Spring ’18 Issue Available

The Coastal Spring 2018 Issue
Friendship Fountain, Jacksonville, FL
Culture

A Pivotal Moment: Why It’s Now or Never for Jacksonville

Jacksonville is on fire right now.

The city is among the fastest-growing in the country, both population-wise and in terms of business and culture. People are flocking to Jax for new job opportunities, which are readily available in many industries – and many of those are young people looking to get their careers started. Development spending has ramped back up. Long-blighted neighborhoods are seeing new development and community investments.

Even downtown, for decades largely viewed as a lost cause, has found renewed hope and is seeing renewed interest from developers.

There’s only one problem: we’ve been here before.

Jacksonville has long been a city plagued by false starts – threatening, at turns, to form an identity, but never quite sealing the deal.

For example: in the 1910s, Jax was set to become Hollywood before Hollywood even existed, with film studios popping up all across town and stars of the day walking the streets of downtown. But after enough complaining by puritanical residents of the time, the studios were largely chased out of town and straight into the welcoming arms of Southern California.

During World War II, we became a “Navy town”, with two bases being established here. But the end of the war brought about the end of that business boom – although the Navy still maintains a strong presence in the city.

By the ‘60s, Jacksonville-Duval County consolidation was our gimmick, and we branded ourselves as “The Bold New City of the South” – in honor of the city’s slow embrace of the civil rights movement, and as a way to distance ourselves from the rampant local corruption of the ‘50s. Unfortunately, the bold moves pretty much began and ended with consolidation.

Other dubious titles, such as “insurance capital of the South”, “America’s logistics center“, or “banking capital of Florida”, came and went over the years as well.

For the past few decades, the city’s reputation has closely reflected its lack of direction. Comments along the lines of “who even knows where Jacksonville is?” were pretty commonplace nationally – especially once the city was rewarded an NFL franchise in the ‘90s.

Following its stint as host of the Super Bowl in 2005, the city became an even bigger punchline nationally, having been viewed as unworthy of such an event.

For those who know of Jacksonville but have never visited, contemporary descriptions of the city have generally depicted it almost like a hillbilly town that was granted a magical wish to become a real city, but then it got a little too big for its britches.

But now, in 2018, we again find ourselves on the upswing, threatening to develop a fully-formed identity. With an influx of new, younger residents, the opportunity is now here to revolutionize the way Jacksonville is seen.

This time, the identity forming is that of a cultural safe haven in the heart of the South – a place where creativity is welcomed, and it’s okay to be a little weird.

But refining and amplifying that identity is not without its challenges.

While a new generation of residents is certainly on the rise, the old guard still exists – and, when need be, it comes out in full force. This was evident back when it took a city council hearing packed with passionate residents just to get a brewery’s zoning exception approved over the objections of church leaders.

Or when it took an equally passionate fight to ensure civil rights protections for LGBT residents – again, over the strong objections of church leaders.

It’s the same brand of uptight nonsense that chased filmmakers out of town years ago, or that obstructs liquor licenses downtown to this day. It has nothing to do with earnestly-held beliefs or protecting the city. Rather, it’s an excuse to complain about things changing, and to impede the progress of a new generation looking to improve upon the failures of the past.

In the past, when such obstacles have arisen, previous generations have failed to rise to meet the occasion. The old guard has won, almost indiscriminately, throughout the city’s history.

So now, we’re faced with what is a pivotal moment for our city. This newer generation has a choice. It can keep fighting for progress, keep coming up with new and exciting ways to engage the community, and keep “making Jax weird.” Or it can give into the temptation to just let things be, or to feel unreasonable for demanding change when others oppose it.

It won’t be easy, and it won’t come without setbacks. But Jacksonville is a city that deserves so much more love than it’s been given – and this is our chance to make sure that changes.

