The following is an excerpt from Somewhere in the City, a local blog that chronicles Jacksonville culture. Written by four locals passionate about the River City, Somewhere in the City often highlights the many wonderful things Downtown offers. DVI and Somewhere in the City have partnered to share these Downtown stories, and below, you’ll find the latest installment of this partnership.
Republished from Somewhere in the City. Post by guest writer Koula Redmond
Jacksonville’s Northbank Riverwalk mixed-use path is one of my favorite places in Jacksonville’s urban core. I know I’m not the only one who loves it; every time I bike to work or to my favorite cafe Downtown (Chamblin’s Uptown), the Riverwalk is crawling with residents and tourists who use the path to run, walk around with friends, or just enjoy the outdoors in the middle of a cool urban landscape. The roughly two miles of Northbank Riverwalk line the gorgeous St. Johns River from the Riverside Arts Market all the way to East Bay Street near the Maxwell House Coffee plant, and it makes for a low-stress way to get from Riverside to the Downtown area on foot or by bike. The views of the St. Johns are nothing less than stunning, and there are ample places to sit and watch dolphins or launch your kayak and get on out in the water.
So, what makes the Riverwalk such a successful place? I believe it has two things going for it: connectivity and successful placemaking.
By connecting the densely populated Riverside/Avondale area to Downtown and beyond, the Riverwalk is able to move people from home to workplace or restaurants, shopping and nightlife destinations. It is a straight up convenient way to get from point A to point B on a bicycle or on foot, which makes it such a logical transportation option. If you compare biking with driving from Riverside Arts Market to anywhere Downtown, a bike will usually get you there faster and undoubtedly will get a far better parking space. From the Riverwalk, it is relatively easy to peel off and take the Main Street or Acosta Bridge to get to the Southbank. Jacksonville of course has other mixed-use paths, but most are located on the fringes of the city and do not connect people to different parts of town. By connecting people to the places they want to go, the Riverwalk is king in our city, at least for now.
The other main attraction of the Riverwalk is in its placemaking. The Project for Public Spaces explains placemaking best as the “transformation of public spaces into vital places that highlight local assets, spur rejuvenation and serve common needs.” The St. Johns River is arguably one of our city’s most beautiful assets, and the Riverwalk highlights it extremely well. One could easily take a fast bike ride along Myrtle or Riverside Avenue to get to Downtown or one of the bridges, but the Riverwalk offers a slower and more beautiful route. In addition to providing a short but viable transportation route, the Riverwalk also provides places to sit and enjoy the landscape and watch birds, fish and dolphins as well as a couple of places to launch a kayak or canoe. In addition to these fixed features, the Riverside Arts Market and Community First Saturdays draw people to the Riverwalk almost every Saturday throughout the year. Successful placemaking, such as that seen on our Riverwalk, highlights our city’s beautiful outdoor and urban assets and makes them easy for the public to enjoy. When residents are encouraged to enjoy and appreciate our city, pride and a stake of ownership in our city will just continue to grow.
My love of the Riverwalk (and my love of bike riding!) made me think about how we can get #moreofthis in our city. I participate in monthly Jacksonville Bike/Ped Action Committee (BPAC) meetings, as well as volunteer for Bike Jax, to further the cause for people who use bikes for transportation. More recently, I became involved with North Florida Land Trust (NFLT) because of some exciting plans they have for the future of mixed use paths in Jacksonville’s Urban Core. Through NFLT, I found out about plans to complete Jacksonville’s Emerald Necklace by extending a well used but far away multi-use path, the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail, east along McCoy’s Creek toward Brooklyn and down to the Jacksonville Riverwalk. A path this long would successfully connect bicyclists and pedestrians from the very west edge of Duval County to Downtown Jacksonville, and at some point, connect the S-Line path to these other trails. Completing the Emerald Necklace, a connection of park and creek systems surrounding the Northbank Downtown area, would essentially create more usable park space for folks to enjoy, as well as introduce Jacksonville residents and visitors to a taste of much-needed human-scale connectivity. My hope is that by connecting Downtown with the Westside, Brooklyn and Springfield, bike and pedestrian connectivity between other areas of town will be the logical next steps for our city, and hopefully we’ll create more beautiful and useful public places like the Riverwalk.
Koula Redmond is a Jane of lots of trades and master of very few. She spends most of her time sewing useful things, making pottery, riding bikes, wrenching on bikes, or wandering around taking photographs of cute animals or deteriorating buildings. She is also part of Bike Jax and is cofounder of the Riverside Stitch Society.