BY MARGUERITE ARDITO
DeLand is at an inflection point. For years, the focus has been on expansion through new developments, while residents grumble about traffic and loss of character. Is attention finally turning to improving, maintaining, and making the best of the great things we have?
Recent actions may reflect the new focus, signaling commitment to a more equitable, vibrant, connected community. There’s a new mayor with young ideas about bringing people together in a more walkable Downtown.
A common thread, the transformation of Voorhis Avenue, connects several projects. Successful transformation will spark wider positive impact.
The James W. Wright Building will be restored to its former role as the social, business and cultural center of the Black community. According to Mark Shuttleworth, “Plans include a business incubator, and potential retail space and community medical outreach facility. This valuable community asset will showcase the revitalized area, spurring new investment.”
The DeLand Black Heritage Trail community project developed self-guided tours highlighting DeLand’s Black history and culture. A printed and digital guide describes 18 historical and cultural sites. Signs are planned on Voorhis Avenue at the center of the Black Heritage District. The trail launched on April 16 with the inaugural Black Heritage Celebration on Voorhis Avenue.
The SunRail Station will soon add a rail connection carrying commuters to Orlando and bringing visitors and bicycles to DeLand.
The DeLand West Greenway is a planned multiuse trail providing safe access to the SunRail Station, the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop, and regional trails. It promises a welcoming gateway for cyclists on New York Avenue. It may also highlight revitalized Voorhis Avenue, connecting DeLand’s Black Heritage Trail with the 600-mile SUNTrail network. (Watch for coming article.)
The Voorhis Avenue Streetscape city project will improve infrastructure on Voorhis Avenue with new sidewalks, streetlights and landscaping. It’s the key that can amplify the impact of other projects. It can strengthen connections and help make the entire area an attractive and welcoming part of our walkable Downtown area.
Residents and local leaders formed a committee to develop recommendations to ensure that everyone, especially those on foot or bicycle, will feel comfortable whether passing through, exploring heritage sites, or frequenting establishments that will thrive in the revitalized area.
Recommendations include traffic calming measures, low-profile sloped curbs, reduced speed limits, shade trees, and historical-themed fixtures. Narrowed lanes accommodate slower vehicles and experienced cyclists, while wide sidewalks are marked or textured to accommodate pedestrians, casual cyclists, and mobility aid users. These improvements will accelerate revitalization and lay groundwork for the DeLand West Greenway connection along Voorhis Avenue.
Show your support for these positive changes. The CRA Board and consultants are seeking public input on the final Voorhis Avenue Streetscape design at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 8, at DeLand City Hall.
Working together, we can make DeLand a healthier, more active and more welcoming community for all.
— Marguerite Ardito is St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop Alliance president and a River of Lakes National Scenic Byway board member. She sees policies, infrastructure and attitudes that enable safe and equitable active mobility as keys to sustainable life quality for people and communities.