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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT I would first like to express my gratitude to my committee chair, Professor Vandana Baweja, and co-chair, Professor Martha Kohen. Their guidance and advice carried me through all the stages of my project. The successful completion of my Master’s project wouldn’t have been possible without excellent mentorship and advice. I want to extend my sincere thanks to all the faculty members who have taught and inspired me. I would also like to thank my friends and classmates who became part of this journey; your support and input were greatly appreciated.

Most importantly, none of this would have been possible without the blessings of my parents, grandparents, and sister, who always offered encouragement and believed in me.

ABSTRACT The culture of each society is recognized through its various components such as language, art, and architecture. Architecture reflects the culture of every community interacting closely with society’s structural, historical, political, economic, and social features as a matter of human life. To preserve the essence of a place, the relationship between a site and the surrounding culture plays a significant role. The relationship with topography, climate, form, and context is a direct (measurable) factor, whereas culture and identity are indirect (unmeasurable) factors. This study will explore the relationship between these measurable and unmeasurable factors.

Jacksonville, Florida, is the largest cities in Northeast Florida and was established on the St. Johns River. During the 18th century, the city experienced an industrial boom, which made it a leading center of the railroad, construction, lumber, and maritime industries. During this period, many African Americans migrated to areas of Jacksonville, including the neighborhoods of LaVilla, Sugar Hill, and Brooklyn. This contributed to the development of LaVilla as a thriving African American community, often referred to as the ‘Harlem of the South’. However, the construction of Interstate 95, then the Jacksonville Expressway, and the reorganization of the railroad industry, along with urban renewal programs caused


historic neighborhoods like LaVilla and Brooklyn to decline. Downtown Jacksonville still bears the scars of these systematic urban deteriorations.

To improve the social and cultural amenities of its downtown and surrounding areas, the city is attempting to revitalize its business district and African American communities like La Villa, Brooklyn, and others. Numerous redevelopment projects have been proposed. This project will study the relationship of the city with Jacksonville Landing “the major urban epicenter”, which can attract people towards the heart of the city. Moreover, this study will explore the possibility of connecting LaVilla to the riverfront and Jacksonville landing.

Additionally, the project will suggest ways to develop the Jacksonville Downtown waterfront to encourage African American participation with cultural activities, as well as social equity and justice initiatives. The program will address various activities related to Jacksonville cultural, music, art, education, and community engagement.
























AFRICAN AMERICANS IN JACKSONVILLE In Florida, the largest concentrations of African Americans are found in Jacksonville. Although Blacks still struggle for political, social, and economic equality, they have become major players in Jacksonville politics, serving the community in roles such as a city council member, state legislator, and federal representative.1 There are many entrepreneurial success stories in this community. Much of modern Jacksonville was built between the 1940s and the 1960s. Jacksonville residents learned how the city could offer them economic and social opportunities. The civil rights struggle of African Americans opened new fronts making White America aware of the harsh realities in which African Americans lived.2 African Americans have overcome obstacles and adversity, and some have prospered, despite the difficulties encountered in obtaining political representation, adequate housing, desegregated schools, and economic opportunities.

In recent decades, Jacksonville has been the focus of research on topics related to urban

1 2

Abel A Bartley, Keeping the Faith: Race, Politics, and Social Development in Jacksonville, Florida, 1940-1970 (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2000), 15. Ibid.


history. Authors such as James Crook, Barbara Walch, Able Bartley, and Marsha Phelts, have written many informative monographs that explore the history of Jacksonville. Collectively they have explored the 1901 Jacksonville fire, the third largest urban fire ever to occur in the United States; the roles of Mary Singleton and Sallye Mathis: two pioneering African American women who broke ground with their elections to public office; the historic beach community of American Beach, and Black communities in Jacksonville.3

Jacksonville offers insights into racial relations in urban areas, where people of color are often viewed as anathema by Whites.4 The city has been home to African Americans for decades, who have developed alliances with some Whites.5 Jacksonville’s African American history is filled with names like Judge Joseph Lee, a Black Republican leader who was influential in local affairs.6 Furthermore, they had Eartha M. M. White, known as a spokesperson for African Americans and their causes. James Weldon Johnson and Rosamond Johnson, both natives of Jacksonville, wrote ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ considered the African American National Anthem. Martin Luther King Jr.’s forerunner, A. Philip Randolph was a labor leader from Jacksonville. During the city’s early days, African Americans were able to establish their own identities. These opportunities allowed them to become vital contributors to the community. By emphasizing education and relationships with the community, Jacksonville’s Black residents gained benefits not available to their counterparts in many Southern cities.

3 4 5 6


Ibid. Abel A Bartley, Keeping the Faith: Race, Politics, and Social Development in Jacksonville, Florida, 1940-1970 (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2000), 16 Ibid. Ibid.

The quality of African American leadership in Jacksonville sets it apart from other urban African American communities. In the South, Black cultural elites fought to gain political rights between 1945 and 1970. The list of African American leaders of the modern era is impressive. This includes people like Earl Johnson, Elcee Lucas, Frank Hampton, Porcher Taylor, Isadore Singleton, Mary Singleton, Sallye Mathis, Ernest Jackson, and others.7 Despite the large Black population and political influences, African Americans still struggled against the more powerful forces of systematic segregation and racial policies.





RACE AND URBAN PLANNING The policies and practices of mainstream institutions like criminal justice, public education, voting systems, and healthcare have traditionally oppressed African Americans and other people of color.1 The same can be said of urban planning policies, which implemented regulations that systemically perpetuated racism in cities and suburbs across the country that consistently worsened the overall situation.

