This guest column was submitted by Riverfront Parks Now steering committee member Barbara Ketchum and reprinted here in it’s entirety:
Link to original article Opinion, Florida Times Union, October 2, 2022
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It is heartening to see that Downtown Jacksonville is finally moving towards the potential that has been talked about for years but never achieved. This is due in no small part to the leadership of Lori Boyer, as head of the Downtown Investment Authority, and Mayor Curry, who has put forth a budget to realize the vision of a connected network of riverfront parks, marinas and the extension of our Riverwalk.
Having been involved in downtown advocacy for almost 10 years, I am now hopeful and excited about the future of our waterfront.
As we move into the design and construction phase of our downtown waterfront, I want to ensure that the plans currently being developed result in a unified design of the entire Northbank, forming a crescent-shaped linear park from the Riverside Arts Market to Metropolitan Park. A unified linear park design would have a much greater impact than piecemeal designs for each parcel.
I was born and raised in Havana and still marvel at the beauty and success of our Malecón, built in the early 20th century. It is a five-mile-long seawall and wide promenade in the heart of the city, on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. The original design was marked by lamplights every 50 feet or so, which at night formed what became world-known as the “Diamond Necklace” of Havana.
To this day, this promenade continues to be, 100 years later, a beautiful gathering place for all in the heart of the city. I, and many of us in Jacksonville, hope the same will be said about our Northbank Riverwalk in the years to come.
I envision tourists who have heard about our fabulous (unified) Riverwalk Park pulling off of I-95 to have lunch, stretch and let the kids play in one of our wonderful parks on the river. I also see the whole city coming downtown to exercise, dine, reflect and gather to enjoy the beauty of a green, tree-lined, shaded riverfront and its amenities.
Jaxsons could walk from the Southbank or Brooklyn to the stadium or branch off to the Emerald Trail along the way. This is the moment in our history when we can make it happen, thanks also in large part to the mayor’s recent financial commitment to these projects.
I understand there are existing Riverwalk design standards but I am concerned that the current standards do not adequately address the critical need for the design of a unified Riverwalk linear park. I believe the public would embrace the design and implementation of a proposal that envisions our Riverwalk as a beautiful promenade.
We are so fortunate to already have several outstanding design firms involved with the riverfront projects. Perhaps one of these firms, or all of them working together, could be engaged to produce a beautiful and unified vision worthy of our majestic St. Johns River.
Barbara B. Ketchum, Jacksonville