Florida’s Emerald Trail strides toward a more walkable future.
By Margaret Shakespeare
McCoys Creek Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida, is a major thoroughfare that increasingly is closed to traffic because of flooding, even after a routine afternoon shower. It’s one of many areas in the city that, due to aging infrastructure like undersized pipes and inadequate drainage—particularly in older residential neighborhoods—now experiences chronic flooding events.
To address these infrastructure needs and help reduce the city’s reliance on vehicular transportation, in 2019, the City of Jacksonville formally adopted a plan to build the Emerald Trail, a 30-mile network that will expand and connect the few pedestrian pathways that have been built over the years, including the Northbank and Southbank Riverwalks on the St. Johns River.
Led by a public–private partnership between the city and Groundwork Jacksonville, part of a national nonprofit trust network, the ambitious multiuse trail system will provide direct connection between 14 close-in neighborhoods, linking more than a dozen schools and colleges, parks, and hospitals.
“The Emerald Trail breaks down the invisible barriers that separate neighborhoods. This invites curiosity and leads to a socially and physically connected Jacksonville,” says Andrew Kohr, ASLA, a principal and director of landscape architecture at Pond & Company, which has led the design of the Emerald Trail for Groundwork Jacksonville.
Adjacent improvements include the restoration of McCoys and Hogans Creeks, tributaries of St. Johns River, and the redesign of McCoys Creek Boulevard. These efforts have inspired community involvement, including creek cleanup volunteers and an apprentice landscape design youth program called Green Team Youth Corps. The program, which serves kids ages 13–18, is run by Groundwork Jacksonville. Emerald Trail projects have included designing a pollinator garden and a small fruit orchard.
Kohr is currently concentrating on the nearly finished one-and-a-half-mile Emerald Trail section through the LaVilla neighborhood. The segment will connect to the existing three-mile S-Line trail (a Rails-to-Trails Conservancy project) and set the stage
for the next section, along Hogan Street, where there are undersized pipes to be upgraded. Additional drainage to manage stormwater is also needed. “It’s [been] block-by-block solutions. Micro-
solutions with a similar aesthetic,” Kohr says of the project, which is projected to be complete by decade’s end.
The Model Mile
The LaVilla segment is being treated as a multipurpose “model mile,” informing Kohr’s other design work, generating marketing momentum, and introducing the Emerald Trail and its benefits to adjacent communities. “Our goal was not to add any new structures,” Kohr says. “We saw a series of experiences—parks, a pond, a bridge—and connecting opportunities.” The team looked to activate forgotten spaces and add multifunctional features, and along the trail, strategically planted shade trees provide habitat, mitigate heat, and further manage stormwater.
Working with the city and the Florida Department of Transportation, Kohr’s team also reconfigured the Park Street Bridge from four vehicular lanes to two, allowing for the trail plus eight feet of buffer space with shade structures, elevated seating, and skyline vistas. “The cool part about the bridge was to get people to think about how to retrofit roadways within the existing infrastructure,” Kohr says. “The cost savings are enormous. More asphalt equals more impervious surface, which equals an increase in infrastructure needs for stormwater conveyance. We need to right-size streets and retrofit cities with road diets. Using what we have better is wiser and more fiscally responsible.”
Margaret Shakespeare is a freelance contributor to Landscape Architecture Magazine.
This article has been updated from the print version to clarify that the two renderings above were created by SCAPE and provided as a courtesy by Groundwork Jacksonville.