Early Zoning Laws Local zoning rules adopted in the early twentieth century gave rise to some of the most egregious examples of racially discriminatory planning policies in the United States with the goal of imposing racial segregation. After the Supreme Court declared zoning rules that intentionally targeted African Americans to be unconstitutional in 1917, local governments retaliated by introducing their own set of indigenous exclusionary zoning laws that achieved


Al Bartolotta, “Urban Planning in the U.S. – Uncovering a Legacy of Racism,” Forward Pinellas (blog), August 13, 2020, https://forwardpinellas.org/transportationdisadvantaged/racism-in-urban-planning/.


the same goal without being overtly discriminatory.2

The historic 1926 Supreme Court ruling (Euclid v. Ambler) prompted a flurry of initiatives across the country, as amendments to local zoning regulations in many major cities established a precedent of employing exclusionary land development provisions to deny Blacks any access to government housing.3 Guidelines establishing minimum lot sizes and floor area limits, which led to a rise in housing costs, as well as the exclusion of multi-family buildings, were adopted by a number of towns around these cities.4 Such exclusionary zoning requirements keep are a vast majority of American communities racially segregated.

Another type of discriminatory land development regulation that emerged following the 1926 ruling came to be known as ‘expulsive zoning’, a phrase coined by urban planner and former MIT professor Yale Rabin.5 The rule strategically mandated the rezoning of predominantly black communities’ residential properties, which enabled incompatible land uses to disrupt and undermine the neighborhood’s stability. Rabin’s book, Expulsive Zoning: The Inequitable Legacy of Euclid gives examples of the practice, unequivocally implemented in more than 50 African American communities across the United States.6

These racially discriminatory zoning restrictions can be observed in the zoning map of 2 3 4 5 6


Ibid. Christopher Silver, “The Racial Origins of Zoning: Southern Cities from 1910–40,” Planning Perspectives 6, no. 2 (May 1, 1991): 190, https://doi.org/10.1080/02665439108725726 Ibid. Yale Rabin, “Expulsive Zoning: The Inequitable Legacy of Euclid,” Zoning and the American Dream: Promises Still to Keep 101 (1989): 107. Ibid.


1930 Jacksonville, Florida’s first zoning map. The dark green zone is called an unrestricted zone, implying there are no restrictions or guidelines for that area. These zoning regulations systematically degraded the African Americans’ neighborhood life, with examples like the sudden placement of slaughterhouses near a children’s play park or near residential areas could be quite easily found due to unrestricted zoning.7 Unrestricted zones also allowed the people in power to utilize any land in Black neighborhoods for any purpose without obtaining formal authorization. The absence of amenities and the weak fabric of the system were the direct results of early zoning policies, which downgraded every aspect of residential life in an African American neighborhood.8

Redlining Redlining maps were created in 1933, as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The New Deal was a series of economic relief programs and incentives intended to help the American people recover from the 1929 Great Depression, the effects of which lasted until 1939. As part of the New Deal, The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was established to provide mortgage insurance and loans. As a result, the Homeowners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) developed residential security maps, infamously known as Redlining.9 These maps assigned grades to residential neighborhoods that reflected color-coded maps.10 7

David Jones, “Legacy of the Redline: How Exclusionary Zoning Shaped Jacksonville’s Black Communities, Starting with the City’s First Zoning Map,” Firstcoastnews, October 12, 2020, sec. firstcoastnews,news,local. 8 Ibid. 9 Mark Pearcy, “‘ Redlining’: Teaching About Racial Residential Segregation.,” Virginia Social Science Journal 50 (2015): 40 10 Ibid.



Neighborhoods with a large population of Black residents were identified as ‘Red Zones,’ which the HOLC characterized as having an ‘undesirable population,’ denying them eligibility for federally secured loans. Furthermore, the FHA denied mortgages to Black people who sought better homes outside the redlined neighborhoods.

Redlining in Jacksonville By 1937, redline zoning had found its roots in Jacksonville. The African American communities were classified officially as too high-risk or “hazardous.” Properties in areas like northwest Jacksonville, Historic Eastside, and many others were reduced to nil in terms of market value, essentially shutting off any prospective investments.11 Brooklyn, LaVilla, Durkeeville, Moncrief, and the Eastside were redlined in Jacksonville’s Urban Core, as was Springfield, a White town surrounded by Black communities.12 African American homeowners were not eligible for mortgages, and hence, the homeowners could only expect to sell their properties to cash buyers at significantly less value. It even made them ineligible for home repair financing, causing their homes to deteriorate physically and contributing to already plummeting prices.13

Redlining became the prime reason for the wealth gap; the average wealth of the African

11 “Introduction to Redlining: What Is ‘Redlining’ and How Has It Impacted Jacksonville?,” Lisc Jacksonville, October 29, 2021, https://www.lisc.org/jacksonville/regionalstories/introduction-to-redlining-what-is-redlining-and-how-has-it-impactedjacksonville/. 12 Ibid. 13 Ibid.



American is significantly less than the average White citizen.14 Redlining was banned in the Fair Housing Act of 1968, but it continues to affect the lives of African Americans.15 The federal government played a significant role in creating the large wealth divide between Black and White households that exists today. A close inspection of the intersection of the 2021 poverty map and the redlining map of Jacksonville, shows the neighborhood under the hazardous or redlined zone is the one most affected by poverty. The most under-resourced areas in Jacksonville today are the same ones that were titled hazardous by the redline maps over a century ago.

