Recently on vacation, I spent a few hours exploring Downtown Richmond. Though it was still early in the morning – before many of the shops had opened – Richmond was full of culture, color and activity. Nowhere was this more evident than in its unique public spaces.
My first stop was Belle Isle, home to a prisoner-of-war camp during the Civil War and later to a nail works, granite quarry and hydroelectric plant. Today, it’s a thriving city park: a scenic and wooded retreat accessible by the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge suspended over the James River.
Located within Downtown, the 52-acre island offers miles of hiking and biking trails, and access to canoeing, kayaking, camping and even rock climbing. Scattered throughout the island lie picnic areas created amid old buildings remnants. Huge, flat boulders line the river and are used in the summer for picnics, sun bathing and relaxing.
Richmond’s Canal Walk was our next stop. The Canal Walk features four centuries of history displayed by statues and exhibits along a 1.25-miles stretch on the banks of the James River and Kanawha and Haxall canals. Along the way, we stumbled upon the James River Power Plant Building and Floodwall, an open-aired building boasting amazing murals created during the Richmond Virginia Street Arts Festival. While I was busy snapping pictures, pedestrians were walking, running, bicycling all around me on this busy route to get to work or enjoy some morning exercise.
In just a short time there, I fell in love with the way Richmond embraces its public spaces utilizing empty walls to create public art; capitalizing on its natural resources, like the river, to encourage outdoor activities; and showcasing its history. Residents and tourists of Richmond have a great opportunity to explore the nooks and crannies of their city.
We too, in Downtown Jacksonville have so much local cultural, amazing natural resources and fascinating history to embrace. With nearly three miles of Riverwalk and waterfront parks like Friendship Fountain and Metropolitan Park; with more and more public art to brighten our streetscapes; and with wonderful historic tours, like the Top to Bottom Tours there is already much to enjoy.
And there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes for further enhancement. The City of Jacksonville is currently reviewing an Request For Information on the 40-plus-acre for the development of the Shipyards property and it’s about to issue an Request For Proposal for the management of Hemming Plaza. Also, the Cultural Council of Great Jacksonville is currently reviewing applications for its Spark Grant Initiative, which aims to bring three-to-four major public art installments to the core of Downtown. These and other new initiatives will be key in enhancing Downtown’s appeal and activating our public spaces.