Killing connectivity: Springfield vs. Downtown

Loop system destroyed historic connections between downtown, Springfield

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How the Forgotten Downtown Loop System Destroyed the Historic Connections Between Downtown and Springfield.At the end of the 1960's Jacksonville was beginning to grapple with a few problems universal to the times. "White flight" (primarily to…

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Riots and police led "crackdowns" along Florida Avenue.  Ax Handle Saturday in Hemming Park. "Urban blight," aging structures, declining property values, and citizen dissatisfaction, compiled with the widespread racist opinion that the presence of primarily black residential neighborhoods surrounding downtown were unsafe, led to the ill devised Downtown Loop System.

The controversial techniques employed by New York urban planner, Robert Moses-covered in previous stories- were immediately implemented to combat these "problems."

The modernization plans and the utopian redevelopment scheme described in the 1971 Master Plan (which called for innovations like moving elevated sidewalks among others) ended up creating deeper systemic issues.

Chief among these plans was the deliberate separation of the greater urban core into distinct zones. It included a sort of outdoor pedestrian shopping plaza centered around Hemming Park and the physical separation of the Central Business District from the large African American neighborhoods of Springfield, Eastside LaVilla, Brooklyn, and Durkeeville.

Central to this plan was the creation of the Downtown Loop System. The loops were also designed to alleviate the parking shortage by establishing a series of parking garages on the perimeter of a rapid one way loop system.

Most people are unaware of it today because of the half hatted way it was implemented, but if you start at any point along the loops traveling at 30 miles per hour, the traffic signals are synchronized so that you can completely circle the loop without any red lights.

The idea was that you would come in from the outlying areas, hop onto the loop system, park in one of the garages closest to your destination, and the hop onto an elevated sidewalk system with ease. The area inside of the loop would then become a huge plaza environment with wide sidewalks and street-side cafes. 

Better yet, with the introduction of one way streets all the way through the grid, if one coordinated the streets ever so subtly with the placement of the Florida State College Downtown Campus, one could effectively block access to the Springfield and LaVilla neighborhoods from downtown.

Lets look at the Loop System again.

Now lets look at the actual end effect of the one way street grid when you complete it with the blocks created by architectural elements like FSCJ, the Park, and the Transit Station: think about trying to travel by car to Springfield from downtown. Its actually very difficult.

If one is downtown, the layout of the grid and the placement of FSCJ's large campus makes it nearly impossible for the downtown visitor/shopper to wander over to the Springfield Neighborhood. As indeed this was one of the plan's purposes.

The planners of the era were trying to partition off the high crime district from the suburban shoppers. After the 1970's, the only streets that lead a straight shot from downtown into Springfield are Broad and Liberty.

Not coincidentally, these are the ones that connected from LaVilla (at the time another African American neighborhood) and the police station.

Of course, we know now that the implementation of the first phase of the 1971 plan ended up totally destroying the retail base downtown. It began in 1982 and within two years, 4 million square feet of retail bordering Hemming Park was closed down due to the lack of planning and length of time taken by the 'redevelopment.'

After that, with the exception of a brief heyday for the Jacksonville Landing, Downtown ceased to be a retail destination by 1987.

So all of that planning and the millions of dollars dumped into the 1971 plan had two concrete results. It completely killed the retail it was created to protect, and it completely disconnected Springfield from Downtown.

This latter fact is something that needs to be corrected. There is no need for either the double loop system or the one way street grid anymore. There is no benefit in physically separating Springfield from the Downtown, if indeed there ever was. For these two neighborhoods to be restored to their historic vitality, they need to be reunited and the relationship of a large residential neighborhood to a large commercial district needs to be restored.

Article and graphics by Stephen Dare

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Part 1, Downtown Frankenstein: Robert Moses and Haydon Burn
Part 2, Downtown Frankenstein: Robert Moses and Haydon Burn
Lost Jacksonville: Wilder Park

Metro Jacksonville