Building Reuse Leads to More Vibrant Neighborhoods in Jacksonville

Across Jacksonville, neighborhoods with older and smaller buildings are outperforming newer neighborhoods along a variety of social and economic measures, according to a new study by the National Trust for Historic Places.

These older neighborhoods:

  • Provide more jobs in small businesses;
  • Are home to a higher proportion of creative industries;
  • Host a higher proportion of women and minority-owned businesses;
  • Are home to almost two-thirds of the city’s “civic spaces,” including 76 percent of libraries;
  • Have denser populations and are more likely to have residents of varying ages;
  • Have more robust tree canopies and shade.

“These neighborhoods generate enormous value for Jacksonville and there are many other older buildings that could add similar value,” said Sherry Magill, president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, which underwrote the study. “The key is overcoming the barriers to building reuse and encouraging the adaptive repurposing of existing structures.”

The study – Reuse and Revitalization in Jacksonville — was conducted during the past year by the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab, which promotes the connection between sustainability and historic preservation. Preservation Green Lab recognizes that the greenest building is the one that is already built and encourages communities to adapt and reuse existing commercial building stock.

In Jacksonville, 102,000 buildings are more than 50 years old – more than in any other Florida city. And in some communities, building reuse and adaptation is strong.

“Several older, close-in neighborhoods have become highly desirable,” the report states, “and others are experiencing significant new investment. Businesses are opening in formerly vacant structures and high-profile rehabilitations are underway or planned for downtown.”

In this respect, Jacksonville has much in common with dozens of other cities studied by Preservation Green Lab and chronicled in its Atlas of ReUrbanism ( ).

“Blocks in these neighborhoods are lined with smaller, mixed-age buildings with many older structures still in use. This variety provides space for a diverse and dense mix of residents and enterprises. Local businesses thrive in these neighborhoods, and the streets are full of activity, day and night….There was a time when areas like these were defined as blighted and even targeted for demolition through urban renewal. We now have the data to rewrite formulas about what makes a successful city. Instead of fodder for the bulldozer, blocks of older, smaller buildings are in fact valuable assets that should be stewarded carefully.”

The study focuses on “high character” neighborhoods – those with a larger number of older, smaller and mixed-age buildings. Think Riverside, San Marco, Murray Hill and the core downtown. “Low character” neighborhoods have larger, newer more monolithic structures. Think of the office parks that stretch throughout the Southside.

“Older, smaller buildings and mixed-age blocks support greater neighborhood livability, residential diversity and density, and economic vitality than newer, larger, similarly aged districts,” the report states. “They generate new jobs, host high proportions of jobs in Jacksonville’s creative sector, and provide space for small business owners of diverse backgrounds…. Older buildings punch above their weight class, by contributing extensively to the richness and vitality of Jacksonville’s urban life.”

The challenge for Jacksonville – like other cities – is to eliminate barriers that discourage reuse of existing buildings and redevelopment of older neighborhoods. To that end, Preservation Green Lab interviewed more than 30 local stakeholders to develop a set of recommendations for the City, developers, local neighborhood groups and community stakeholders to strengthen incentives for redevelopment and reuse, address regulatory barriers and build awareness and capacity for community-led projects.