Activating Jacksonville's Riverfront

About the Project

In 2021, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund convened a group of experts to explore what it will take to create a vibrant, active downtown riverfront for the benefit of all of Jacksonville's residents and visitors. The project has included extensive community conversations, stakeholder workshops, and public presentations.

The plans, recommendations, and interventions contained in the final Activation Plan have been informed by hundreds of hours of conversation between April 2021 and June 2022 with stakeholders from across Jacksonville’s neighborhoods.

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Explore the Activation Plan

    Research and Public Input

    Partners & Collaborators

    Project lead:

    • DVDL, an agency of cultural forecasters working with cultural institutions and public spaces around the country, leading the project and development of the activation plan.

    Project partners: 

    • Groundwork Jacksonville, leading the community engagement work in their capacity as our city's nonprofit trust dedicated to creating a more walkable, liveable community. We share that goal, and the Emerald Trail and inclusive waterfront public spaces are both important steps to achieving it.
    • WXY, a New York-based design and planning firm. Project partner on design and public space planning.
    • JLP+D, a funding strategy and development firm. Project partner on governance strategy and funding recommendations.

    Project collaborators:

    In the News


    Upcoming Events


    Phase One

    Throughout the spring and summer of 2021, DVDL and partners have worked through a series of frameworks, tasks and conversations, including:

    • meeting with community leaders, including next-generation representatives, for group conversations and one-on-one interviews;
    • benchmarking against comparable projects around the country and the world;
    • launching a series of programs to engage residents in these discussions, including tours of the waterfront and community meetings; and
    • distributing a city-wide survey on public space usage, cultural institutions and well-being among Jacksonville residents.

    Initial design and activation recommendations took into account the learnings from each of these work streams, and were presented to the public on October 19. View the meeting recording and presentation here.

    Phase Two

    Following the release of the completed Activation Plan in August 2022, project partners are entering a second phase of work: the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, Downtown Investment Authority and other partners are working with the City of Jacksonville to explore real, actionable next steps. We hope to begin implementing pilots and experiments on the river soon.


    Meet the members of our Task Force, Activation Coalition and NextGen stakeholder groups!

    Task Force

    Activation Coalition


    Engagement and Events


    Why is the Jessie Ball duPont Fund involved in this work?

    Our work in Jacksonville—including grantmaking, funding research, and convening community partnerships—is designed to create spaces where the members of our community feel they truly belong. An important part of that work is expanding access to shared community spaces that reflect the diverse identity of our city.

    To that end, we are helping to convene conversations to see how we might accommodate as broad a segment of wishes and desires for the Jacksonville waterfront as possible. Working with community leaders, we plan to gather input at the neighborhood level, build on prior work, and use what we learn to build consensus on how best to bring the Northbank and Southbank to life.

    Why are public spaces so important?

    Public spaces have the potential to bring together residents from all walks of life; in that way, we also have a responsibility to make them as inclusive as possible.

    When designed and activated in a way that feels welcoming and exciting, these are places that foster health, equity, dialogue and social connection for residents and visitors.

    In order for public space to be successful, there must be a diverse slate of activities throughout all seasons and time of day. The culture and history of the community should be felt and be visible, and spaces should allow for flexible uses in the future.

    What is an activation plan? How will it complement and soften planned commercial and residential development along the riverfront? How will it promote green space, trees, native plants, and resiliency?

    The Riverfront Activation Plan is first and foremost about bringing people and energy to the downtown waterfront. The focus of the Activation Plan is on programs, activities, and events for and by all residents, and what is required to fund, run, and maintain these in years to come. We have included recommendations for funding and governance that allows for flexibility and sustainability of successful events that attract large crowds.

    The design portion, which is not the main focus but important to support the recommended activities, has a strong emphasis on accessibility and connectivity.

    As part of recommending activities and programs, we have come up with ways to soften the hard concrete spaces along the river, and wrap any hardscaped activity spaces in green surroundings. We think of this activation process as the starting point for future, potentially larger, developments of green spaces along the river.

    What's the next step in this process? 

    This report is an important step in the process. It builds on the many prior plans, projects and visioning exercises for the riverfront, and goes further with recommendations for a public-private partnership to oversee progress. We are now in a second phase of work: the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, Downtown Investment Authority and other partners are working with the City of Jacksonville to explore real, actionable next steps. We hope to begin implementing pilots and experiments on the river soon.

    Are you dealing with both publicly owned land as well as privately owned?

    While we are focused on the publicly owned land, we believe that the successful activation of the riverfront is dependent on deliberate, planned interaction between the public and private spaces.

    What will be the role of "passive" opportunities along the riverfront? How do we ensure that we don't have a series of pocket parks with buildings in between? 

    In the Activation Plan, we consider the downtown riverfront as a whole, looking at both the north and south banks of the river. To create vibrancy and make sure people use the riverfront on a daily or weekly basis, a wide range of activities are proposed, ranging from passive, restorative “activities” like areas for picnicking and seating, to exercise facilitates, venues for performances, and also public services like food markets or a kiosk with educational information or other community resources.

    How will this plan serve the homeless?

    The goal of the Activation Plan is to create a vibrant riverfront which is welcoming and accessible to all, whether young or old, regardless of abilities or economic means, and regardless of whether someone is housed or unhoused. This requires thinking around basic amenities like restrooms and wash stations, as well as providing social services and opportunities on the riverfront.

    What is the role of City staff, City Council and Downtown Investment Authority, as well as riverfront landowners, in this planning process?

    We are in close conversation with the City of Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department, the Mayor’s Office, individual City Council members as well as City Council Commissions. We are also in close touch with the Downtown Investment Authority and other city-funded organizations that have an impact on the waterfront. Through our stakeholder groups, we are working closely with businesses and organizations operating along the riverfront. Additionally, we are working with groups like Riverfront Parks Now and local CDCs to take into account the concerns and interests of as broad a group of stakeholders as possible.

    Who is responsible for bringing all of the public and private resources together to bring these plans to fruition? 

    Currently multiple organizations are partnering to bring this initiative to fruition – looking at both the community’s desires for the riverfront and possible funding models.  Partners include the Downtown Investment Authority, City of Jacksonville, Jessie Ball duPont Fund, DVDL and Groundwork Jacksonville.

    Here To Help

    Sondra Fetner
    Director of Placemaking
    Send Email904-544-9533
    How do YOU use the Jacksonville Riverfront?
    Help us understand how you use and access the Downtown Riverfront today, and what you would like to see and do on the river in the future. Share your email address to enter to win a $100 or $200 gift card.

    Your input is critical to creating a vibrant riverfront for and by all.

    Kreyòl Ayisyen