Over the next 50 years, how can Jacksonville be in the best position to adapt to economic and environmental changes like flooding, poverty and extreme heat, as well as other challenges expected because of climate change?
A stable future with this goal in mind is the hope as Mayor Donna Deegan and the city’s Chief Resiliency Officer Anne Coglianese unveiled a master plan Friday for Jacksonville’s long-term resiliency.
“There really is no other more important issue facing us right now,” Deegan told the crowd of several hundred gathered for the city’s 2023 Environmental Symposium at the University of North Florida.
“It will be a whole-of-government effort,” Deegan said. “It will now be the foundation of everything we do as a city.”
Coglianese outlined the long-awaited plan to the crowd that included students and faculty from area universities as well as local environmental leaders. The 294-page “Resilient Jacksonville” report is the crux of why Coliagnese was hired by former mayor Lenny Curry to a newly created position back in 2021: to create a roadmap for the city to make sure it can bounce back from acute shocks like hurricanes and other weather events, as well as chronic stressors, like poverty, aging infrastructure and sea level rise.
The document is broken up into two chapters. The first lays out 45 actions with 90 sub-actions —policies, projects and programs that the city can implement. The second chapter builds on that by tailoring and prioritizing them for Jacksonville’s wide variety of neighborhoods.
Basically, the plan lays out best practices and priorities to prep the city for a wealth of possible events and conditions over time.
A top concern, in addition to planning for sea level rise, flooding and the type of extreme heat that Jacksonville experience this summer, is expected population growth.
“Climate is not the only factor that’s going to impact what Jacksonville’s future looks like,” Coglianese said. “We were very aware of the fact that population growth is going to be a big driver of change in Jacksonville’s future.”
The resiliency officer said population growth, by and large, is fundamentally good, bringing new perspectives, cultures, new industries and an increased tax base.
“But if we’re not prepared for this population growth, it can strain existing resources that are already strained,” Coglianese said, adding that issues such as affordable housing or utilities and road networks would feel pressure.
Based on projections for the next 20-50 years, Coliagnese’s team considered scenarios for different parts of the city, such as the as yet elusive Downtown population boom sought by city leaders and developers.
“We looked at a scenario where even half of new residents in the next 50 years moved to Downtown or the urban core around Downtown,” Coliagnese said. “This has the potential to increase the population density of Downtown by six and a half times what it is, and it would bring us to roughly the population density of Downtown Miami today.”
The plan also tackles economic issues in the city, laying out strategies to provide both social and business equity. It also predicts what could happen should the city fail to act soon in many aspects.
“I really wanted to make sure that this was truly a whole-of-government — a whole citywide strategy —and that every single resident would feel the benefits and the impacts from this plan,” Coglianese said.
Deegan praised Coglianese and her team for their work on the plan over more than two years. The result is the largest U.S. city resiliency plan to date, given Jacksonville’s sheer size, she said.
“It’s absolutely amazing and will put Jacksonville on the map in so many ways,” Deegan said of the document. “Jacksonville has the opportunity to become a national leader in resilience, and now we have the roadmap that’s going to get us there.”