by: Admin in Placemaking No Comments  

NPR photo

Thought-provoking public art and effective placemaking knows no borders. Walk the streets of Downtown Jacksonville, and you’ll see yarn-bombs, murals and sculptures. Walk the streets of Brazil’s Sao Paulo, and you’ll likely run into the same.

A recent NPR story chronicles the public art and placemaking scene of Downtown Sao Paulo, along with the artists who make it happen:

“[Crochet artist Leticia] Matos covers trees and street poles with woolen sleeves and small, colorful pompoms. Her works look like whimsical webs of rainbow yarn; the effect is surprising and oddly comforting.

‘I want people to have something familiar in the city. Here in Brazil we teach knitting from mother to daughter,’ Matos says. ‘When they see my art, they suddenly feel comfortable walking these cold streets. And you can feel better.’

Urban landscapes have always inspired art, and Brazil is no exception. A new crop of artists like Matos not only is taking inspiration from Sao Paulo’s streets but also is trying to give something back.”

Read or listen to the full NPR story: In Gritty Sao Paulo, Artists Take To The Streets. In the comment section below, share your ideas for public art and placemaking in Downtown Jacksonville.

When Shawn Thurston spray-painted his landscape mural on the storefront of Chamblin’s Uptown last month, the installation was an introduction of the public art to come. Using the inaugural One Spark festival as a catalyst, DVI continued its efforts in collaboration with the Cultural Council to bring art Downtown, acting as a liaison between artists and property owners and securing approval to add four temporary and permanent public art installations to Downtown’s building façades.

Doug Eng’s “Beyond the Facade”

Local photographer and fine artist, Doug Eng, installed large-scale images of nature and architecture called “Beyond the Façade,” over the boarded windows of the Laura St. Trio and Barnett Bank buildings at the intersection of Laura and Adams streets.

A familiar face in the Downtown art scene, Eng has participated in Off the Grid for a number of years, formerly with a studio space in Studio 121 and currently as a member of the artist cooperative, Southlight Gallery. Prior to “Beyond the Façade,” Eng has lead and participated in a number of installations and exhibits Downtown including “Message in a Bottle: Wall of Light” in Main Street Park last spring. The installation sculpture displayed thousands of messages from the community to raise the awareness of our military’s service to our country.

‘Currently the landscape of abandoned buildings, empty storefronts, and “Available” signage is the driver of depressed states of consciousness for the city. By creating interest, curiosity, and observer interaction, we can begin to transform the downtown experience to a positive one,’ said Eng.

“Rise from the Ashes” by Corey Kolb & Eric Hinote

Local activists Doug Coleman and Wayne Wood introduced “The Big One” project, which brought six larger-than-life sculpture and mural installations to Downtown for One Spark. Included in project is the “Rise from the Ashes” wheat paste mural spanning the width of the vacant Lerner Building, which sits across from The Carling residence at 20 W. Adams Street.

The mural was a joint collaboration by local artists and graphic designers Corey Kolb and Eric Hinote.  “We were trying to portray a positive message for the city in that it’s time to support Downtown and see it return to the epicenter it once was. We see that initiatives like Art Walk and One Spark can revitalize Jacksonville’s urban core by giving people a reason to visit and stay Downtown,” said Hinote. “We feel it’s time that Jacksonville embraces this notion and builds off the initiatives it has put in place to make Downtown more vibrant culturally.”

“Yarnbomb Downtown Jax” by Jackie Kuhn

Between the Laura Street Trio and Lerner buildings, sits an empty fenced-in lot, which came to life with whimsical knitted scenes lead by Jackie Kuhn from Neptune Beach, FL. The most temporary of the installations, “Yarnbomb Downtown Jax,” showcased this female dominated art form, which creates a dialogue between fiber artists and the public through non-permanent street art, called “yarn bombing.” In addition to the mural, yarn creations covered tree trunks, statues, poles and bike racks during the festival.

“Up-cycle” by SeeSAW

Two blocks down Adams Street, Matthew Hebermehl of Savannah, GA lead a project by SeeSAW, See Savannah Art Walls, to paint “Up-cycle.” This installation on the exterior of Burro Bar at 100 E. Adams Street, brings color to a formerly whitewashed wall highly visible from the Main Street bridge entrance into the Northbank core of Downtown. Inspired by the themes of renewal and cultural fire, the mural showcases the positive impact of community-centric public art.

If Thurston’s first mural was the introduction, the murals installed for One Spark are only the first chapter. Announced recently, the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville has launched a Spark Initiative for the walking core of Downtown. Through this grant program, the Cultural Council will fund additional placement of art and culture, such as bike racks or benches; or events, performances, festivals, concerts and tours.

Have you had a chance to see the new art Downtown? What do you think? What would you like to see next?

by: sbeever in Thought Leadership No Comments  

Think it’s difficult to find parking in Downtown Jacksonville? Now that’s a myth worth busting.

When I received a call for my first interview Downtown, I wasn’t worried about finding the building or the right office. Instead, my head was filled with horror stories from friends who constantly complained about the lack of parking.

