Boyer seeks coordination in city waterways projects

Perhaps it could be considered a call to action. Although finding better ways to coordinate a citywide effort to enhance Jacksonville’s waterways in an inexpensive way was “not on her radar six months ago,” City Council President Lori Boyer is now rallying the troops to make it a priority.

Realizing “our natural assets are our greatest assets,” Boyer convened a meeting of St. Johns River stakeholders, city officials past and present, members of the Jacksonville Chamber and other river, ocean, and parks enthusiasts to find ways to better utilize the St. Johns River and Jacksonville’s other waterways without a duplication of effort. The meeting took place Nov. 3 at City Hall.

After describing the economic importance of the St. Johns River, the beach, the ocean, and the many river tributaries and their wilderness preserves to the Jacksonville community, Boyer said it is important the city “celebrate, market, and make more readily accessible to its residents and visitors,” the waterways that make Jacksonville so unique. “For too long we have failed to shape what waterways can do for our community,” she said.

Since she took over the job as Council President, Boyer said she has become aware of a need for a more “unified vision” in the city’s approach to its waterways projects so a better effort can be made to make the water accessible to all its citizens and tourists, not just those who own boats or waterfront property.

“This initiative was not on my radar six months ago, and it’s not my project, it’s yours. It’s something you’ve all been bringing to me in bits and pieces and all of a sudden I started to see a bigger picture.” she said, adding that studies already done by the city, nonprofits and other organizations suggest “remarkable consistency” and often “recommend the same thing over and over.”

Surrounding the perimeter of the Lynwood Roberts Room in City Hall during the meeting were easels holding maps and charts of the many waterway projects Boyer had become aware of during her tenure as City Council president. During the meeting, she said she hoped to learn of more.

“I’ve seen bursts of enthusiasm, very significant but disconnected wins, and no lack of opinions and studies,” she said. “We are making isolated decisions or no decisions at all. We have failed to bring our community and those who visit closer to the water,” she said noting that recreation, exercise, and enjoyment as it pertains to Jacksonville’s public waterways need to be looked at in a more thoughtful and visionary way.

“We can set the stage for how our unique waterways can help us build a stronger national identity centered on our national resources and all they offer. We can affect policy about how development happens on our waterways,” she said. “While an obvious focal point will be on our downtown waterfront, our vision and action must be county-wide. We must be intentional about our waterways and involving them in our daily lives.”

In comparing the many plans, Boyer said she noticed four things missing. The first was the importance of “coordination and the opportunity to be more than the sum of individual parts,” she said. “Many of our efforts are not necessarily connected in time or geography,” she said.

Secondly, she suggested her audience consider the quality of the experience. “The Northbank and Southbank Riverwalk are true assets as are parks and boat ramps, but they don’t provide the qualities in their current form to attract tourists or allow all our residents to walk those Riverwalks downtown,” she said. “We have an opportunity here to change from having a facility to having an experience.”

Thirdly, Boyer suggested her audience consider accessibility for all residents and visitors when taking on a waterways project. How do we make the views, trails, and concessions that rent kayaks and canoes available to everyone? she asked.

Lastly, she suggested the consideration of marketing and awareness. “The fact is we have not done a good job of telling the story of what we already have and what potential we have. There is a real mission here to communicate, not only to our citizens but also to those outside of our city of the fabulous opportunities there are in Jacksonville.”

Boyer said what she is suggesting is not expensive and requires no additional funding.  “There are dedicated resources that help us achieve many of these small ones,” she said. “There are opportunities to connect things we are already doing that don’t require an enormous financial commitment.”

Also speaking at the meeting were Margo Moehring of Northeast Florida Regional Council, Aundra Wallace of the Downtown Investment Authority, Mark Middlebrook, executive director of the Timucuan Parks Foundation, George Forbes, city manager of Jacksonville Beach and District 3 Councilman Aaron Bowman who discussed the specifics of a few ongoing projects throughout the county.

“Today we begin the process of positioning, coordinating and building,” Boyer said. “It will require patience, discipline, collaboration, creativity and your expertise. I would like each of you to commit your time, talent and to make a commitment on behalf of the city,” she said encouraging those in attendance and in the community to sign up for a host of river-related groups and subcommittees.

Some of the topics covered by the groups are identification and prioritization of public parks, docks, and boat ramps, including private facilities; signage, dredging, strategic land acquisition, identification of private opportunities for business investment, activation through clubs and park programs, zoning maps for the waterways, beautification, funding, coordination and continuity, advocacy.

Topics that are not part of her waterways initiative include entertainment programming such as weekend festivals, event coordination, large-scale private developments, and water quality except as a secondary impact, she said. 

To sign up for a group, contact Carolyn Clark, senior director, Urban Land Institute of North Florida at [email protected]

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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