Urban Renewal and Interstate Construction Urban renewal, otherwise dubbed as ‘Negro removal’ by renowned novelist James Baldwin, was another racially coded planning program implemented in the 1950s and 60s after the 1949 Housing Act was implemented.16 This law authorized cities to receive loans and incentives from the federal government to clear blighted neighborhoods. The same properties where African Americans resided were sold to private enterprises for redevelopment. Redevelopment projects like housing, especially for the middle-class White population, and institutions like hospitals, colleges, and civic centers, resulted from urban

14 David Jones, “Legacy of the Redline: How Exclusionary Zoning Shaped Jacksonville’s Black Communities, Starting with the City’s First Zoning Map,” Firstcoastnews, October 12, 2020, sec. firstcoastnews,news,local. 15 Mark Pearcy, “‘Redlining’: Teaching About Racial Residential Segregation.,” Virginia Social Science Journal 50 (2015): 40 16 Brent Cebul, “Tearing down Black America,” Boston Review, accessed March 13, 2022, https://bostonreview.net/articles/brent-cebul-tearing-down-black-america/.


renewal programs throughout the country.17

The 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act, also known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, worsened the displacement impact of urban renewal.18 President Dwight D. Eisenhower said the law was meant to build a modern, efficient highway system to serve the needs of the growing population, support the expanding economy, and contribute to national security.19 This occurred, but at the expense of African American neighborhoods and lives. It also assisted White families achieve their goals of moving from the cities to the suburbs, even as it demolished existing African American communities.

In his 2012 book, Changing Lanes: Visions and Histories of Urban Freeways, law professor Joseph DiMento wrote that “The idea was ‘let’s get rid of the blight,” which we consider thriving, multi-ethnic communities today.20 The 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act sanctioned the development of more than 40,000 miles of highways, connecting the country’s largest cities with the motorways that cut through primarily Black areas in the majority of them.21 Over a million Americans, primarily twithin the low-income Bblack population, were

17 Al Bartolotta, “Urban Planning in the U.S. – Uncovering a Legacy of Racism,” Forward Pinellas (blog), August 13, 2020, https://forwardpinellas.org/transportationdisadvantaged/racism-in-urban-planning/. 18 Ibid. 19 Ibid. 20 Joseph F. C. Dimento and Cliff Ellis, Changing Lanes: Visions and Histories of Urban Freeways (MIT Press, 2012). 21 Joseph Stromberg, “Highways Gutted American Cities. so Why Did They Build Them?,” Vox, May 14, 2015, https://www.vox.com/2015/5/14/8605917/highways-interstate-cities-history.


displaced alone in the first 20 years that highway construction occurred.22 Worsening things was the fact that there was no federal funding to relocate people whose homes were demolished.

The Jacksonville Expressway Authority, forerunner of the contemporary Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA),built a highway system that was a crucial factor in the city’s eventual collapse. Jacksonville’s first expressway alignments, proposed as early as 1945, were focused on historic African American neighborhoods with lowered property values, primarily due to redlining and systemic discriminatory municipal zoning policies.23 In addition, several paths were selected for urban renewal projects amidst new racial demarcation lines between the neighborhoods. The construction of highways such as the Jacksonville Expressway (now Interstate 95), Interstate 10, the 20th Street Expressway, the Haines Street Expressway, and the Mathews Bridge Expressway destroyed homes and diverted the traffic away from downtown streets, making economic survival difficult for the black population.24 Neighborhoods that once were minutes away from shops, parks, community centers, and libraries were cut in half by wide highways and lost their connections.25 Downtown Jacksonville’s population density was reduced substantially due to urban renewal programs and highway construction. 22 Alan Pyke, “Top Infrastructure Official Explains How America Used Highways to Destroy Black Neighborhoods,” accessed March 13, 2022, https://archive.thinkprogress.org/ top-infrastructure-official-explains-how-america-used-highways-to-destroy-blackneighborhoods-96c1460d1962/ 23 Ennis Davis, “Opinion: The Forgotten Factor behind Downtown Jax’s Struggles,” Jacksonville Today, December 8, 2021, https://jaxtoday.org/2021/12/07/theforgotten-factor-behind-downtown-jaxs-struggles/. 24 Ibid. 25 Ibid.


The Decline of Urban Core Jacksonville’s urban core population decreased significantly, as thousands of people were relocated due to the slow-moving reconstruction. Several government programs, like the G.I.


Bill, were initiated to provide homes and economic opportunities to White middle-class and lower-middle-class families.26 The Jacksonville Terminal closure, as well as the relocation of a Railway industry that once lined Bay Street and the St. Johns riverfront, contributed to downtown Jacksonville’s decline. Statistically speaking, Jacksonville’s population of 204,275 people was significantly less than that of Black-dominated Duval County, with a total population of 304,029 in 1950. 27

Many critics blame the 1968 Consolidation of the City of Jacksonville and Duval County for Jacksonville’s downfall and ongoing struggles. This downturn, however, was not specific to Jacksonville, as it had begun years before Consolidation, and many U.S. towns were experiencing similar issues.28 On the other hand, Consolidation could be a key reason behind obscuring the extent of deterioration in the urban core, as the population of these historic neighborhoods continued to decline over the next 60 years, in contrast with that of thriving Duval County in its proximity.29

The effects of over a hundred years of systematic segregation of African Americans and their neighborhoods through discriminatory urban planning policies can still be felt today.30 Local bus systems are grossly underfunded compared to highway investments,

26 Ibid. 27 Ibid. 28 James B. Crooks, Jacksonville: The Consolidation Story, from Civil Rights to the Jaguars, 1st edition (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004). 29 Ibid. 30 Al Bartolotta, “Urban Planning in the U.S. – Uncovering a Legacy of Racism,” Forward Pinellas (blog), August 13, 2020, https://forwardpinellas.org/transportationdisadvantaged/racism-in-urban-planning/.


except in certain bigger urban regions with established transit networks. The Euclidean Zoning Regulations of the 1930s, still in use today, fomented the widespread segregations of the auto-centric land use patterns in the United States that have kept Black people out of the suburbs.31 The scarcity of affordable housing for medium and low-income families and the displacements triggered by urban renewal programs in metropolitan areas continue to affect African American families.