7 Comments

    1. New leadership that holds the best interests of the citizen above cronyism and religious agendas. It’s that simple and that difficult…

  1. So what makes the moment pivotal? We the reader aren’t told this. We’re just supposed to accept it as fact.

    That’s hard to stomach given their incorrect view of the history of the film industry in Jacksonville. Were there films shot in Jacksonville? Yes. But the same with Louisianaand countless other places.

    Outside of Jacksonvillians, you won’t find anyone calling it hub for film in it’s day. The first film was shown in a theater in Indiana in 1894. These were entrepreneurs in an embryonic industry testing a million different things hoping to find what works. No one knew what that was.

    Chicago and New York were considered to be hubs of film in the beginning. That shouldn’t be surprising since they had the actors, the writers, the stage managers, the directors, et al.

    A few intrepid folks shot a few early films in Jacksonville. The same with with Louisiana. BUt that was when Fort Lee, New Jersey wan’t just a hub for film but hands down considered the world capital of movie making. Yep, Fort Lee, New Jersey.

    Fort Lee, New Jersey did not loose out to Hollywood because of those pesky religious folks as so often the yarn is spun here in Jacksonville. No, they lost despite being the hub because the key player in the film network, Nestor Studios, realized that the perfect climate of Southern California was perfect for film generations before we had air conditioning.

    When that key node of the film network moved, the rest followed. No one in Jacksonville chased away the film industry, it was barely here. The young network shifted to Southern California, that’s all.

    1. Hi Allen! It’s pivotal because of this new generation coming in and being able to create a lasting identity. And as far as the film industry aspect is concerned, there were absolutely people outside of Jax that called it the “winter film capital” back in those days. It was a winter film hub, primarily, as shooting in NY/NJ/etc in the winter was often impractical. The number of studios that popped up here reflects more than just “a few intrepid folks”. And there’s also a more complicated history behind why they left. We encourage you to check out our more in-depth article on the subject: https://coastaljax.com/featured/jax-cinematic-past/ and also to check out some of the great resources in the downtown library and even other historical websites to learn more. We actually have had a really fascinating history in film, especially in paving the way for African-American filmmakers in the days where they were often marginalized.

  2. he best part of the article is that it NEVER mentions why this is a now-or-never moment, nor what that might mean at present.
     
    What is the object of the “Now” half of now/never? Jacksonville’s chance to become what? The next Silicon Valley? The next Atlanta? It’s own unique self, but with more restaurants and world fame?

  3. It’s quite clear that the younger generation, and even the more open minded, forward thinking of the older generation agrees whole-heartedly that this is indeed a now-or-never moment for the city of Jacksonville.
    To see the tremendous growth in the last 10 years all around the city.
    We still lack a very important part of every city and that’s a magnetic downtown.

    So many developers are investing in other areas of the town. I’m sure it’s because it’s just so damn expensive, and no one wants to be the first, to invest in property downtown.

    We’re trying though!
    Let’s create bike lanes. Let’s bring in some well known clothing shops. Let’s kill the unnecessary road construction. or at least expedite it.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how the local gov’t works to get us in line with other great cities.

  4. As long as the Southern Baptist Church runs Jacksonville, not much is going to change. Why does Daytona have Jai Lai and not Jacksonville? Because in the 60s the Baptist opposed the “evils” of gambling! Richard Florida, a University of Toronto professor put out a paper years ago explaining the success of cities such as Toronto. Hang on folks. It’s because cities that are the most tolerant (in this case LGBT accepting) attract the most talented people. Miami-Dade, Tampa-St Pete and Orlando are miles ahead of Jacksonville. Ocala and Palatka are probably going to be the next major urban areas of Florida. I wouldn’t hold my breath for Jacksonville. Here in Toronto everyone calls Jacksonville “Jackson” and thinks it’s close to Miami!!! Hmmm, bold new what? Where?

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The Coastal
The Coastal is Jacksonville's newest magazine, founded in 2015 to provide news, reviews, and things to do for young people on the First Coast.
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