On Community: Article in May/June issue of Arbus

ELM Partner Steve Lovett recently contributed to Arbus Magazine's 22nd annual Art and Architecture issue, sharing his thoughts on the intersection of community, design, and architecture here in Jacksonville.

Read on, or flip to page 30 to see what Steve had to say (and see if you can spot our ELM ad!). You can find a free copy of Arbus magazine in various newsstands and locations around Jacksonville! 



By Steve Lovett, ELM ASLA, PLA, LEED AP

This month’s Arbus is the annual architecture edition — celebrating the designers and visionaries who shape Jacksonville’s build environment and landscape. The topic for this year’s Issue is “Community” – an interesting subject because it’s not really about design. It’s about people, right? Groups of people? Why is community relevant to architecture and design, anyhow?

This question reminds me of a conversation I had recently with my daughter, Kayla, who is about to graduate from college with a degree in psychology. We were talking about the culture of our [ELM] office (which is an open, creative space full of collaboration and discussion). Some days, the studio is focused and quiet, other days it’s a riot of music, ideas, laughter, and creativity. I told Kayla that I thought our office would be a great experiment in psychology – thinking of how uniquely I felt our team works together and experiences one another at work. Kayla quickly set me straight, saying, “Dad, EVERYTHING is a great experiment in psychology!”

And so it goes with architecture and design. Sure, the end result of architecture is a building. But the building has a purpose – people use it and interact with it. When we connect the dots, design is about people, a community is made up of people. And, as Kayla reminded me, EVERYTHING is about people.

The term community can be defined in more than one way. Simply, it’s a group of people who basically inhabit the same space. If we think of Jacksonville as a community, it’s made up of a little over a million people within a defined boundary in Northeast Florida.

When this subject was selected, I suspect it was to look at community in a way where design, architecture, art and culture come together. Think of it as an amplified experience of life together. Buildings, parks, concert venues, restaurants, offices, attract people and bring them together – and enhance their experiences with one another. So do natural assets, like the beaches and river. THIS is what community is, and it’s a big, important subject because design, good design, enhances Community, bad design compromises it, and ultimately the creation of community is perhaps the biggest factor in what shapes the quality of life in a community.

Every place is unique to itself and shaped by its own geography, history and sense of community. For instance, Austin and Portland are battling it out to make themselves weird. Nashville celebrates its music. Boston boasts that it’s the most educated city in America. Residents in these places take pride in what community looks like in their city.

It’s encouraging to see how far Jacksonville is coming in creating community. We see it in neighborhoods like Riverside with the Riverside Arts Market. We see it in the new vision for MOSH. We see it in the restoration of the Barnett and Trio buildings in Downtown that will become a catalyst for activity and renewal of the city center. And we see it in emerging projects such as the Springfield Arts District, where the Emerging Design Professionals (EDP) of the Jacksonville Chapter of the AIA sponsored a design competition.

Samantha Wai, an architect with Gresham Smith and Partners and part of the EDP, observes, “I believe with the right people and right ideas in place, an art district in the Phoenix area can make a positive impact on Jacksonville. There is so much hidden talent in this city and a thriving art district can help reveal that talent.”

Jacksonville has come a long way in the past decade. Quality of life is being enhanced through community—with artists and designers leading—for the benefit of everyone.

Erin Weinberg