Planning for Equity & Underrepresented Communities
A historical timeline of the rise of Jacksonville's historic Black communities and how the field of planning has played an institutional role in their destruction.
The combination of these zoning and public policy decisions led to the city’s urbanized Black neighborhoods being characterized by heavy industry located immediately adjacent to residential uses, while restricting the upward economic mobility of the population to relocate from these designated areas.
Despite being forced to reside in a separate by unequal landscape, the descendants of the formerly enslaved found a way to build a self sustaining environment filled with history, culture, music, food, community and an authentic sense of place. As an example, Abraham Lincoln Lewis grew from being a mill hand at an Eastside lumber mill to become one of Florida’s first Black millionaires, establishing the Black resort of American Beach in Nassau County.
Nevertheless, several additional public policies and planning decisions would eventually rip apart the built environment and economic conditions of these communities. The Housing Act of 1937 allowed for urban renewal to demolish structures in poor neighborhoods. Locally, the city leveled the neighborhood of Hansontown to create housing projects. Later, transportation planners used the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 to build highways slicing through inner city black communities, forming new physical barriers largely based on the physical separation of races. Later, a side effect of desegregation was a decline in the Black business community as a result of decades of unequal public investment leaving historically Black neighborhoods unable to compete with other areas of the region. Many residents with the means to do so left the Black neighborhoods, but found it difficult to compete with businesses already established in their new neighborhoods. Even the desegregation of the Duval County School system in 1971 resulted in local planning decisions that closed the majority of public schools in Black communities, further weakening their economic foundation.
Against all odds, Northeast Florida’s historic underrepresented communities still survive. From Lincolnville in St. Augustine to Durkee Gardens in Northwest Jacksonville, the long time residents, architecture, density and culture are a strong part of the region’s authentic Southern identity. However, the planning and public policy continue to serve as tools that can either strengthen or destroy what is left.
Brooklyn would be a local example of when planning fails. Platted in 1868, the neighborhood was ripped apart by the construction of Interstate 95 in 1960 and a 1980s downtown development authority action plan that demolished 183 structures and displaced 550 residents before failing to build what had been planned. Additional demolition of its commercial district came with the 2000s widening of Riverside Avenue and Forest Street.
Today, Brooklyn is in the midst of a major urban redevelopment boom. However, the sense of place, history and story of the people who called the neighborhood home for 150 years is forever lost, erased by a new population and modern environment that lacks authentic character.
This is not to say that revitalization is not desired within underrepresented communities. As illustrated with the continued resurgence of St. Peterburg’s Deuces (22nd Street South) neighborhood, the process of Withintrification is desired. In contrast to gentrification, “withintrification” refers to revitalization driven by the people already in the neighborhood, rather than newcomers or developers, giving current residents a seat at the decision making table. It means identifying assets in the community, bringing them together under common objectives, and raising the value of the place from within at a pace appropriate for revitalizing the existing community, not displacing it.
In conclusion, the planning field and the public policies it creates, can play a significant role in either building up or destroying traditionally disenfranchised populations and neighborhoods.
Presentation by Ennis Davis, AICP is an excerpt from APA Florida First Coast Section’s Planning for Equity & Underrepresented Communities virtual panel discussion held on August 28, 2020. The panel was held to present underrepresented communities point of view with the issues they face and the projects the planning community propose. Contact Ennis at email@example.com.