Moncrief prepares to lose its food desert status

A long time Jacksonville food desert could be going away if the Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corporation (CDC) has it their way. Founded in 2001, the mission of the CDC is to revitalize Northwest Jacksonville through education, housing rehabilitation, and economic development. With this in mind, the CDC appears to be making progress with the development of North Point Town Center Phase II.

Moncrief Road serves as a historic pedestrian scale commercial corridor serving the Moncrief neighborhood in Northwest Jacksonville.

Intended to economically anchor the District of Soul, a commercial corridor centered around Myrtle Avenue and Moncrief Road, the project could provide a major boost in the area’s efforts to promote its heritage as a clustered location for restaurants and entertainment in Moncrief.

The Moncrief neighborhood itself dates back to 1914, when the Moncrief Park and Speedway Park subdivisions were developed to accommodate Jacksonville’s rapidly growing black population north of Durkeeville, Sugar Hill and LaVilla. Prior to their development, the area was the site of Moncrief Park, a major tourist destination on the outskirts of town that was linked to the city by a streetcar line.

At its height, Moncrief Park included a baseball field, bathhouses, a restaurant, bowling alley, dancing pavilion and mile long racetrack. For a brief period of time, it was the site of a horse racing track with events just as popular as the races at Saratoga. However, Florida prohibiting professional horse racing in 1911, leading to its closure and the development of the community and commercial district that North Point Town Center Phase II intends to anchor.

A site plan of North Point Town Center Phase I. Phase I was completed in 2011.

Unfortunately, plans for Phase II also illustrate a problem in Jacksonville’s efforts to promote and preserve black history. While Phase I was incorporated seamlessly within the pedestrian scale context of Moncrief Road, Phase II eliminates a block of West 24th Street and includes surface parking between the proposed retail storefronts and Moncrief Road. So while there’s a major economic positive with new infill coming in, the value of context appropriate design and its impact on promoting the neighborhood’s historical scale, culture and sense of place has been overlooked.

A similar infill development featuring a Kroger in Columbus, Ohio.

This situation tends not to be a problem in Riverside and Springfield, where influence in City Hall has led to the establishment of zoning overlays that guide context sensitive development. Yet, it continues to be a major challenge facing Jacksonville’s underrepresented communities that are subject to out-of-date autocentric sprawl-based land use and zoning policies that largely ignore the individual uniqueness of Jacksonville’s older unprotected neighborhoods.

A similar infill development featuring a Kroger in Savannah, GA.