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Benjamin Ross To Discuss The 'Rebirth Of American Urbanism' In Downtown Jax

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Now that the 2014 One Spark festival has concluded, what comes next for downtown Jacksonville? The five-day crowd-funding festival drew thousands of people downtown and marked opening of new bars in the city's "Elbow" entertainment district.

Melissa Ross spoke to author and activist Benjamin Ross about the future of downtown Jacksonville and what actions other cities are taking to revitalize their metropolitan areas.

Ross said that the thirst for a lively downtown is typical of what’s happening all around the country, but the problem is that the land-use control system has not been fulfilling the thirst. Specifically, he said there is a clash of value systems.

“There is something that various social and economic forces created over the last century, a preference for single-family houses and driving,” Ross said.

“We have a new generation, along with many people in my age group, who really want that old style of walkable neighborhoods, but we have the preference for the single-family house and the car built into our laws.”

Ross wants to figure out how to fix this somewhat contradictory system. He said an important key is the re-building of rail-transportation, which brings people downtown on foot.

“That is the trigger that revitalizes,” Ross said. “[It] gets everything else going, revitalizes the streets, gets businesses going and it’s also the political base for change.”

Ross said that the economic base is there, but the important political base is lacking.

An improved rail system may be seen as a challenge to many Jacksonville officials due to the city’s large stretch of landmass.

Ross said it’s important to think big, he used the example of Los Angeles’s 30-year plan. The city will spend 30 years of sales tax revenue in 10 years to build new light-rail lines and an underground subway extension.

“It’s a much more walking city than it was 20 years ago,” Ross said. “This new plan that is already started construction will transform the city into something where you can basically get around by rail.”

Ross will speak about this topic and reference his book, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, at Jacksonville's downtown Main Library on Wednesday, April 16.

You can follow Melissa Ross @MelissainJax and Lindsey Kilbride @lindskilbride.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.