31 Ibid.





HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOOD OF LAVILLA The Arrival of African Americans Around the early 18th century, African Americans moved south to Florida to escape slavery. The LaVilla neighborhood was one of the earliest urbanized Gullah Geechee communities created outside of Georgia and South Carolina that readily welcomed immigrants from the neighboring states.

Following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, LaVilla became a focal point for African American men freed from slavery. The African American Union troops stationed at LaVilla provided people there with a sense of security.1 The Freedmen’s Bureau had an office in LaVilla that offered various services to the recently freed people. During the early years of post-war Reconstruction, the presence of organizations like these helped build a social anchor that drew new African American migrants from Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas.


Patricia Kenney, “Lavilla, Florida, 1866-1887: Reconstruction Dreams and the Formation of a Black Community,” UNF Graduate Theses and Dissertations, 1990, 1. https://digitalcommons.unf.edu/etd/699


LaVilla became an official part of Jacksonville in 1866, with a population of approximately 1,100 people, over 70% of whom were African Americans.2

With a train station and access to the St. John’s River, LaVilla grew into an important commercial center in the Southeastern United States. As an agglomeration economy built around timber, construction, and the booming winter resort industry, job opportunities in Jacksonville grew exponentially. 3

2 3


Ibid. Ibid, 32.

Developing as a African American community The Cookman Institute was formed in the early 1870s to provide higher education to the recently freed African American men, women, and children. As LaVilla’s economy expanded throughout the 1880s, it provided more commercial and manufacturing work to people, and the Institute contributed to the development of an increasingly professional and competent African American workforce.

In his autobiography, Along This Way, LaVilla native James Weldon Johnson wrote “long after the close of the Reconstruction period Jacksonville was known far and wide as a good town for Negroes.”4 It had significant social and political autonomy since local churches, schools, and clubs benefitted from a growing African American population. They began forming their own enterprises and companies, playing a more active role in their community’s politics throughout the Reconstruction Era.

Even so, African Americans in LaVilla remained at risk because of poverty, health problems, and exclusion from a socioeconomic system that favored privileged White people. Jacksonville annexed LaVilla in 1887, increasing its tax base to meet mounting infrastructural demands.5 Along with Jim Crow laws, the annexation shattered African American political influence in LaVilla, reasserting White, aristocratic interests in the Jacksonville region.6 4 5


James Weldon Johnson, Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson (Penguin Group USA, 1990). Patricia Kenney, “Lavilla, Florida, 1866-1887: Reconstruction Dreams and the Formation of a Black Community,” UNF Graduate Theses and Dissertations, 1990, 1. https://digitalcommons.unf.edu/etd/699 Ibid.


Residents of LaVilla concentrated on improving their social and cultural resources in the absence of governmental representation. After surviving the 1901 fire, Jacksonville’s LaVilla witnessed a cultural renaissance in the early twentieth century.

Culture and social dynamics What was known as The Line on Ward Street, now Houston Street, held four blocks of bordellos serving as Jacksonville’s Red-Light District. Nearby Ashley Street provided music as the region’s core for ragtime, blues, and jazz performances.7 These two streets were critical places that supported cultural growth in LaVilla.

The Line was partly developed out of Jacksonville’s contempt for sex workers, driving them out of city boundaries and into the suburbs. Because of its strategic location between the railway station and Jacksonville’s downtown center, Ward Street in LaVilla was a perfect match for bars, billiards, boutique hotels, and bordellos.8 Prominent madams like Cora Crane employed musicians to play in their parlors to cover sounds from activities connected with bordello operations. The strategic investment in the music community aided in promoting the neighborhood’s musical culture and influencing Ashley Street’s growth as a significant blues and jazz music destination.9


Peter Dunbaugh Smith, A Cultural History of the First Jazz and Blues Communities

in Jacksonville, Florida, 1896-1916: A Contribution of African Americans to American Theatre (Edwin Mellen Press, 2015). 8 Ibid. 9 Jennifer Graham, “LaVilla,” Celebrating Our History (blog), September 25, 2018, https://uncoveringjax.wordpress.com/lavilla/.


Jacksonville and New Orleans were cultural exchange partners mainly due to the train links between the two cities, especially to the west, notably for the African American artists. As Jacksonville became more segregated, LaVilla, notably Ashley Street, became a popular stop for touring African American artists.10 Genovar Hall, which still stands today, was a home to Black-owned businesses such as Lenape Bar & Tavern, one of Ashley Street’s most prominent live music venues where artists like Dizzie Gillespie, Billie Holiday, James Brown, and a young Ray Charles performed.

10 Ibid.


Segregation and deterioration LaVilla, like many other cities across the country, suffered a severe decline in population and the quality of life afforded residents in the second part of the twentieth century, as World War II ravaged the global and U.S. economy. The Jacksonville Expressway system was one of the first projects developed near the end of that war, with routes expressly designed to impede the expansion of ‘blight’.11 The expressway’s initial segment, constructed in 1958, served as a fracture barrier along the western side of LaVilla.

