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August 18, 2023


Regenerative Placemaking: Phoenix Arts + Innovation District leading by example | Jacksonville, FL

by Alexandra J Tohme

Why do we need a new approach to development? For many reasons, but a most apparent one is that taking a silo-approach dismisses the cross-sectoral nature of all policy domains — every effort aimed at one domain will affect another, intentionally or unintentionally. Secondly, because development needs to be done for, with — and by — the communities that they intend to serve, or even just operate in.

Regenerative placemaking is an innovative approach that takes into account policy interconnectedness, and focuses locally. Regenerative placemaking’s goal is to revitalize neighborhoods and natural ecosystems through active community engagement.

A Community Engagement Gathering at the Phoenix Arts + Innovation District — asks neighbors and residents what their aspirations are for the future of their city. What do they want, and don’t want.

In Jacksonville, Florida, the local FOC team is working hard on our ambitious project, the Phoenix Arts + Innovation District (PHXJAX) initiative to bring regenerative placemaking to life. Through community involvement and collaboration, PHXJAX is transforming underutilized spaces into vibrant, inclusive, supportive and regenerative places — places intended for empowerment and co-creation to happen.

Local community outreach, conversations and engagement are the first steps in regenerative placemaking. From initial conversations to understand challenges and dreams, regenerative placemaking projects must include speaking with residents, local businesses, families, artists, educators, organizations and more; and where relevant, involve them in the planning, design, and implementation of projects.

To take it one level further, it is ideal that those managers and project leaders are from the community itself — and for us, that’s the case. Our team leaders at PHXJAX are long-time residents and their family generations before them as well. No one understands the community better than those born and raised there. And especially those actively dedicated to see it thrive.

All projects — from energy and water to transport, housing, education or real estate — must engage the community before, during and after implementation.

There is only everything to gain by doing so. Local communities bear the greatest wealth of knowledge, resources, networks and assets that are needed in order to implement with success, and understand the risks that could upset any effort. No outside (or internal) developer or planner can achieve goals without this consultation and participation of local leaders and families, entrepreneurs and youth. In fact, the project risks failure if those views, needs, understandings and perspectives, are not taken into account.

Activating Public Space

PHXJAX, a notable example of regenerative placemaking, has transformed vacant lots and neglected areas in Jacksonville into vibrant community spaces. Through a series of collaborative efforts involving residents, artists, urban planners, and local government, PHXJAX is working to revitalize neighborhoods by creating gathering places — ones that enable conversations around the needs and desires of the community. From enhancing the physical environment to strengthening relationships, this approach direct everyone’s focus and attention together, to improve overall quality of life in the city’s districts. The interconnected nature of development and policies becomes apparent, and so do the solutions.

Re-using existing buildings for community spaces (or other positive urban efforts) is the example we are setting in Jacksonville and at our FOC headquarters Hub in Miami. Rather than building something new, which would involve digging in soil or rivers and disrupting the natural ecosystems once again — why not refurbish and renovate an old warehouse?

By integrating environmentally friendly practices into the design and operations of these community spaces, PHXJAX has become a model for regenerative development. Our teams involve neighbors and families in child-friendly events that encourage education on important issues for environmental and public health. For example, our PHX plant swap brings gardening expertise and families together to share in community experiences.

Monthly artist meetups and networking events held at the PHXJAX are free to the community and bring together artists, creators and art enthusiasts in a supportive dynamic environment. It offers a platform for collaboration, business growth and forges meaningful connections for artists and entrepreneurs. This thriving network of talent is constantly evolving and growing and we look forward to watching it reach new heights and promote economic growth for the artist community in Jacksonville.

Stay tuned to hear about the latest updates in the regenerative design of PHXJAX, and ongoing exciting events and regenerative placemaking activations happening in this up-and-coming city.

Mural artwork is very popular among the local artists in Jacksonville, the PHXJAX program includes monthly artist meet ups as well as street mural paintings on the premises.
Community Engagement is the first and, most important methodology step in regenerative placemaking. For any development project to be successful or impactful — conversations with the community must be had. Find out the dreams and opportunities within any neighborhood.