Needless to say, I left my house three hours early to ensure I would locate one of those “illusive” parking spots, but to my surprise, I found one a block from my destination. It turned out parking Downtown wasn’t so difficult after all.

In a recent Downtown Marketing Collaborative survey, only 28 % of the respondents said parking was easy. As a new member of this statistic and a Jacksonville native, I was surprised that the percentage was so low. Downtown has more than 43,000 public parking spaces including lots, garages, metered street and peripheral parking. It’s important to remember that although you may not be able to park directly in front of your destination every time you visit, it’s nearly a guarantee that you can find spaces within a short walk just like Riverside, the Town Center or the Beaches.

With this said, if you are still worried about finding a convenient spot, it always pays to plan ahead. Downtown Vision, Inc.’s website offers a database of parking information and FAQs.

Also, the City is currently testing a new smartphone app, Parker that locates blocks with vacant parking spaces in real time. This free demonstration uses more than 100 Streetline sensors in metered spots along Laura Street as well as three crossing streets (Bay, Forsyth, and Adams) to help make your experience even easier.

In addition to the plethora of spaces, parking in Downtown is inexpensive. Meters only cost 25 cents  for every 30 minutes and are free on weekends, city holidays and after 6 p.m. Quarters, nickels and dimes are accepted by all meters and, in high-traffic areas, solar-powered meters accept credit cards as well as coins.

Don’t let this parking myth prevent you from experiencing the urban core. Remember, there are more than 43,000 public parking spots and you only need one.


by: Katherine Hardwick in Advocacy (2) Comments  

Bike taxidermy

From affixing a grill on the back of your bike, like the elegant “Backbrat,” to turning your beloved old ride into taxidermy (yes, seriously), bike culture is a passion for many. And why not? Biking is good for our health, our planet and our wallets. So then, why don’t we see more bikes in Downtown Jacksonville?

To some extend, the fact that Jacksonville is so expansive plays a role. Most of us aren’t just going to hop on our beach cruisers and pedal over “the ditch” and all the way into Downtown. But more to the point, present day Downtown was not designed for bicycles. One-way streets were implemented in the 1960s with cars in mind, and more specifically to allow cars to travel faster in and out of Downtown – a product of their time but a detriment to cyclists.

Mayor Brown celebrating last year’s Bike Month Downtown.

We are, however, making progress. You may have heard of the Context Sensitive Streets Special Committee, chaired by City Councilmember, Lori Boyer. The committee was created to “review the existing Context Sensitive Streets Guidelines that have been drafted by the Planning Department but not implemented, determine the appropriateness of these guidelines, investigate any other information pertinent to this issue, and make recommendations for and/or draft legislation as appropriate to address this issue.”

In other words, as it relates to cyclists and pedestrians, the committee looks at transportation planning designs to make sure streets fit their physical settings and preserve scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility. The goal is to create streets that don’t put the needs of cars over the needs of everyone else.

At the heart of the issue is safety. Recently, the national Alliance for Biking and Walking ranked Jacksonville as the third-worst large city in the United States in average annual traffic deaths for bicyclists and the second worst for deaths of pedestrians, based on several factors including population.

Bike Share in Downtown Minneapolis

We can learn a lot from cities like Minneapolis, MN, where Downtown is filed with bike commuters and couriers. Bike shares, like these line the streets in Downtown Minneapolis. City buses and trains all have bicycle-carrying capabilities and office buildings are required by law to provide bicycle storage. A master bicycle plan intends to bring all residents within a half-mile of a bike lane by 2020. It’s no wonder Minneapolis was been ranked as one of the best biking city in the country by Bike Score, the #2 biking city by Bicycling Magazine, and the #4 bicycling city in the nation by the US Census Bureau. It’s this type of commitment to cycling that helps energize Downtown Minneapolis.

So its great news then, that the Context Sensitive Streets Committee has drafted legislation to appoint a full-time bicycle/pedestrian coordinator to the Planning and Development Department. As the demand to live and work Downtown increases, we hope to see many more bikes Downtown and a shared understanding of sharing the road.

Playing tourist in Midtown

Recently I spent a long weekend in NYC. It had been 12 years since I had visited the Big Apple, and I delighted in playing tourist: staying in mid-town Manhattan, attending a wedding in Long Island City and shopping in SoHo. But, despite the fact that I was visiting for pleasure, I couldn’t help but make mental notes of big city best practices.

Learning curve aside, it’s easy to see how New York’s public transportation makes living without a car a reality for so many. You name it, I took it. Buses were standing room only. Buskers danced to Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” on the subway, while seasoned New Yorkers put on their best poker faces. (I couldn’t say which was more entertaining.) Taxis were convenient and warm on cold, snowy evenings. The waits were brief and the wayfinding concise. But in my opinion, the best part about public transit is the before and after… the walking, and its associated physical and mental health benefits that so many New Yorkers enjoy.