River City Renaissance The River City Renaissance (RCR) Plan of the early 1990s, aimed to restore downtown Jacksonville. The urban strategy was properly centered on acquiring and clearing several acres of land for future development.Jacksonville residents today cherish many of the development initiatives that originated with the RCR plan, that include the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, the restoration of the Ritz Theatre, and the upgrades to the Jaguars stadium. However, it demolished many of the neighborhood’s historic structures without any solid plans to redevelop the area. Abandoned, overgrown properties and outlying office complexes now characterize LaVilla.12

11 Ennis Davis, “5 Disastrous Urban Renewal Failures | Modern Cities,” October 19, 2017, https://www.moderncities.com/article/2017-oct-5-disastrous-urban-renewalfailures-page-2. 12 Ibid.


After the great fire in 1901, Jacksonville recuperated rapidly. The figure-ground of 1903 indicates the rhythm of the shotgun houses at the neighborhood scale.

1903 Even though many African Americans moved northward in search of opportunity, Lavilla continued growing due to the increased employment created by railroad expansion.

1924 LaVilla reached its height in the 1950s. A combination of urban renewal, infrastructural change, the construction of I-95, and the reorganization of the railroad industry caused the neighborhood to decline.

1962 As part of Jacksonville’s urban renewal plans, historic neighborhoods such as LaVilla and Brooklyn were destroyed. In 1996, the remains of LaVilla were razed as part of the River City Renaissance plan. Residential, commercial, and mixed-use developments are planned for these vacant areas.




ARCHITECTURE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE Through the years, architects have explored how architecture can shape social processes by providing a framework for the development of society’s physical, social, psychological, political, economic, and even cultural structures. The failure of architecture to effect social processes is partially responsible for the degradation of communities. To bring a sense of loss into the social conscience of architecture, social justice is theorized as a way to make architecture more responsible for the consequences of inadequate design. Recognizing what is being addressed is vital to understanding social justice. Fainstein (2010) writes that “the term injustice refers to the disposition of obtrude values on a context with awareness; such dispositions include imposing social, political, economic, and cultural disparities.” 1

How do architecture and social justice relate to each other? Soisson (2020) finds that the moral principle of social justice states that “everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities.”2 In the same way, architecture is also looking for

1 2

Susan S Fainstein, The Just City (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010). Michael Soisson, “What Is Social Justice?,” Social Justice Class Papers, November 30, 2020, 1 https://scholarlycommons.obu.edu/sjus/35.


a method to accomplish its purpose, transforming the architect into a philosopher when developing a method to address injustice or inequality, since these are problems that cannot be addressed with definite methods. Illustrated precedent studies in this chapter show how architects represent social justice and equity through design.

Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership “The challenge of designing a building from the ground up that fosters discussion and renders this work visible and welcome to all is in many ways unprecedented. The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership aims to bring social justice topics up from the basement and squarely into public consciousness.” — Studio Gang3

Informal settings have historically been a stronghold of social justice issues.4 Social justice, a topic of great importance that has run into barriers from the start, is no exception, with the most critical civil rights gatherings taking place in forlorn locations.

At the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, iIts spatial layout, design, and site context create an environment that promotes free speech and encourages social change among young adults. With two sides accessing a part of the campus or the city, the building

3 4


“Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership,” accessed March 11, 2022, https:// studiogang.com/project/arcus-center-for-social-justice-leadership. Ibid.

grows in a Y-shape, naturally on-site through the contours of the space.5 Although the exterior appears concave and pushed inwards toward the nexus, the space inside is open and welcoming. Spaces formed through ideation drive the messages a structure tries to impart. The informal public meeting area is a highlight of urban placemaking, opening to the campus and serving as a transitional space as well. By integrating a stairway and ramp, a simple gesture reiterates the message of equality and eschews segregation.




By creating a space where voices can intersect, the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership demonstrates that equality is a priority and addresses all facets of social transformation. According to Jeanne Gang, its objective is to bring human rights issues out of the shadows and into the spotlight through altruistic design.6





The National Memorial for Peace and Justice Over the last century, racial terror, lynching, and segregation plagued American cities. Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in the United States, contributing to increased migration out of the South and fostering an environment of segregation and racial subordination for decades.7 Inadequate discussion about lynching and its legacy continues to haunt ongoing struggles about exclusion, and discrimination. During the period from Reconstruction through the Second World War, the Equal Justice Initiative documented over 4,000 cases of lynching across a dozen southern states.8 This work acknowledges the need for a memorial space to acknowledge this truth and inspire reflection and change.

The National Memorial of Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, honors lynching victims. Located in a city where markers commemorating the Confederate South abound but those commemorating the Civil Rights Movement and slavery are scarce, the memorial serves as a place of truth-telling, hope, healing, and reconciliation.9 This structure consists of eight hundred monuments made of Corten steel that bear the names of the lynching victims from the counties in the United States where lynchings occurred.10 IThere is a feeling of unease, remorse, and loss that moves through the memorial, which also speaks to an unresolved and silenced historical past.


“The National Memorial for Peace and Justice | Mass Design Group,” accessed March 11, 2022, https://www.massdesigngroup.org/work/design/national-memorial-peaceand-justice. 8 Ibid 9 Ibid 10 Ibid








AFRICAN AMERICANS CONNECTION TO WATER “There is a powerful tie between African Americans and the water that has both bound them and set them free.” – Eloise Greenfield.

The significance of access to water is more nuanced than just sunbathing, as beach access in the United States has a dark history and is often overlooked as having a discriminatory component.1 Water access is an established right shared by all the public; it is vital to address the issue of systematic discrimination that has prevented and continues to prevent many African American communities from accessing a public resource.

