LaVilla history

Looking north down Broad Street and the streetcar tracks of the North Jacksonville Street Railway, Town and Improvement Company. Established in 1902 by several prominent members of Jacksonville’s black community, it was known as “The Colored Man’s Railroad.

Adjacent to the Downtown Northbank, LaVilla is one of Jacksonville’s oldest Gullah Geechee communities. Named after the LaVilla Plantation, LaVilla was established as a town of its own in 1866 by Francis F. L’Engle. Incorporated in 1869, L’Engle served as LaVilla’s first mayor and by the time the community was annexed into Jacksonville in 1887, its population had increased to 3,000.

Anchored by Henry Flagler’s Jacksonville Terminal railroad station, LaVilla became a cultural exchange partner with New Orleans and emerged as a major epicenter for ragtime, jazz and blues during the early 20th century. According to the Indianapolis Freeman, the first published account of blues singing on a public stage occurred at LaVilla’s Colored Airdome on April 16, 1910. Following the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, LaVilla became known by some as the Harlem of the South. However, in reality, one could argue that Harlem is the LaVilla of the North since the Harlem Renaissance didn’t occur until many key figures from LaVilla’s past like James Weldon and John Rosamond Johnson, Augusta Savage, A. Philip Randolph, “Ma” Rainey, and Zora Neale Hurston made their way north as a part of the Great Migration.

Ultimately, LaVilla was largely destroyed by major urban renewal projects, including the construction of Interstate 95 during the 1950s and the 1990s River City Renaissance plan. With that said, you’ve probably heard a lot about what LaVilla used to be but we rarely see images of the neighborhood during its heyday or talk about the steps needed to bring it back to life.

Understanding the LaVilla community vision

The Ida B. Wells-Barnett House at 3624 South Martin Luther King Drive.

The LaVilla community vision very simple to understand. The community desires to have its urban, pedestrian scale neighborhood back. This means rebuilding the density and human scaled built environment that was intentionally taken away during the late 20th century.

The recent revitalization of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood is a real life example of this phenomenon. Bronzeville is a South Side Chicago neighborhood that became a well known “Great Migration” destination between the 1920s and 1950s. Like many segregation-era Black communities across the nation, Bronzeville declined after desegregation.

Today, Bronzeville is an example of a historic Black community where revitalization is underway, but unlike many neighborhoods facing gentrification and the displacement of longtime residents, the neighborhood continues to maintain its cultural heritage.

According to a recent article by Crain’s, what makes Bronzeville’s transition different from other places in Chicago where gentrification displaced longtime residents, such as Pilsen and the 606 trail area, is that the neighborhood has thousands of vacant lots caused by years of disinvestment. Developers who once viewed them as eyesores that depressed home values in the area are now rushing to develop them. That’s lifting the area’s housing stock and income profile without driving residents away.

In addition, Bronzeville’s growth is largely being fueled by residents, who have ascended the income ladder and others “returning” thirty or forty years after the Black middle-class largely left the community.

This phenomenon is known as “withintrification”, a term coined by University of Pittsburgh professor John Wallace in 2016. In contrast to gentrification, withintrification refers to revitalization that’s driven by the people already in the neighborhood. It means identifying assets in the community, bringing them together under common objectives, and raising the value of the place from within at a pace appropriate for revitalizing the existing community, not displacing it. The current residents of the community take the lead in revitalization, rather than newcomers or outside developers telling residents what they need and ultimately pricing them out.

What’s wrong with the current proposed Daily’s site plan?

The ongoing debate about the development of a Daily’s gas station in LaVilla isn’t about the proposed use. The primary community concern is about the lack of density and the potential approval of an autocentric site plan that will solidify a prominent block of the community as an autocentric, pedestrian hostile zone for decades to come.

Although the Daily’s Market is located at the intersection of Bay and Broad Streets, as currently proposed it fails to actively engage either street at the pedestrian level. In addition, the proposed site plan includes the construction of a surface parking lot – a parking crater – at the prominent intersection of West Forsyth and Broad Streets.

This is counterproductive and completely opposite of what the LaVilla community wants for their neighborhood. The community’s vision calls for the revitalization of Broad Street, Downtown Jacksonville’s primary Jim Cro-era Black business district, back into a pedestrian scale center of urban vibrancy and activity.

