Neighborhood advocates, national experts gather for San Marco by Design event

Neighborhood advocates, national experts gather for San Marco by Design event

Dan Burden shares design insights with local officials


By Susanna P. Barton –
Resident Community News –

Representatives from San Marco Preservation Society, the Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida and Healthy Kids, Jacksonville/Blue Cross Blue Shield gathered at Southside Baptist Church last month to release findings of the San Marco by Design project, a yearlong study that looked at design parameters and strategies for the San Marco community. The group also welcomed Dan Burden, executive director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, who spoke at the event and shared his observations of the neighborhood during a walkabout through San Marco Square.
“Dan shared his insights on the plan and gave it a good review,” said Valerie Feinberg, director of urban planning for the Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida. The neighborhood mother of two boys also is active on the San Marco Preservation Society and authored the 64-page final report released this summer. “This plan is not one outcome, having neighborhood advocates is how things get accomplished.”
Students from Julia Landon College Preparatory and Leadership Development also presented their work on the Safe Routes to School project during the morning event.
The San Marco by Design report is a culmination of more than a year of community focus groups studying North San Marco’s transportation ,infrastructure, parks, schools, commerce and walkability. The final report is defined as a “Smart Growth Plan for North San Marco.” In addition to SMPS, the health planning council and Blue Cross, the report was sponsored by support from the City of Jacksonville Planning and Development Department, Baptist Hospital Systems, Regions Bank, Mike Balanky, Keith Kimbell, Eddie Fink and Robert Harris.
Former SMPS President and San Marco engineer, Doug Skiles, describes the project succinctly in the report.
“When San Marco Preservation Society contemplated this effort, we were very clear that we didn’t want another ‘great neighborhood plan’ that was going to sit on a shelf and collect dust. Many people were making a commitment of time and money to articulate a vision for the community — with development pressure easing, we felt it was an ideal time to pause and reflect on what makes our neighborhood special and to dream about what we would like it to become,” he said in the study’s forward. “It is important that we have strong support from our businesses and residents, so we have and will continue to reach out to hear those voices. We cannot be diligent enough to ensure this is a community vision, not just the goals of a select few.”
Feinberg said several initiatives have come out of the study. One of the first is Skiles’ effort to redesign traffic flow through San Marco Square as part of the final phase of the San Marco Streetscape project. In order to increase walkability and promote safer traffic flow, he proposed a plan to restructure traffic lights in the middle of the square and access to Atlantic Boulevard. Those plans are under consideration.
Another focus will be parking, as well as park improvements and addressing regulatory issues with the city’s planning department over time. Feinberg also is helping to spearhead a better mid-block crosswalk for Landon College Preparatory and Leadership Development students using Atlantic Boulevard. San Marco by Design’s focus on neighborhood walkability and Safe Routes to School helped bring small, but important community needs like crosswalks and sidewalks, into focus.
“We want to keep the conversations going,” Feinberg said. “This is a big puzzle with many pieces.”

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