Downtown Jacksonville’s former City Hall Annex and Duval County Courthouse site

Simple observation shows that Downtown Jacksonville, current population about 4,800, doesn’t have enough residents, workers or visitors to drive a thriving retail and entertainment scene on their own. For years, advocates have pushed for the city to bring more residential development downtown in hopes of increasing vibrancy, and according to the local folk wisdom, Downtown needs to reach 10,000 people to hit that goal. This is the impetus for the Jax Chamber’s DT10K initiative, and various city leaders have gotten on board.

While Downtown Jacksonville needs all the new residents it can get and 10,000 people would be a great start, the concept misses one key thing: population density. Vibrancy is much less a matter of sheer population than about how many of those people are living close together in a walkable setting, sustaining energy in a compact setting. In Jacksonville’s case, even adding 10,000 people across Downtown would not greatly increase our population density. In fact, it would still be far lower than any other major Florida city as well as peer cities like Charlotte, Indianapolis, Nashville, or Austin.

The issue is that like the city as a whole, Downtown Jacksonville is really, really big.

The background

On the map of Downtown Jacksonville’s overlay, the highlighted area including the Central Core, Cathedral District, and Church District roughly corresponds to the Northbank core.

The city’s official boundaries for “Downtown” have grown over time. Originally, Downtown referred only to the historical center of the city, now called the Downtown Core or Northbank, bounded approximately by the St. Johns River to the south, Hogans Creek to the east, State Street to the north, and LaVilla to the west. In the city’s current Downtown overlay, this corresponds roughly to the area now designated the Central Core, Cathedral District, and Church District, about about .6 square miles.

Over time, the city expanded Downtown’s official boundaries to include adjacent neighborhoods. Eventually, LaVilla, Brooklyn, the Southbank, and the area that’s now the stadium district were included under the city’s official Downtown, or Central Business District (CBD). This area is very large, about 3.9 square miles. Additionally, much of it isn’t particularly compact or walkable - notably, reaching the Southbank from the rest of Downtown requires crossing the St. Johns River by bridge or boat. By contrast, most downtowns in Jacksonville’s peer cities range around 1 to 2 square miles.

This affects Jacksonville’s downtown vibrancy in a few ways. For one thing, amenities and new developments in areas considered part of “Downtown” are often very spread out. Adding residents in Brooklyn or the stadium district, for instance, is unlikely to have a major impact on the Northbank core a mile or more away from either. Many of Jacksonville’s peer cities have also undertaken initiatives to increase downtown residential growth, but because they’re concentrated in smaller areas, the cities have reached far higher population densities and opportunities for clustering. In fact, a quick look shows that most of Florida’s major cities and most of Jacksonville’s peers have higher densities today than Jacksonville would attain even with 10,000 people.

Comparing density

Miami’s Brickell Financial District.

Downtown Jacksonville

  • Size: 3.9 square miles
  • Population: 4,800
  • Population density: 1,231 people per square mile
  • Population density at 10,000 residents: 2,564 people per square mile

Downtown Tampa

  • Size: 1.2 square miles
  • Population: 8,152
  • Population density: 6,793 people per square mile
  • Source

Downtown Orlando

  • Size: 2.6 square miles
  • Population: 16,718
  • Population density: 6,430 people per square mile
  • Source

Downtown Miami

  • Size: 1.9 square miles
  • Population: 67,879
  • Population density: 35,726 people per square mile
  • Source

Downtown Fort Lauderdale

  • Size: 1.6 square miles
  • Population: 5,936
  • Population density: 3,710 people per square mile
  • Source

Uptown Charlotte

  • Size: 2.14 square miles:
  • Population: 30,000
  • Population density: 14,019 people per square mile
  • Source

Indianapolis Regional Center

  • Size: 6.5 square miles
  • Population: 28,130
  • Population density: 4,327 people per square mile
  • Source

Indianapolis “Mile Square”

  • Size: 1 square mile
  • Population: 6,670
  • Population density: 6,670 people per square mile
  • Source

Downtown Louisville

  • Size: Approximately 1.3 square miles
  • Population: 3,356
  • Population density: 2,582 people per square mile
  • Source

Downtown Nashville

  • Size: 1.8 square miles
  • Population: 13,000
  • Population density: 7,222 people square mile
  • Source

Downtown Austin

  • Size: 1 square mile
  • Population: 10,124
  • Population density: 10,124 people per square mile
  • Source

Downtown Greenville

  • Size: 1.84 square miles:
  • Population: 2,257
  • Population density: 1,254 people per square mile
  • Source

Downtown Oklahoma City

  • Size: 1.2 square miles
  • Population: 7,475
  • Density: 6,229 people per square mile Source

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