Will 10K residents really revitalize Downtown Jax?

Advocates have long used a population of 10,000 as the benchmark Downtown Jacksonville must reach to achieve vibrancy. However, this figure leaves out the importance of population density - Downtown Jax is so massive that even 10,000 people won't provide the density needed for true vibrancy.

Downtown Orlando is home to 16,718 residents, and at 2.6 square miles has a population density of 6,030 residents per square mile.

10,000 residents across the whole space of Downtown Jacksonville may be unlikely to have a significant impact on street level vibrancy, but fortunately there are some easy solutions available.

Focus on the Northbank

Three definitions of Indianapolis’ downtown

Indianapolis is a rare city with a downtown even larger than Jacksonville’s official version - it includes 6.5 square miles of area around the historic city center. Indianapolis ultimately found that this made it difficult to focus on the specific needs of its original core. To compensate, they have identified multiple districts within the wider Downtown.

The Indianapolis Regional Center covers the entire 6.5 square mile area. The Mile Square comprises original boundaries of Indianapolis at the center. Within the Mile Square is the Central Business District, which covers the major commercial buildings. These boundaries have made it easier to gather data on the true status of Downtown Indianapolis and implement supportive policies to achieve the desired outcomes.

The Northbank and LaVilla within wider Downtown Jacksonville

Jacksonville could follow a similar path by identifying the historic core separately from the wider definition of Downtown. This would allow the city to get a better gauge of the issues in the Downtown core, and work more intentionally towards improving things.

Using the above boundaries, identified in the city’s current overlay as the Central Core, Cathedral District, and Church District, the Northbank core is about .6 square miles. Adding the well connected neighborhood of LaVilla to this would result in a space of about 1 square mile, comparable to many peer cities.

To compare, if Jacksonville focused on reaching 10,000 residents in the Northbank core alone, it would achieve a population density of 16,949 people per square mile. In the Northbank Core and LaVilla together, it would be 10,000 people per square mile. These densities are comparable to most of our peer cities, and greater than many.

Downtown Jacksonville Size: 3.9 square miles Population: 4,800 Population density: 1,231 people per square mile Population density at 10,000 residents: 2,564 people per square mile

Northbank core (roughly between State Street, Hogan’s Creek, the St. John’s River, and Broad Street): Size: 0.59 square miles **Population density at 10,000 residents: 16,949 **

Northbank core and LaVilla (Central Core, Cathedral District, Church District, and LaVilla) Size: 1 square mile Population density at 10,000 people: 10,000 people per square mile

Clustering is key

Downtown Greenville’s population density is nearly identical to Jacksonville’s, but through the “Three C’s” Greenville has created a downtown as vibrant as many larger cities’.

Another easy solution is right at our fingertips: clustering. We at The Jaxson are big advocates of the “Three C’s” of urban development: the clustering of complimenting uses in a compact setting. By working with the amenities we already have and clustering new development in a way that can feed off and support them, Downtown can increase street level vibrancy even without a massive influx of new residents.

One emerging peer, Downtown Greenville, is home to 2,257 residents and a population density of 1,254 people per square mile. However, by focusing on clustering complementing uses within a compact setting, Greenville has created a Main Street continuously lined with blocks of retailers, restaurants, bars, hotels and supportive pedestrian scale uses, and achieved a level of vibrancy Jaxsons dream of.

Clustering is a simple concept, but it’s one that Jacksonville has often struggled to implement. Fortunately, that may be improving. Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer has announced a new plan that would provide incentives for new restaurants and bars if they open in two compact corridors, hoping to concentrate them together and create a booming district. Similar corridors in other cities - and even in vibrant Jacksonville neighborhoods like Five Points, the Beaches Town Center or San Marco Square, prove the efficacy of this idea. If it works there, there’s no reason it won’t work in a downtown with as much potential as Jacksonville’s.

Despite being home to less than 6,000 residents, much of Downtown Fort Lauderdale is easily accessible to and concentrated on Las Olas Boulevard. The result is a corridor that stretches for blocks with a continuous vibrant pedestrian friendly atmosphere.

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Article by Bill Delaney. Contact Bill at wdelaney@moderncities.com.