25 urban districts: What do they all have in common?

March 2, 2007 0 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

These 25 downtown cores are located in metropolitan areas and cities of various sizes. Some are tourist based and liberal, while others are blue collar and conservative in nature. Nevertheless, the path they took to bring their cores back to life is a revitalization strategy leaders in Jacksonville seem to fail to understand, or refuse to accept. Take a look at the photographs. Can you guess what these places all have in common?


Need a hint?  Take a look at the scenery; you'll find your answer there. 


1. Asheville, NC



2. Atlanta, GA



3. Boston, MA



4. Birmingham, AL



5. Charleston, SC



6. Cincinnati, OH



7. Cleveland, OH



8. Fort Lauderdale, FL



9. Fort Worth, TX



10. Grand Rapids, MI



11. Greenville, SC



12. Hartford, CT



13. Knoxville, TN



14. Louisville, KY



15. Memphis, TN



16. Miami, FL



17. New Orleans, LA



18. Orlando, FL



19. Pittsburgh, PA



20. Philadelphia, PA



21. San Antonio, TX



22. Savannah, GA



23. Seattle, WA



24. West Palm Beach, FL



25. Vancouver


So What Do These Places Have In Common?

All of these places began their renovation process by fostering conditions that allowed the small local and Mom & Pop niche businesses to succeed in an area of town that large corporate retailers originally wanted no part of.  Take a look at the photos again and you'll discover every vibrant scene is dominated by small business that have located in compact and complementing settings, thus creating urban synergy between them.


What Does This Mean For Jacksonville?

It means that most of the visions, master plans, and consultant studies of the past have been complete failures and will continue to be failures in the future.  Quite simply, the road to success will remain full of potholes and expensive road blocks if we continue to implement the suburban line of thinking: that downtown is a clear landscape and that there is nothing wrong with demolishing historic structures, creating parks that don't interact with their surroundings, and looking only for the big corporate one trick ponies to bring vibrancy back to the core.  For the core to succeed, it won't be because of gated communities like Berkman or the Shipyards.  It will be because of urban pioneers like TSI , Marks , and The Pearl .

Several of our local visionaries believe that small vacant buildings, like the old Lerner New York space above, serve no purpose in today's landscape and would be better off meeting their maker and being replaced by surface lots and passive greenspace. 

This type of thinking has been downtown's worst enemy over the last few decades.  It's time for new blood to replace the ineffective strategies and urban renewal filled visions of yesteryear that continue to unnaturally hold downtown back from truly succeeding.

That's right, move over ill-advised pocket parks and Main Street Bridge lane closures (for wider sidewalks to connect fantasy land with no where).  For the core to ultimately become a self sufficient, vibrant hub of energy, we'll need to put down the unproven theories and gimmicks and save interesting historic structures, like the building shown above, that allow small businesses to afford to be a part of the revitalization process. 

This proven method of revitalization is what brought nearly every vibrant U.S. core back to its current state today, and if COJ really wants downtown to come back full blast, the best thing officials can do is get out of the way and let the private sector take back control.

Instead of task forcing the core to death on issues the private sector will have to handle on their own, or land banking downtown property for long range and unachievable dreams, stick to the basics like maintaining infrastructure, enforcing building codes, and easing the permitting process.

For those who disagree, please feel free to share or suggest American downtown cores that came back by following the Jacksonville model of decreasing density, pulverizing existing urban building stock, eliminating supporting inner ring neighborhoods such as LaVilla, or by constructing pocket parks that aren't properly integrated with their surroundings. The city needs to focus on doing the simple things, such as properly lighting the streets, providing clear directional signage, and maintaining the existing infrastructure and public spaces.

The ball is now in your court...