In Spring 2019, the Jacksonville City Council adopted a new zoning code for the Downtown Overlay Zone to promote and encourage revitalization and growth in downtown by:

  • Maximizing the use of all available resources
  • Ensuring a high degree of compatibility between new and existing uses
  • Promoting mixed-use developments
  • Promoting access to and focus on the St. Johns River and its tributaries
  • Streamlining the review and approval process for projects
  • Providing flexibility in both the uses allowed and the physical design of projects
  • Ensuring high-quality development that is in keeping with the traditional Downtown urban fabric, which creates a single zoning district for almost all Downtown properties (excluding Planned Unit Developments) into one Commercial Central Business District (CCBD) zone.

It is believed that the current site plan can be slightly modified to align with the LaVilla community’s vision for Broad Street and the intent of the Downtown Overlay code without resulting in a change to the proposed building footprint, number of dedicated parking spaces desired by Daily’s or number of ingress and egress points.

Here are the five simple steps to illustrate how this can be accomplished.

Step 1: Identify underutilized open space

According to Sec. 656.361.6.2 of the Downtown Overlay, establishment and support of the civic life of the street are important elements in the creation of a dynamic pedestrian-oriented downtown. Siting buildings at or near the right-of-way line, or the Private Realm edge, gives spatial definition to the Public Realm that is critical to supporting pedestrian activity.

Currently, a ten-foot continuous perimeter landscape buffer is included in the proposed Daily’s plan. Furthermore, the proposed Daily’s building lies twenty feet from the property line. Highlighted in yellow, neither are site design requirements in Downtown. If approved and constructed as illustrated, these spaces will become permanent dead zones void of pedestrian interaction and activity for decades to come.

Step 2: Shift building closer to property line

Shifting the building footprint fifteen feet south immediately results in a twenty-five-foot buffer between the parking lot and the intersection of Broad and Forsyth Streets. Moving the building ten feet closer to Broad Street would also create a twenty-foot buffer between the Jefferson Street property line and the internal parking lot and gas station canopy. By shifting the building’s footprint, we begin to set the stage for additional opportunities to enhance pedestrian interaction between this site, existing and future infill development in the surrounding urban community.

Step 3: Don’t forget about Forsyth Street

Later this year, the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA) will begin to implement the long planned two-way conversion of West Forsyth Street. As currently configured, this block of West Forsyth Street is underutilized and significantly wider than it needs to be. Highlighted in purple, if properly coordinated between the DIA and Daily’s, parallel parking could be reintroduced back to this block of West Forsyth Street.

Step 4: Relocate parking spaces at Broad and Forsyth

The inclusion of parallel parking along West Forsyth Street not only helps calm traffic on an important gateway into Downtown, it also allows for ten off-street parking spaces to be relocated from the intersection of Broad and Forsyth Streets. The result is a minimum fifty by one hundred-foot building pad at this prominent intersection.

While it would be great if Daily’s could construct this retail building as a part of the mixed-use infill development of this site, this is not necessary. What Daily’s won’t do, others will, as the outparcel can be made available for sale to other entities that embrace the concepts of mixed-use and additional density within LaVilla and downtown Jacksonville. The most important part of this site design solution is that the outparcel (developed immediately or not) eliminates the negative impact of a surface parking lot serving as a permanent dead zone at an important LaVilla intersection for decades to come.

Step 5: Outdoor sidewalk cafe-style seating

Sec. 656.361.6.2. also mentions that any setback permitted from the Build-To Line shall accommodate site-specific Urban Open Spaces or semi-private Urban Open Spaces. The goal is to maintain the urban character and streetscape edge and to support the integration and engagement of the public pedestrian corridors with the proposed public or semi-private Urban Open Space.

To better integrate with Daily’s market and brewery with the public realm along Broad Street, we recommend outdoor seating be added for customers that select not to drink craft beer or eat their sandwiches on the upper levels of the Daily’s market. Most suburban Daily’s gas stations have outdoor seating, so this should not be viewed by the Daily’s team or DDRB as an over-the-top request in a downtown environment.

What this looks like

A current rendering of the proposed Daily’s project.

Daily’s plan along Broad Street with community recommendations added.

These simple, common sense steps are intended to align the Daily’s project with the greater vision for this important downtown corridor. Instead of the being Daily’s version of Busy Bee or a Cracker Barrel (retail + restaurant uses sharing the same entrances and back of house), this block of Broad Street is transformed into a full downtown block of pedestrian activity and small business and economic development.

Ultimately, if the DDRB can see the vision of the LaVilla Neighborhood Development Strategy through, LaVilla’s Broad Street will visually resemble the scene pictured below as opposed to Brooklyn’s Riverside Avenue.

The High Street corridor through the Short North neighborhood in Columbus, OH is an urban street that features a mix of preserved historic buildings and compatible infill development. Combined, the result is several continuous blocks of pedestrian friendly interactive uses and spaces.

Editorial by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at