Jacksonville has a wealth of riches along its many waterways.
We have an oceanfront.
We have the Intracoastal Waterway.
We have a majestic river.
We have numerous tributaries.
Jacksonville is a waterway wonderland.
So it is head-scratching that the city has not made better use of its riches, especially downtown.
Our riverfront downtown is more like a bay or estuary; it’s more like Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
Our creeks near downtown, like Hogans Creek and McCoys Creek, could easily pass for San Antonio’s tiny stream.
Fortunately, a group of local architects had been steadily working — quietly — on a compelling vision for the city’s waterways.
City Council President Lori Boyer discovered their work as she was focusing on some of the projects being proposed for the downtown riverfront.
Boyer told the architects that progress is being made, There is the Dailys Place amphitheater. Soon the USS Adams will be located downtown as well.
Boyer said the time for action has come.
She and four of the architects met recently with the Times-Union editorial board to describe their vision.
They quoted Daniel Burnham, architect and urban planner: “Make no little plans because they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
The key is thinking of the downtown riverfront as a series of about a dozen “nodes,” places with separate identities spaced in about 10-minute walks from each other. The key is then to connect these nodes with each other.
As Boyer said, as new developments come online, more public parking will ba added as well as expansions of the riverwalk and pedestrian access.
Eventually, the Northbank Riverwalk could extend from Talleyrand past the Fuller Warren Bridge. The riverwalk would be connected by a pedestrian walkway so that it is a complete loop.
The Southbank Riverwalk could extend from the District development (the old JEA Southside power plant) past the Fuller Warren Bridge to Nemours.
• The idea is flexible. “Let’s create a framework that everyone can plug into,” said architect and artist Dave Engdahl. The nodes can be changed or even moved. And it doesn’t require projects to go in any particular order as long as they fit into the general framework.
• The nodes can vary in size and scope. Each node would have a vertical element to identify it, such as the mast of the USS Adams.
• There could be a children’s zone along McCoys Creek where kids can take rides under the current Times-Union building into the river and back.
• Transportation could be fun. Imagine a trolley system with music. The river taxi could connect both sides.
There should be more pedestrian-friendly areas downtown along with more shade to protect people from the sun and the rain.
Misting features can help with the heat.
And, please, let’s get over our obsession with planting palm trees downtown — they provide very little shade.
The architects also proposed a few dramatic touches, such as light shows along the sides of the buildings and a flowing water feature at the Acosta Bridge. It would turn the river into a theatrical experience and make the expanses look more intimate.
Now the key is to develop action plans, set priorities and get to work on them. Happily, these are all things that Boyer does well, making her the perfect person to spearhead this ambitious effort.
The architects have presented a template that can be used for all kinds of ideas so long as they are connected.
Before long, when visitors ask what there is to do near our grand waterfront, there will be plenty of answers, in fact too much for a single afternoon.
It’s time to end the gentle curse of Jacksonville — its potential — and make its greatness come alive.
No, the river is not too big, any more than you can be too rich or too good looking.