How Urban Design Defines “Home” for Us

Since we are architects, designers and planners at heart, this passion and enthusiasm drives many of our decisions without us even realizing it. This includes the very important decision of where we call “home.”

Our own design preferences define the type of environment and community in which we want to live, whether it’s a trendy urban loft, a cozy beach bungalow or a sprawling suburban mansion.

Recently, the Resident Community News, a local paper in Jacksonville, explored how these personal preferences have impacted a couple of our young ELM associate architects as they choose their own places to call “home.” We wanted to share the full interview with you here:

Why did you choose your specific complexes?

Mark Pariani

Mark Pariani:

What attracted me to The John Gorrie was the historical significance of the building and how well the exterior and some of the interior elements have been preserved. The building was originally built in 1923 and served as the John Gorrie Junior High School until it was officially closed in 1997. It was then purchased by J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver in 2009 and converted into condominiums shortly after.

I like that the restoration of the property has left the history of the building visible to the residents as well as visitors, but at the same time it is not overdone or imposing. The "artifacts" in the hallways such as chalkboards and auditorium seats are just enough to get a sense of what used to be, while making it a fun and interesting space to live and entertain guests.

The fact that The John Gorrie is a re-purpose/historical preservation project is what makes it so unique. I believe the landscape in Jacksonville is very ripe for these type of projects to take place and I feel very honored to be living in one!

Jenna Toffaletti

Jenna Toffaletti:

Being a young professional and new to Jacksonville, I wanted to be in a place that made me feel like I was in the middle of all the action.  Where I could walk outside my door, meet friends at the local bars to watch football games or a local event going on in the downtown area.  Brooklyn Riverside gave me the right feel of excitement and safety to feel like opportunities were just a few steps away for my new chapter in life.

How do the facilities fit in with your lifestyle?

Mark Pariani:

One of my favorite things about life at The John Gorrie is the convenience of the location. It is walking distance to several local neighborhood restaurants, cafes, stores and more. On any given afternoon I can grab a cup of tea, stroll through Memorial Park, take in a movie, eat some Asian inspired street fare, and pick up some light reading at the bookstore, all without having to get in my car. It is also super convenient for my work schedule since I work in San Marco and my daily round-trip commute has gone down from 80 minutes to just 20!

The community is also very interesting. I have only been living at The John Gorrie a few months but have already met quite a few people and we have a good diversity of age and walks of life. There also seems to be a real group effort from the residents to have somewhat regular social meetings in order to make it feel more like a community.

Jenna Toffaletti:

Right now, I don't want to have to worry about being committed to a mortgage payment, worrying about bad landlords or living at a place that felt like a dump.  While I hadn't planned on paying as much as it cost to live at Brooklyn Riverside, it offers so much more than what I could find living somewhere else, so the extra cost makes it worth it.

If I want to hang out by the pool, get a workout in or have convenient access to the latest and greatest event that's going on downtown or in Riverside, it all comes included.  Everything Brooklyn Riverside offers, in a sense, puts me in the front of the line to meet new people and be involved in things going on downtown. 

How long do you see yourself living there?

Mark Pariani:

I see myself staying at The John Gorrie for at least 5 years, possibly longer. If I end up needing to move I may decide to hold on to my condo and either rent it out or use it as a second home. I foresee the area getting more and more desirable as time goes on, which only makes me want to hold on to my condo longer.

Jenna Toffaletti:

Owning a place has its benefits, but I don't plan on making that commitment again until a little bit later in life.  As long as the location of Brooklyn Riverside is fitting with my lifestyle and the cost is in a range I'm willing to pay, I don't plan on leaving until I want the beach as my least that's what I'm thinking for now. 

What is your perspective about the immediate neighborhood and adjacent neighborhoods?

Coming from other cities, how does housing stack up here?

Mark Pariani:

The immediate neighborhood around The John Gorrie is Riverside, and I believe it is one of the most active and vibrant parts of Jacksonville. There are a lot of young people living and working in the area, which is promising to see. There are also a lot of enjoyable neighborhood restaurants, hang-outs, and parks that are unique to the area.

The adjacent neighborhoods such as Avondale, Murray Hill, and Brooklyn are interesting areas too. Avondale seems to be more residential than Riverside, but is beautiful to walk or drive through on a lazy afternoon with its dense and often majestic trees and landscape. Murray Hill has some very hip and unique features as well as one of my longtime favorite music venues, The Murray Hill Theatre. Brooklyn at the moment is going through something of a re-birth and is showing some major promise, which only means good things for the surrounding neighborhoods.

I am originally from Ponte Vedra Beach so I did not come from too far away, although the character of the two locations could not be more different. PVB feels very private and closed off. Most of the houses there are located within gated communities or guarded condominium complexes. Also the majority of people who live there are much older than in Riverside. I feel the variety of housing in the Riverside area is greater than in PVB, which is what attracted me to the area in the first place.

Jenna Toffaletti:

I lived in Savannah, Georgia, while attending college at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and then in the heart of the Fell’s Point and Canton areas of Baltimore for four years.  Both places have a great young professional scene with downtowns that offer a lot for their residents.

Baltimore might be the best kept secret for young professionals in the Northeast.  The cost of living is reasonable compared to, well, all of the big cities in the Northeast and the setup of the city works really well for a thriving downtown scene.

I can actually see Jacksonville following in Baltimore's footsteps.  With the Avondale and Riverside/Five Points areas, followed by downtown and San Marco just across the river, Jacksonville has great potential to be an urban hub that attracts a variety of professionals, both young and old.  With the Jaguars just down the street and the proposed enhancements to the nearby Shipyards area, there's a lot to love about what Jacksonville currently has to offer and what's to come.  Not to mention, the beach is just a 20-30 minute drive away!