Urban Infill: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

June 27, 2008 35 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville highlights a selection of recently constructed projects in the Urban Core of Jacksonville and ranks them by their ability to help create a walkable environment.


These projects are designed with the human scale in mind, thus promoting and encouraging walkability.  These are the type of developments Jacksonville will need if the city's goal for downtown is to create a vibrant, energetic, and self-sufficient urban atmosphere.


Everbank Plaza

A great example of urban infill on a compact site that incorporates office, parking, and retail uses.



The Parks at the Cathedral

A townhouse development where the buildings line the sidewalks, thus creating a walkable environment along its borders.  Parking needs are accommodated with on-street parallel parking and private parking in the middle of the block, shielded from public view.



1661 Riverside


A great example of combining residential, retail, and parking in a multi-story structure.  By properly addressing the street at ground level, this project extends the retail and dining link along Margaret Street, between Park Street and Memorial Park.



 Wachovia Bank - San Marco Place

An example of a simple bank building that fronts the street and shields its surface parking lot from the sidewalk.  Alone it may not have much impact but combined with more buildings featuring the same characteristics, the inviting environment of San Marco Square can expand towards a potential commuter rail stop.



First Baptist Church Children's Building & Welcome Center


Churches are well known for destroying historic areas for expansion purposes.  However, The Children's Building at First Baptist is an excellent example of integrating new development into an urban walkable setting.





These projects are examples of developments that consider the pedestrian and the urban environment, but still incorporate things that keep them from fully embracing walkability.


Alfred I. duPont Testamentary Trust

 The good news is that this will be a LEED certified building that replaces a vacant overgrown lot.  The bad news is, it has little interaction with the new riverfront pocket park next door and there will be a gated surface parking lot between the front of the building and Forest Street.


Harmony Dental Laboratory

 The Harmony building is one of the better laid out buildings in LaVilla because it does not ignore Monroe Street, but all of tenants face the parking lot on the other side of the building.



Main Library

 While the library is an asset to Hemming Plaza and Laura Street, there is a blank wall on Monroe and Duval Streets and it eliminated the Rhodes Furniture Building, an impressive Chicago-School highrise facing Main Street.



Main Street Pocket Park

 An example of over-thinking an urban problem.  Urban parks are dependent upon the activities that take place around them.  If parks are not designed to be self sufficient or properly integrated with their surroundings, they tend to attract little use.  So while the result is a $700,000 project that looks better than the surface parking lot it replaced, the poor location struggles to attracts a diverse amount of positive pedestrian use in the heart of the Parking Lot and Social Services District.


Main Library Parking Garage


It was a good move to make sure street level retail was incorporated into our parking garages.  However, retail rarely succeeds when it faces a blank wall and has no floors.  Things may have turned out differently if the retail in this garage was designed to face Main Street, one of the busiest streets in the core, as opposed to the lightly traveled Duval Street.




The projects below are representative of bringing the suburbs and strip mall concepts to the downtown core.  Despite what may take place on the inside of these structures, because the human scale is an afterthought, their layouts become an obstacle to the idea of a downtown environment that is built to accommodate the pedestrian and mass transit use over automobiles. 

These developments typically introduce large suburban-like building setbacks or surface parking lots to the downtown core, effectively reducing the potential of downtown to densify. From a walkability and connectivity standpoint, they are more of a negative on the urban core than a positive.


LaVilla School of the Arts

 This project could have been easily constructed on two city blocks.  Instead, it eliminated six blocks in the heart of LaVilla, including a large section of what was once known as the Harlem of the South. 


LaVilla 2 Medical Office Building

 The main entrance faces a surface parking lot in the middle of the block, as opposed to facing what should be a major intersection.  Instead, the corner and sidewalk have been blessed with a jail like covered parking facility.


Community Connections

 Every building in this area abuts the sidewalk.  However, this layout ignores the historical pattern with a surface parking lot and a large retaining wall. 


Sax Seafood Bar & Grill

 With the Ritz Theater across the street, this could have been the opportunity to bring a complementing development to the area to help move pedestrian traffic along Davis Street.  Unfortunately, this layout is a typical suburban style that is geared for the automobile, consuming a full block of what could have been a more dense development.  Combined with the LaVilla School of Arts, it further isolates the Ritz Theater from the downtown core.


Southbank Extended Stay, Hampton Inn & Morton's Steakhouse

 Three needed developments that could have had a stronger positive impact on Hendricks Avenue and Treaty Oak Park if the buildings lined the street, shielding their parking needs from the sidewalk.

These images show that there are several well designed projects that have been constructed in the Urban Core in recent years.  However, they also show that Jacksonville is still prone approving poorly designed structures in what was and what should remain a walkable community. 

The redevelopment of the Urban Core is a marathon and not a sprint.  However, if we want to make it to the finish line, we need to make sure we are taking the right route.  One of Jacksonville's major challenges will be grow to the point where the every new project is designed to positively contribute to the concept of a walkable urban community.


Article written by Ennis Davis