Discrimination in water Access Historically, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities have been prohibited from accessing the beach and water through segregation and legal punishment or threats of violence. On the Chicago shores of Lake Michigan, an infamous case of occurred 1

Farach Cassidy, “Understanding Historical Discrimination in U.s. Beach Access,” Surfrider Foundation, accessed March 12, 2022, https://www.surfrider.org/coastalblog/entry/understanding-historical-discrimination-in-u.s-beach-access


in 1919, when Eugene Williams, a Black teenager, was stoned to death by White youth gang members.2 Race riots broke out after this that lasted for seven days and killed almost forty people.3

Many BIPOC communities were denied beach access through redlining. Andrew W. Kahrl, an associate professor of history and African American studies at the University of Virginia, finds that regulations that prohibit non-residents from parking at the beach or imposing expensive access fees effectively block beach access to people from BIPOC communities.4 The systems implemented in these cities were established to keep out minorities from neighboring cities. Kahrl noted that although Black communities requested their local legislators and city officials to give them more beach access, they were not given the rights to access the same beaches and swimming pools as members of middle-class White communities.5

Even today, the effects of redlining are felt in areas that have historically lacked growth or infrastructure. Many redlined neighborhoods struggle with mobility and accessibility. For example, providing safe, reliable, and affordable transportation is essential for getting to the beach.6 This kind of transportation is often less accessible to low-income communities

2 3 4 5 6


Andrew W. Kahrl, “America’s Segregated Shores: Beaches’ Long History as a Racial Battleground,” The Guardian, June 12, 2018, sec. World news. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Farach Cassidy, “Understanding Historical Discrimination in U.s. Beach Access,” Surfrider Foundation, accessed March 12, 2022, https://www.surfrider.org/coastalblog/entry/understanding-historical-discrimination-in-u.s-beach-access.

than to more affluent communities.7 Lower-income communities are not only plagued by inequalities, but they are also more likely to suffer from respiratory ailments and heatrelated illnesses.8 Several other factors contribute to these issues, including an absence of greenery and shading to reduce local temperatures; and mobility issues that impede access to hospitals and clinics.9

7 Ibid. 8 “Statement on the Climate Crisis,” NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR CHICANA AND CHICANO STUDIES, accessed March 12, 2022, https://www.naccs.org/naccs/Climate. asp 9 Ibid.


The Benefit of water access: A lot of these issues can be addressed with access to water, which provides more than simply a means of cooling off when temperatures rise. Water can serve as a site for a community center or a meeting place where people of all walks of life can share equal ground. UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) has stated that the health of a city depends heavily on the design and maintenance of its public spaces.10 It’s crucial to create public spaces like waterfront development that provide opportunities for social equity, Wcommunity engagement, recreational activities, and a sense of belonging.11 Moreover, transforming waterfronts into community gathering spots contributes to addressing some of the problems created by segregation policies and redlining.

Revitalizing and restructuring the redlined regions in an equitable way is vital to redressing spatial segregation. Providing quality public spaces and amenities in underprivileged urban areas enriches the quality of life and promotes the use of the land in diverse ways. Using this method to make reparations for the past can promote social integration by having people from different ethnicities and socioeconomic classes reside in the same neighborhoods with access to the same water.

10 “Inclusion Through Access to Public Space | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,” accessed March 12, 2022, http://www.unesco.org/new/ en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/urban-development/migrants-inclusion-incities/good-practices/inclusion-through-access-to-public-space/. 11 Ibid.


Culture and waterfront: Communities have a sense of belonging when waterfront developments take place. Culture, as well as urban life, is intimately tied to the waterfront. While allowing new experiences and meanings to emerge, linking the waterfront to its history is important. For waterfront communities to be vibrant, the history of the area and local heritage must be celebrated. All new development should exist as active centers to engage the community. In addition to locating economic endeavors along the shore, waterfront destinations should offer a variety of activities and programming.12 Embracing historical values and hosting cultural events fosters a sense of community among residents and also attracts visitors and tourists.13

Sustainability and waterfront: It is at the water’s edge where people learn about nature and are inspired by it. Because of that, the inclusion of environmental systems into urban development planning is essential. Additionally, it can help control pollution and preserve the natural environment. Adapting waterfront development to climate change and sea-level rise helps to create climate-positive communities.14 Sustainable development is a widely used term that has had increasing influence on modern architecture and design. Urban form and social sustainability tie issues 12 Marichela Sepe, “Urban History and Cultural Resources in Urban Regeneration: A Case of Creative Waterfront Renewal,” Planning Perspectives 28, no. 4 (October 1, 2013): 595–613, https://doi.org/10.1080/02665433.2013.774539. 13 Ibid 14 Nufar Avni and Na’ama Teschner, “Urban Waterfronts: Contemporary Streams of Planning Conflicts,” Journal of Planning Literature 34, no. 4 (November 1, 2019): 408– 20, https://doi.org/10.1177/0885412219850891.


of equitable access, sociability and livability, the identity of place and density.

