Clustering and the 'Three C's' of urban revitalization

Successful urban revitalization projects of all scopes and sizes rely on a simple three-pronged principle: the clustering of complementing uses within a compact setting. It's a tried and true formula for bringing life to urban streets that doesn't rely on massive new developments.

3: Compact setting

The 1/4 mile walkshed of the area around James Weldon Johnson Park in Downtown Jacksonville.

The final “C” means that clustering should happen in a small enough area for all entities to reap the benefits. In an urban or Downtown area, this setting needs to be compact enough to be easily walkable. Studies suggest that most people will walk about 1/4 mile from one destination to another. So ideally, clustering should occur within about a 1/4 mile radius.

This is the element that cities like Jacksonville struggle with the most. In Jacksonville, the official boundaries of Downtown are a whopping 3.9 square miles, whereas most of our peers are between 1 and 2 square miles. So while Jacksonville counts projects like the Stadium District’s Lot J proposal and Brooklyn’s booming retail scene as “Downtown” development, they are much too far apart to be walkable to one another or to the Northbank core. While they may be good projects in their own right (and help contribute to clustering within their discrete areas), they won’t do much for vibrancy in Downtown’s historic core.

Anchoring the Tampa Riverwalk, Armature Works is an example of clustering complementing uses into a compact setting. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

Other cities with smaller downtowns are able to cluster more effectively due to the more compact nature of the area. For example, Downtown Tampa is about 1.2 square miles, about the size of Jacksonville’s Northbank and LaVilla areas together. Still, Downtown Tampa has a higher population density and a similar number of amenities what’s found in all of Downtown Jacksonville’s 3.9 square miles combined.

Downtown Jacksonville

  • Size: 3.9 square miles (including the Northbank, the Southbank, LaVilla, Brooklyn, and the Stadium District)
  • Total population: 4,800
  • Total population density: 1,231 people per square mile
  • Amenities:
  • Northbank core: Government offices, parks, Jacksonville Main Library, MOCA Jacksonville, Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, Riverwalk
  • Brooklyn: Riverwalk
  • LaVilla: Government offices, Prime Osborn Convention Center, Ritz Theater and Museum
  • Soutbank: Riverwalk, park, Museum of Science and History
  • Stadium District: TIAA Bank Field, 121 Financial Park, VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, Daily’s Place

Downtown Tampa

  • Size: 1.2 square miles (excludes most of the Channel District, West Riverfront, etc.)
  • Population: 8,152
  • Population density: 6,793 people per square mile
  • Amenities: Government offices, parks, Riverwalk, Tampa Convention Center, John F. Germany Public Library, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay History Center, Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, Glazer Children’s Museum, Tampa Museum of Art

The Three C’s and the future of Downtown Jacksonville

One of the few corridors featuring more underutilized storefronts than surface parking lots, Hogan Street serves as a great Downtown Jacksonville example of a corridor ripe for implementation of the Three C’s. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

There are examples of Jacksonville getting it right. As noted above, the Three C’s have already been embraced in a number of neighborhoods outside Downtown. Within Downtown, some clustering is quietly developing within a 1/4 mile radius of James Weldon Johnson Park. Major projects like the VyStar headquarters, JEA Headquarters, Independent Life Building and the Laura Street Trio are turning formerly dead space into street-level activity, and contributing to amenities already clustered in the area like the Main Library, Sweet Pete’s and MOCA Jacksonville.

The loss of the Jacksonville Landing was a blow for pedestrian level activity in this area, but it’s still the best place in Downtown Jacksonville for the city to embrace the Three C’s and reap the benefits. Hopefully as plans progress with new incentives for historic preservation a retail grant program and more, Jacksonville will seize the opportunity at hand and push Downtown one step closer to becoming the vibrant center citizens deserve.

Article by Bill Delaney and Ennis Davis. Contact Bill at and Ennis at