Hemming Plaza: Applying Best Practices to Jacksonville’s Downtown Plaza

As the discussion surrounding Hemming Plaza heats up with tomorrow’s meeting to discuss the restriction of games in the park, Downtown Vision, Inc. (DVI) wanted to weigh in on some possible solutions for revitalizing and re-energizing the park.

In January 2012, DVI made a presentation to the Hemming Plaza Ad Hoc Committee regarding best practices in urban parks and how these might be applied to Hemming Plaza.  You can view the presentation here.

Our goals for Hemming Plaza are to create an atmosphere that makes the urban park attractive to the entire community and to leverage the economic impact of a positive, active urban park space.

Best practices in urban parks tend to fall into three categories:

  1. Make the space clean, safe and attractive;
  2. Create events and activities to bring visitors to the park; and
  3. Redesign the space based on how the community wants to use it.

With regard to making the area clean, safe and attractive, those who manage the park should:

  • Improve park maintenance;
  • Strictly enforce park rules and city ordinances;
  • Provide visible, active police or security presence;
  • Maintain landscaping and clear sightlines; and
  • Improve lighting.

A key component of successful urban parks is creating events and activities that attract visitors. These activities can include:

  • Programming small, free or inexpensive activities, such as garden clubs, book mobiles, pet adoption, small lunch concerts, art and exercise classes, reading rooms;
  • Partnering with other organizations to bring events to the park – make it easy, such as MOCA’s recent “Park Your Art” event;
  • Attract high-quality kiosk retail, such as a cafés or coffee shops;
  • Improve vendor quality and variety; and
  • Use event fees and percentage of sales revenues to offset cost of maintenance and operation of park.

Design is a critical component of creating welcoming spaces and the public’s safety concerns should drive the park’s design. Successful urban parks have included the following design elements:

  • Use moveable seating; spread out limited stationary seating to reduce crowding;
  • Use softscape (plants and flowers) instead of hardscape.

Dan Biederman, president of the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation and a widely respected expert on revitalization of urban parks had the following to say about park design, “Create a space where women want to be – they are an indicator of the safety and success of a public space.”

These strategies have proven successful throughout the country, with Houston’s Market Square Park being a good example, as you’ll see in the presentation. Before implementing new rules and regulations, the City should ensure that existing rules and regulations be enforced and implement relatively low-cost incremental improvements that can spur activity and revitalization in Hemming Plaza.

Please share your ideas on revitalizing Hemming Park in our comments section. We want to hear from you!


If you’re interested in learning more or making your voice heard, you can attend the Hemming Plaza Ad Hoc Committee meeting, tomorrow, Tuesday 10/23 at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, City Council Conference Room A (please note new location), 4th floor.