Social Justice and waterfront: The waterfront can be a hotly contested area where private interests compete with public needs. These projects, based on their sheer size, proximity to aquatic ecosystems, and the convergence of social, economic, cultural, and environmental factors in the process of waterfront redevelopment, are ideally suited for studying questions of social and environmental justice.15 Accessibility, inclusivity, and affordability of waterfront spaces are key considerations, especially in connection with gentrification, social exclusion, and overt commercialization.16 Waterfront regeneration projects are implemented through publicprivate partnerships. As a result of private sector involvement, market knowledge and the acceleration of development are ensured. A public authority coordinates policy interventions and projects to ensure a high design and social equity standard. While providing the economic and social sustainability of the project, it is imperative to continuously involve the community to strengthen historical memory and a sense of belonging.17

15 Anne Taufen Wessells, “Urban Blue Space and ‘the Project of the Century’: Doing Justice on the Seattle Waterfront and for Local Residents,” Buildings 4, no. 4 (December 2014): 764–84, https://doi.org/10.3390/buildings4040764. 16 Andrew L. Jones, “Regenerating Urban Waterfronts—Creating Better Futures—from Commercial and Leisure Market Places to Cultural Quarters and Innovation Districts,” Planning Practice & Research 32, no. 3 (May 27, 2017): 333–44, https://doi.org/10.10 80/02697459.2016.1222146. 17 “How to Transform a Waterfront,” Project for Public Spaces, accessed March 12, 2022, https://www.pps.org/article/turnwaterfrontaround.






SITE STUDY From the beginning, Jacksonville’s downtown waterfront is the primary access to the river. The 1884 map shows the site is located at Main Street, which leads to the river. Due to its locational advantage, the downtown waterfront became the major epicenter of trade. In the late 19th-century, Jacksonville downtown became a significant industry for maritime, railroad, construction, and lumber. The construction of the Main Street bridge connected the north and south banks of the St. Johns river. In 1956, Jacksonville’s downtown port was reclaimed to serve a growing population of downtown. This reclaimed land was developed as a Jacksonville landing in 1987. For 34 years, This festival marketplace served as a vital gathering space for the city. At present, Jacksonville’s downtown waterfront is empty and searching for its new identity.









Jacksonville landing





Water St.

Laura St.




Basilica of the Immaculate Conception​

1904 Music Hall

The Florida Theatre

The First Baptist Church

James Weldon Johnson Park

Visit Jacksonville




Ashley St, Lavilla

Duval county clerk of court

Times Union Center

Ritz Theatre

LaVilla School of Arts

The Prime F. Osborn Convention Center




Social Infrastructure Green Streets River Attractions Economic Corridors







The site Jacksonville landing has a unique opportunity to become a new epicenter of the City. The factors like culture, Sustainability and Social Justice are rooted in the fabric of Jacksonville. Considering these factors, the program is articulated to celebrate river and City. The program is dedicated to celebrating and reviving Jacksonville’s history, culture, art, and community.


PROGRAM: o Cultural Center •Educational Program (Related to African American Culture, Music, Jazz, Art and Development) •Art Galleries • A place for Performance/ Small theatre o A place for dialogue/ amphitheater o Community Development programs • Flexible workspace/ Civic Space for organizations working in social Justice and Human Rights. o Café/ Dining o Riverwalk o Riverfront Plaza o Fishing pier o Concert space o Play Area/ Public Spaces o Festival+ Market Place o Marsh/ Living Shoreline at the river edge o Popup Art and Exhibition Spaces




43,950 Sq ft.

Ancillary Spaces (40%):

17,580 Sq. ft.

Gross Floor Area:

61,530 Sq ft.

Parking for 50 cars:

17,500 Sq ft.


sq ft.

Director’s office Staff cubicles Dean & Registrar Chairperson Storage Waiting Conference room Seminar room

300 500 300 200 300 300 750 1000



Art + Exhibition

sq ft.

Permanent exhibition Temporary exhibition Storage + Utilities

4500 4500 1500



Music + Culture

sq ft.

Auditorium Main lobby Public forum/ Pre‐function space Rehearsal Hall Recording Studio Open Amphitheater/place for dialogue (not included in total)

5000 500 3000 2000 500 8000




sq ft.

Library/ reading room Studios Workshops

2900 4000 4000



Visitor Center

sq ft.

Reception Waiting Manager office Café Gift shop Ticket + self‐checkout kiosk Indoor Marketplace + Plaza

50 500 100 1000 750 500 5000




There will also be a number of outdoor activities and programs on the site, which have been divided into two categories: Cultural Activities and River Activities.






DESIGN DEVELOPMENT Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing The song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” named the “Negro National Hymn” in 1919 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, celebrates African American history and resiliency. The poem was written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900, and its music was composed by his brother John Rosmond Johnson in 1905. While James was principal of Stanton School in Jacksonville, FL, a choir of students performed the song for the first time. Since then, this tradition has been widely studied in schools and churches as well as performed at national conventions.

James Weldon Johnson


John Rosmond Johnson



Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing


Lifting the ground The inspiration of the fabricated ground plane begins by lifting upward, which also helps to increase the visibility of the river from the ground.



Urban Strategies The idea of inhabitable landscape as an epicenter for culture led to the flowing form of the development. The amphitheater is designed as an urban landform which enhances the importance of dialogue and gives a panoramic perspective overlooking the St. Johns river. This outdoor space can transform into a stage for concerts and jazz art festivals during special occasions. Other urban strategies include continuous access that passes through the city and a connected river walk designed in consideration of sea-level rise.

