When people in Jacksonville think about urban development, they commonly think of revitalizing downtown, bringing in the next huge employer, or expanding the St. Johns Town Center, Nocatee, and other enclaves. While development in those areas is a good thing, Jacksonville’s historic urban core neighborhoods, which include predominantly African American communities, are often overlooked despite their tremendous investment potential. Arlington 20/20 was founded to address this issue in Arlington and create better economic opportunity for all by bringing together the right partners with a powerful combination of grassroots community engagement, empowerment, and inclusive development. This “recipe” is proving successful in Arlington and it is a replicable model that other urban communities can follow.
Revitalize Arlington, Inc. was founded by Impact Church in 2006, and its signature initiative, Arlington 20/20, was launched in 2015. The premise was to connect the residents of the Arlington community with faith, business, higher education, nonprofit, and government partners to address five focus areas: Community Empowerment, Family Strengthening, Economic Development, Housing Development, and Workforce Development. Our work is guided by a 20-point plan developed by stakeholders – the very people who live and work in Arlington – and a steering committee comprised of partners who coordinate efforts and track progress toward goals.
To date, the initiative has shown tremendous success. Accomplishments include establishing two food pantries; mobilizing 1,000+ volunteers to contribute more than 4,000 hours of service in the Arlington community; leveraging over $240,000 in financial support for community development efforts; revitalizing neglected neighborhoods through adaptive reuse of vacant buildings, support of small businesses, and public art; and implementing the Arlington Center for Economic Opportunity, which provides employment coaching, financial coaching, workforce development, and income supports. The work of Arlington 20/20 and other stakeholders is having a clear, growing, and measurable impact: in the last five years, Arlington has attracted over $326 million in private investment; developers have built nearly 1,000 new housing units; and Arlington’s parks and infrastructure are receiving over $4 million in public investment, with more to come. Even more importantly, this burgeoning development yields over 500 jobs, most of which are being filled by Arlington residents, enabling families to change their lives for the better.
Arlington 20/20’s efforts have received external recognition as well, including the HandsOn Community Award from HandsOn Jacksonville in 2017 and the Power of Community Award from LISC Jacksonville in February 2020. LISC Jacksonville specifically recognized Arlington 20/20 for bringing together diverse voices to implement a comprehensive revitalization vision for Arlington through targeted programs, initiatives, and physical development.
So, what exactly is the “recipe” for success that others can follow? It includes five key tenets:
- Anchor Institutions. Arlington 20/20 secured involvement from large anchor institutions in our community who are pivotal to help drive the mission forward. These include Jacksonville University, Impact Church, the Arlington Council of JAX Chamber, Regency Square Mall, and others.
- Public-Private Partnerships. Arlington 20/20 worked closely with City Council Member Joyce Morgan and the City of Jacksonville to facilitate passage of the Renew Arlington Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) legislation. From an economic perspective, this was an extremely important milestone, as it funnels incremental tax revenues from new businesses moving into the corridor right back into the community for infrastructure and other improvements. The impact of this CRA will be felt for many years to come.
- Focus on Inclusive Growth. In order for the community to succeed as a whole, everyone must be included in the community’s economic growth – period. No one can be left behind. Recognizing this, Arlington 20/20 works with employers, such as Dolphin Pointe Health Care; service providers, such as Feeding Northeast Florida; and financial institutions, such as BBIF, to help people find employment, stretch their salaries further, build wealth, and achieve greater financial independence.
- Respect for Diversity. When we recognize that each individual is unique and possesses his or her own passions, interests, and strengths, we derive immense power through diversity. Diversity of thought, race, gender, education, background – it is all important. And it is especially important to bring all of those voices to the table to shape our region’s collective future. Again, no one can be left behind.
- Pride in Place. Arlington 20/20 quickly realized that to enact change, we first had to change the narrative about Arlington. After so many years of neglect, people grew to view Arlington negatively, and it impacted not only investment dollars but the community’s psyche. To make change, we had to create and foster a sense of pride and place by leveraging our rich history and building upon that to attract development. Springfield is an excellent example of a formerly blighted neighborhood becoming a beacon of pride in place – and Arlington is on that same trajectory. In fact, we are planning a community festival called “Celebrate Arlington” this fall to shine a spotlight on Arlington’s rich past and promising future.
Every community in Jacksonville has its own history and sense of pride, and Arlington is no different. In fact, people are now seeing that it’s just as good, if not better, than any other part of town. By engaging each member of the community in a grassroots manner, listening to them, and embracing their perspectives, we are changing the course of this historic community’s future. And it can happen in every other “forgotten” urban core neighborhood in Jacksonville, enabling everyone in our River City to live fuller lives.
Joy Gorham Hervey, Ed.D., M. Div., is an educator, consultant, entrepreneur, author, nonprofit executive, and ministry leader. She serves as CEO of Revitalize Arlington, Inc. where she facilitates the Arlington 20/20 community transformation initiative.