As interest in Jacksonville's historic inner neighborhoods grows, terms like Urban Core, Downtown and even Downtown Core are becoming common parts of local parlance. But what exactly do these terms refer to? Here are some definitions.
The Urban Core, sometimes known as the Old City, has emerged as a distinct part of town, along the lines of Westside, Northside, Southside, Arlington, and the Beaches. Definitions can vary, but the most usual one includes everything within Jacksonville’s old city limits before city-county consolidation in 1968. This 30-square-mile area encompasses most neighborhoods that were developed by 1932 (the last time the city limits had expanded) — everything from Riverside-Avondale and San Marco north to Panama Park, and west into the old Westside.
This definition is useful because it distinguishes between two phases of Jacksonville’s development. Urban Core neighborhoods are older and followed a traditional development pattern with a gridded street network. They were designed to be comparatively dense and mixed use, with multimodal streets allowing for cars, pedestrians, bikes and transit. Development patterns changed considerably after World War II. Neighborhoods developed since then — the bulk of Jacksonville — are mostly auto-centric. They have no gridded streets and are characterized by wide arterial roads, limited access subdivisions, strip malls, and office parks, which mostly must be accessed by car.
Highlighting the Urban Core as a discreet area with its own identity is helpful in determining its planning and development needs, which are different than those of the suburbs. To build on its strengths, the Urban Core will benefit most from urban-oriented planning that focuses on walkability, connectivity, and public transit.
Downtown is the heart of the city, but it has multiple definitions that are in common use. Historically, “downtown” only referred to the Downtown Core, also known as the Northbank, which is bounded roughly by the St. Johns River to the south, Liberty Street and Hogans Creek to the east, State Street to the north, and approximately Jefferson Street to the west. Over time, the city government expanded the official limits of Downtown to incorporate adjacent neighborhoods.
The city government now defines downtown as the entire Central Business District, a relatively large area spanning 4 square miles. This area includes LaVilla, Brooklyn, the Stadium District and the Southbank across the river. By this definition, downtown’s official borders are I-95 to the south and west, State Street to the north, and the St. Johns River to the east. The city government uses this definition for various zoning and planning purposes.
City planning agencies have also divided the broader downtown into smaller districts, such as the Central Civic Core, the Cathedral District, and the Riverfront.
When talking about revitalizing downtown, it’s important to make a distinction between the Downtown Core and the wider Downtown CBD. The Downtown Core is the walkable heart of the city. It’s where most of the employers, government facilities, and various amenities are located. The broader Downtown CBD is so large and spread out that developments in one district may not have a major impact on the rest. While attractions within easy walking distance help generate foot traffic and energy for each other, those separated by miles don’t.
Downtown Improvement District
There are still other definitions of Downtown. The Downtown Improvement District is a 90-block area comprising the central part of the Downtown Core where most business are located, as well as part of the Southbank. The district is administered by nonprofit Downtown Vision, Inc. with the intention of bolstering businesses in the district.