Central Park and its People

New York’s public parks are well managed and programmed, drawing large crowds despite freezing March temperatures. Bryant Park is a frequently referenced case study for public space management and it’s easy to see why. Meticulously maintained, Bryant Park had lush landscaping, a wealth of moveable tables and chairs, hospitable signage, and plenty of programming: I happened upon both an ice-skating rink and a children’s health food festival during my stop. And though I only had a half hour to spend in Central Park, the experience there was quite similar. I watched harbor seals frolicking at the Central Park Zoo, spied a second ice-skating rink, and took in the natural beauty as I wandered among joggers, tourists and locals alike on a late Sunday afternoon.

Adaptive reuse and historic preservation are alive and well in New York. Take trendy SoHo for example. Crowded streets zigzagged through the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District. Decorative cast iron facades—dating back to between the 1840 to the 1880s in many cases—encompass pre-existing industrial buildings. The facades enabled buildings to attract commercial clients over the years. And then following the abandonment of a proposed elevated expressway plan, which would have devastated the area in the 1960s, the district attracted artists who utilized the buildings for living and working studios. Today, the district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, declared a National Historic Landmark and is chocked full of galleries and shops.

There’s something special about New York: the setting for so many stories, the subject of so many songs. And while there’s a lot to be learned from other cities big and small, I’m also reminded of all that’s special about Downtown Jacksonville. The small-town charm, locally owned and operated businesses, the way the Florida sun reflects off the St. Johns, and the vast possibilities for a city starting to come into its own.

by: Katherine Hardwick in Thought Leadership 1 Comment  


Downtown St. Petersburg

The Seamless City by Rick Baker, former Mayor of St. Petersburg is a primer on how to revitalize a city, and was based on Baker’s experience as Mayor from 2001-2010.  The book details his plan of action, which included enhancing public safety, increasing jobs, improving government operations, addressing homelessness, promoting the city and measuring progress. In fact, it could be the playbook for almost any large urban area.

His overarching approach to revitalizing Downtown St. Petersburg was based on the premise that “there would be so much going on Downtown that people will come, even if… they have nothing particular in mind what they want to do, confident that they can simply come Downtown and pick from a variety of activities once they get there.“

This plan included the following action steps:

  • Expand the number of reoccurring events along the waterfront park – with an emphasis on events that fill hotels.
  • Develop and expand fixed activity generators like medical complexes, marine research, education, business, hotels, shopping and restaurants.
  • Support and expand cultural amenities Downtown to become the cultural center of Florida.
  • Make Beach Drive, along their waterfront park, a café and retail activity generator and link this district to other districts.
  • Improve access to and around Downtown.
  • Focus on making Downtown a more desirable place to live and work.

Baker also referenced their failures along the way, which included attempts to recruit Full Sail University, the Savannah College of Art and Design and major retail Downtown.

While each city is different, there are a few takeaways that Jacksonville can learn from.

First, the Mayor and his administration to proactively pursued who and what they wanted Downtown. From recruiting businesses and schools to international art shows, the Mayor and the business community went after strategic sources to try and leverage their pull for Downtown.

Second, while most cities talk about making their Downtowns a great place to live and work, St. Pete’s leadership knew this meant a careful attention to detail in making the Downtown more attractive. Wider sidewalks, café tables and umbrellas and flowers were implemented to create great public open spaces, which made people feel safe and comfortable while Downtown.

Third, it takes a plan of three-to-five major initiatives, which are focused, executable in the short term and easily measurable.

Mayor Baker will be in Jacksonville for the ULI North Florida Member-Only Breakfast Meeting on December 11th. The meeting is limited to the first 50 members to register.

by: Katherine Hardwick in Downtown Vision, Inc., Placemaking 1 Comment  

Inaugural Picnic in the Plaza

Our challenge in revitalizing Hemming Plaza is quite simply figuring out a way to bring more people to the Plaza.  And one of the best practices for bringing more people to a public space is programming through free or low cost activities and vendors. On a large scale, consistent year-round programming often takes dedicated management. But on a small scale, sustainable, low-cost, low-risk activities can help create a trend, as DVI proved last Friday.

The public space: Hemming Plaza, neighbor to City Hall, the Main Library and MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Arts), is known for its nuisance activity.  The challenge: spend little-to-no money to bring people out of the surrounding office buildings for lunch. The solution: Picnic in the Plaza, a Friday lunchtime pop-up gathering of friends and coworkers, open to all.

DVI set the date and time, gathered the basic supplies: camp chairs, picnic blankets and lawn games, secured a “to-go” special from a nearby restaurant and used personal e-mail invites and social media to spread the word. The “event” was “BYOP,” or “bring your own picnic.”

This grassroots gathering welcomed more than 100 people to the Plaza for lunch, including Mayor Brown and Councilman Brown. Based on the success, DVI’s staff has committed to continue the pop-up picnics each Friday, weather permitting for the foreseeable future. We hope you’ll join us.

View photos from the first Picnic in the Plaza here.

Please share your ideas for small ways to make a difference in our comment section.