Candidates for withintrification in Urban Jacksonville
A forgotten street in an area near Durkeeville once known as Sugar Hill.
One in six Americans live in economically distressed communities. As a result, the country’s economic growth depends on a limited number of communities. At the same time, in stocks and mutual funds alone, U.S. investors hold trillions of dollars in unrealized capital gains, a significant untapped economic development resource.
With this in mind, as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Congress established a new community development program now known as Opportunity Zones to drive private sector investment into low-income communities. Through Opportunity Funds that invest at least 90 percent of their capital in Opportunity Zones, investors can receive tax incentives on their unrealized capital gains ranging from temporary deferral to permanent exclusion from taxable income of capital gains.
The federal government has designated 8,700 census tracts across the country as Opportunity Zones, including 427 in Florida. Of the 19 opportunity zones in Duval County, three are historically disenfranchised neighborhoods on the edge of Downtown: the Eastside, Mixtontown and Durkeeville. Now attractive areas for investment, all are positioned to either lose their history, culture and identity to gentrification, or benefit from withintrification.
Platted in 1869 and originally known as Oakland, the Eastside attracted freedmen after the Civil War with its working class housing and employment opportunities at sawmills and docks along the St. Johns River. Many residents were Gullah Geechee, descendants of Africans enslaved on the lower Atlantic coast’s rice, indigo and Sea Island cotton plantations. Initially, housing comprised single and double shotgun houses that reflected African building traditions. Significant historical figures associated with the Eastside include Asa Philip Randolph, Zora Neale Hurston, Sallye B. Mathis, Princess Laura Adorkor Koffi, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, Joseph E. Lee, James Weldon Johnson, John Rosamond Johnson and Bullet Bob Hayes.
Located adjacent to the Sports and Entertainment District, the Eastside is positioned to take advantage of proposed developments including Shad Khan’s Lot J, a new soccer stadium for the Jacksonville Armada, and the mixed-use rehabilitation of the old Duval County Armory and Union Terminal Company Warehouse. Eastside residents have an opportunity to benefit from these proposals rather than being displaced by them, if the city places priority on involving them in the decision making affecting their neighborhood. One positive sign that Eastside is primed for withintrification is the growth of active community organizations. According to the Historic Eastside Community Development Corporation, the vision for the community is to become a hub for black owned businesses and culture.
Mixontown developed as a Reconstruction-era extension of neighboring Brooklyn. A collection of subdivisions cut off from Riverside and Brooklyn by the construction of the interstate system, Mixontown’s oldest section was platted in 1875 by Miles Price, the developer of Brooklyn.
Following the Great Fire of 1901, Mixontown became a popular destination due to its many employment opportunities available at nearby railyards and manufacturing plants. By 1913, Sanborn maps indicate the working class community had been largely built out with small predominately one-story shotgun houses, churches and bungalow courts. Maps also show a bustling compact commercial district along the former Edison Avenue streetcar corridor.
After suffering the negative effects of industrial contamination and general decline since the mid-20th century, Mixontown is poised to take part in the redevelopment happening around Jacksonville’s Urban Core. It will soon witness the restoration of McCoys Creek and the construction of an Atlanta Beltline-type linear trail and park system connecting the neighborhood with the downtown riverfront. Developers have already started acquiring properties, potentially endangering the historic integrity of Mixontown’s built environment and authentic architectural building stock. Historic preservation and measures to include current residents may be the difference between Mixontown becoming a thriving place for current residents, or being erased and replaced.
Situated on the opposite side of Interstate 95 from Downtown Jacksonville, Durkeeville is a historic neighborhood established for Jacksonville’s rapidly growing black middle class during Jim Crow. Development began in 1902 and continued on a significant plot owned by Dr. Jay H. Durkee, scion of a prominent family who had come to Jacksonville from New York after the Civil War. The Durkees initially envisioned their property serving industrial and railroad uses, but when those plans they developed it to accommodate Jacksonville’s African American professionals unable to live in affluent white neighborhoods.
Home to pedestrian friendly Myrtle Avenue, a historic baseball park, and the S-Line Urban Greenway, Durkeeville is within walking distance of Springfield, UF Health Jacksonville and the increasingly popular Rail Yard District. A portion of the neighborhood recently became Jacksonville’s first black community to be designated as a National Register of Historic Places history district. Platted between 1934 and 1944, the Durkee Gardens Historic District is dominated by the Minimal Traditional architectural style and a lasting reminder of the quality work of African-American architects and builders.
The establishment of the Durkee Gardens Historic District will be an asset for Durkeeville as a whole as residents attempt to ensure they aren’t excluded from the benefits of investment in the area. Combined with landmarking individual properties, the historic district is a significant tool that can aid in preserving the neighborhood’s irreplaceable building stock and built environment.