Panoramic perspective overlooking the St. Johns river


Public Passage through the Building

The flowing form enhances the pedestrian experience


Inhabitable landscape as the epicenter for the Culture

Continuity of the linear Promenade


Site Plan


1. Market place 2. Cultural Center 3. Elevated Deck 4. Amphitheater 5. Performance Stage 6. Civic Stairs 7. River Walk 8. Fishing Pier 9. Constructed Marsh 10. Recreation Zone 11. Times Union Square 12. Main St. Bridge 0m 10m



Site Accessibility



Plan cut at 3 meters


1. Market Place

10. Storage

19. Workshop

2. Covered Plaza


20. Cafe

3. Visitor admin and reception


21. Popup art exhibition space

4. Foyer/ main lobby

13.Multi-purpose rental space

22. amphitheater

5. Exhibition space


23. performance stage

6. Ramp

15. Dining deck

24. Civic stairs

7. Auditorium

16. Library

25. Riverwalk

8. Greenroom

17. Parking

26. Fishing pier

9. Restrooms

18. Studio

27. Recreation area 0m




Plan cut at 7 meters


1. Market Place

10. Storage

19. Workshop

2. Covered Plaza


20. Cafe

3. Visitor admin and reception


21. Popup art exhibition space

4. Foyer/ main lobby

13.Multi-purpose rental space

22. amphitheater

5. Exhibition space


23. performance stage

6. Ramp

15. Dining deck

24. Civic stairs

7. Auditorium

16. Library

25. Riverwalk

8. Greenroom

17. Parking

26. Fishing pier

9. Restrooms

18. Studio

27. Recreation area 0m





Section AA’



Section BB’


The passage between library and art exhibition.


The view from the library looking towards public space and ramp



The view of indoor circulation around market plaza.


Place for Liberation The place for liberation enhances the sense of belonging by using the art of placemaking. The architecture and landscape elements create a freeform structure, which leads to the elevated deck. This elevated deck provides a balcony for the people of Jacksonville and symbolizes liberty. The following render series shows the journey from the water street (access from LaVilla) to the elevated deck.















The view shows site access from Water Street




The view shows the hogan and water street junction looking towards the cultural center




The view from the Market place.


The view shows a marketplace from the ramp, which leads to the roof


The roof creates a new ground for activities and public engagement





View from the balcony (elevated deck) oversees the St.Johns river and provides a sense of liberation




CONCLUSION Historically, African American neighborhoods like LaVilla have been segregated and residents have experienced unfavorable living conditions. That situation is now changing in these communities. In response to the growing desire for urban living, community redevelopment projects are becoming more prevalent and are providing housing, businesses, educational and recreational facilities. In communities like LaVilla, redevelopment may seem like a solution. However, public projects often fail to recognize and appreciate the culture and character of the community that had been segregated. Urban planners, designers, and architects have a critical role to play in creating urban environments and spaces that help and promote social justice and equity. The goal is to create spaces in urban environments that are friendly, comfortable, and provide easy access and sociability for people. Placemaking is one design strategy developed to help create spaces like these.

This PILOT attempts to challenge conventional notions of what architects could do with our existing skill sets. Despite the specific focus of this project on social justice narratives and empowering identity, its overarching objective is to explore how creative approaches can be taken to foster placemaking in both a physical and a cultural context. A thorough understanding of this framework provides a unique opportunity for architects


to envision, design, and conceptualize how, where, and for what purposes the project will be built. In lieu of conventional riverfront development, the former Jacksonville Landing site presents an incredible opportunity to develop a place of equity and reparation. Projects like these are not just for one community but serve a broader purpose, to move toward reparation and equity. Through the integration of landscapes and architectural elements, this waterfront project creates a sense of liberation and a destination for all.





All images, photographs, and Drawings by the author unless otherwise noted. p.4-5 Dinner Hours on the Docks, Jacksonville, Fla. 1920. Photograph. Library of Congress. https:// www.loc.gov/search/?in=&q=Dinner+hour+on+the+docks%2C+Jacksonville%2C+Fla&new=true&st=. p.13 Simons, George. “1930 Zoning Map of Jacksonville, Fl.” Jacksonville, Fl, September 9, 1930. https://digitalcommons.unf.edu/simonsmaps/1. p.15 “Redlining Map, Jacksonville, Fl.” Mapping Inequality, 1937. https://dsl.richmond.edu/ panorama/redlining/. p.17 “Map of Red and Yellow HOLC Zones with Percentage Population with Income Below the Poverty Line in Jacksonville, FL.” Hovertown Visuals, 2021. https://www.hovertownvisuals.com/post/jax-flredlining?msclkid=99f24d8ebead11ec869d5f58f426d152. p.21

LaVilla, Jacksonville. Satellite imagery. Google earth.

p.24-25 The Strand Threatre, at Ashley and Jefferson. n.d. Photograph. https://www.metrojacksonville. com/mobile/article/2015-may-6-lost-districts-of-downtown-jacksonville. p.28 “Map of Jacksonville.” U.S. War Department from a U.S. Coast Survey, 1864. National Archives and Records Administration. http://fcit.usf.edu/florida/maps/local/duval/m054701.htm. p.31 Manuel’s Tap Room. 1887. Photograph. https://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2009may-ashley-street-the-harlem-of-the-south. p.37-39 studiogang. “Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.” Accessed April 17, 2022. https:// studiogang.com/project/arcus-center-for-social-justice-leadership. p.44-45 Adelman, Bob. Members of Revitalization Corps Marching in Old Saybrook. 1975. Photograph. https://bostonreview.net/articles/andrew-w-kahrl-free-beach/.


p.49 Adelman, Bob. Private Beach Sign in Fenwick. 1975. Photograph. https://www. smithsonianmag.com/history/connecticuts-beaches-were-largely-limits-african-americans-through1970s-180969494/. p.54-55 Koch, Augustus. Jacksonville, Florida Bird’s Eye View. 1893. https://shop.old-maps.com/ florida/birds-eyes/jacksonville-florida-1893-birds-eye-view/. p.79 Portrait of James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson. Photograph. Accessed April 17, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/. p.80 Johnson, James Weldon, and John Rosamond Johnson. Lift Every Voice and Sing. 1905. https://musescore.com/user/30522520/scores/5685418.