How Jacksonville Can Thrive Despite Tough Times

December 29, 2010 6 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Project For Public Spaces (PPS) offers a solution to how struggling urban communities like Jacksonville can continue to thrive by implementing placemaking strategies during this tough economic climate.

Quote from "How Your Community Can Thrive - Even in Tough Times" by Philip Myrick of Project for Public Spaces.

Whatever economic restructuring may be in our near future, it is likely to only strengthen people’s interest in valuing the local assets and places that are precious to them.  We may soon look back on the land-gobbling development craze of the last two decades as an embarrassing excess.  And in this new reality, we could do well by revisiting some old principles:

• We are defined by our homegrown culture and character

To thrive in the coming years we have to do a better job of protecting local resources. People naturally take pride in their local food, places, history, landscape, and businesses. It is time to make sure to give these local assets as much support, if not more, as we do chain stores, multinational corporations and outside culture.This affects not just the spirit of our hometowns but the fate of our planet; going local is the only way we can avoid the looming problems of energy use spiraling upward and carbon emissions worsening global warming. Placemaking strategies address both of these concerns by focusing development in the center of towns and cities, reducing sprawl and the demand for more fossil fuels. An added benefit to investing in the revitalization of our core communities is that people’s quality of life and quality of place will rise even if the national economy continues to fall.

Homegrown culture and character can be captured through Historic preservation.

• Bigger is not better

Large-scale projects can sometimes make a contribution to the local economy, but more often their negative impacts outnumber positive ones. Oversized development can crush the fine-grained urban fabric that makes communities attractive in the first place, especially when scores of small, historic buildings affordable to local businesses and residents are replaced by hulking structures that reduce the economic potential of that place. On the outskirts of town, farmland or forest is eaten up by sprawling malls and speculative development in the name of economic growth, but at what cost?  In sacrificing the scenic and natural quality of these places, we weaken our ability to attract new people to the region. When we lose our local food production capacity, we lose our self-sufficiency and ability to build a strong, locally-based, and sustainable economy.

The unsustainable mess that is known as Blanding Boulevard is the result of several large-scaled projects not designed to be properly integrating with the pre-existing surrounding community.

• Community partnerships offer the best way forward

To succeed, any project must become a working partnership with the people of a community. Creating a community consensus around economic development will ultimately speed up action and attract more partners, funders, and the help of countless individuals who want to be part of the plan. Too often citizens are treated as the enemy.  If we are to improve our cities and towns as places to live, then we need to build upon a shared vision for the future!

Riverside Arts Market is an example of a successful partnership with significant community involvement.

• A plan can never substitute for a vision

The current slowdown in development offers the perfect occasion to revisit your community’s values, and do some visionary thinking about where you want to go in the future. Take a close look at your community’s assets and resources and carefully consider what you want your city or town to be known for in the future. Then prepare a vision statement and development regulations that will help you accomplish that vision when the next growth cycle comes around. This approach allows your community to set its own course for the future instead of being swallowed by outside development forces.

The current climate is ideal for implementing concepts that can change the face of Jacksonville's future, such as the 2030 Mobility Plan.

• Take over the streets

Streets are the most prominent and prevalent public space in any town, and making them more pedestrian-friendly is the closest thing you have to a silver bullet for improving your community.  A walkable downtown or neighborhood shopping district quickly becomes a magnet for both public life and economic expansion, thus enriching your community in several ways at the same time. Transportation budgets are the biggest tool most communities have for making positive change, which thankfully has become easier now that most state DOTs and the federal government understand that street projects have to benefit people as much as automobiles. PPS can be a voice helping you to send that message to your state DOT.

In a road construction loving city like Jacksonville, investing in better streetscapes would be a great short term option in improving the character of the community.

• Finally, keep in mind that a return to the roaring economic growth of recent decades is not in our best interest. To make the planet healthier for us and all the species with which we share it, we can no longer define success in terms of ever expanding GDP. Instead, we must learn to live better with less, by focusing on creating great communities and emphasizing quality over quantity – quality of life, place, environment, and society.

When resources are tight, we must be clear about our priorities. That means drawing upon the wisdom of the community as a whole to set those goals, making the most of your best assets and developing partnerships to get things done. This is how you can ensure that your community will thrive even in these uncertain times.
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Returning growth back to urban Jacksonville, where significant investment in public infrastructure has already been made, is a significant opportunity in making the most of our existing assets.

Images and article by Ennis Davis