There’s nothing wrong with stealing good ideas from other cities.
While I was on vacation last week, I spent several days in Asheville, N.C.
That city’s downtown is thriving. Even on weekday afternoons, it was alive with people.
Outdoor dining there is plentiful. There are fascinating shops galore. Street performers and musicians enliven the scene.
Public art tells the city’s rich history. That history, especially in its buildings, has been preserved, not erased.
I’m certainly not an expert on what makes a downtown successful, but one trait of Asheville’s downtown stood out to me in particular.
Its narrow streets create a feeling of intimacy and easy connectivity that attracts rather than repels people.
Sure, Asheville has the mountains and fall foliage to lure visitors, but the St. Johns River that runs through the middle of Downtown Jacksonville and the other waterways throughout our city are just as spectacular.
Too many streets in Downtown Jacksonville, however, resemble runways for jumbo jets. Safely crossing them is a gamble and loved only by thrill seekers.
We have a history just as rich as Asheville’s, but we don’t celebrate it enough.
We have talented musicians and artists here, but you don’t see them on a daily basis on Downtown’s sidewalks entertaining people as you do in Asheville.
Regular performances in Hemming Park have been a good addition, but for Downtown to continue to rebound, it has to be about more than Hemming Park.
The new colorful murals adorning some Downtown buildings are adding pizazz, but the intriguing sculptures that abound in Asheville’s downtown illustrate that much more can be done with public art.
With the changes that have come with time, Downtown Jacksonville has become poorly designed.
Many of its streets were built to get people in and out of Downtown quickly.
Major Downtown buildings were designed to be self-contained so workers could drive into a parking garage, work, shop and dine without having to actually be in Downtown except while coming and going in their cars.
Now that resurgence is happening Downtown, it would seem to me that some retrofitting will be required.
As has been written by others on these pages, some of the confusing one-way streets in Downtown should be changed to two-way.
The redesign of Laura Street, with two-way traffic and parking on both sides, has created a feeling of closeness that is found in Asheville and could serve as a model for other Downtown streets.
The restoration of the Barnett Bank Building and the Trio will add more life to Laura Street as it runs from Hemming Park toward the river.
But there it hits The Jacksonville Landing, which has become a deterrent to Downtown’s revival.
The need for a retrofit is obvious there, and earlier this year a frustrated Mayor Lenny Curry said the city was going to take back ownership of the Landing from the Sleiman family.
That was in June. It’s now November, and the Landing is still a stumbling block for Downtown.
With the Landing gone and the ongoing effort to create distinctive destinations along the Northbank Riverwalk, the opportunity is there to build the excitement and buzz found in Asheville’s downtown.
And when the Shipyards project gets done, hopefully Bay Street will no longer be able to handle a landing jumbo jet.
One thing I heard often during my visit to Asheville was: This is a cool place.
Downtown Jacksonville is headed in that direction.
Stealing ideas from Asheville and other cities with great downtowns can put us across the finish line.