or gym are now being laid out in a fashion that attracts and exposes the campus' mission to all.  In this image, University of Penn's campus bookstore was located in the bottom of a classroom/office building fronting a major intersection.  A linear pedestrian plaza was incorporated into the layout, that not only provides a social spot for the students, their guest and the faculty, but also makes the area a nice setting and connector for those trying to access other areas of the campus and neighborhood.


Parking will be a major component for FCCJ's expansion of the downtown campus.  With that in mind, there's a good and bad way to design urban friendly parking garages and areas.  This is a bad example, yet common design for parking garages in Jacksonville.  This design in an urban area, such as FCCJ's campus, is a negative because the structure becomes a blight on the adjacent area and limits potential pedestrian activity along it's borders.  

Although not pictured in this image, this garage in Greenville, SC is set back roughly 50' from the main street.  Within that space, a mixed-use project called the Bookends was developed to hide the garage from the street.  Nevertheless, this garage still incorporates an attractive design on the side streets as well.

Architectural design aside, this campus garage layout complements the school's activities and the surrounding neighborhood's needs.  While this garage features a "Fresh Grocery" market at street level, the use does not have to be leased retail.  Office, classroom, student activity centers, and campus bookstores are only a few of many common campus uses that could be used to buffer the garage's primary activities from the street, increasing the vibrancy of the campus and neighborhood in the process.