Revitalizing Urban Riverfronts: Wilmington, DE

December 17, 2014 19 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Historically, Downtown Jacksonville's riverfront shares a lot in common with Wilmington's use of the Christina River. Over the last 15 years, Wilmington has successfully transformed its once decaying riverfront with a variety of mixed uses. Perhaps there's a lesson that may be applicable for downtown Jacksonville's future?

Market Street

Market Street was the major north-south thoroughfare through Wilmington before the construction of Interstate 95. Today, Market Street is a revitalized pedestrian scale commercial district tying Riverfront Wilmington with the heart of downtown Wilmington.

Market Street was once Wilmington’s primary commercial and cultural corridor.  Established in 1731, Market Street functioned as Wilmington’s “Main Street” for over two centuries, populated by dry goods retailers, restaurants, municipal offices and professional centers.  Trolley cars once provided mass transportation for local residents and sidewalks were perpetually crowded.  Market Street acted as the magnet for public gathering and was a major contributor to Wilmington’s identity.  The decline of Market Street and the shuttering of the once-thriving shops followed a familiar arc of urban flight and economic blight in most American cities after the middle of the 20th century.  As the American dream of a new and ‘sub-urban’ life prospered, cities like Wilmington were left increasingly vacant and lifeless.  It would take most cities half a century to begin to re-imagine, re-define and re-invent themselves as places of substance, life and promise once more.

The revitalization of the Market Street corridor has been in full swing for the past decade and has been fostered by a committed team of city officials, local business owners, private developers and enthusiastic citizens.   In the concentrated 10-block stretch of Lower Market street that has been dubbed “LOMA,” a new life has emerged thanks to major street scape enhancements, the renovation of dozens of underused or blighted properties, a major residential presence and the ever-growing collection of entertainment venues.  Once again there is vigor and relevance to life on Market Street.

Rodney Square / Downtown Wilmington

Rodney Square is a historic public square in the center of downtown Wilmington bounded by Market, 10th, King and 11th Streets. The surrounding blocks are dominated by some of Wilmington's tallest buildings.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at

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