Why We Can't Have Nice Things

February 6, 2014 51 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville's Bob Mann illustrates how a walk of only 600 feet through two local parks writes the book on why Jacksonville doesn't have nice things.

What has happened to Jacksonville? In 1910 Jacksonville was being compared to Los Angeles, only our population was growing faster. It was fully expected that Jacksonville would soon overtake LA as one of America’s premier cities.  

It is likely that a Jacksonville resident from 1910 would recognize parts of our city today but they would be heartbroken when they realized that we have long since surrendered our position of dominance in our region. A simple visit to Orlando, Tampa or Miami would probably so stun them that they would willingly return to the realm of the dead.

This story is not about parks. It does, however, use parks to illustrate the state of our city today. The city that once had ‘the most beautiful streetcar line in the world’ now has endless miles of ghetto conditions, unmaintained roads, a mishmash of bad zoning, urban decay, demolition, favoritism and good ol' boys that are more likely to line their pockets than to serve their public. Fraught with Neanderthal-like thinking at every level, local state and city agencies including JTA, JPA, JEA, JAA, Public Works, parking enforcement and all of their associate agencies have long since removed us from any competition with Los Angeles. A loss of pride and the subsequent trash heaps that go along with it will cost us dearly.

(Bet you didn’t think that I could piss them all off in one fell swoop; talent on loan from Ipthar.)

So what is it about Jacksonville that reminds me of something that just fell out of a John Steinbeck novel?  Speaking of John Steinbeck why don’t we take a recent page from Grapes of Wrath territory or as Horace Greeley once said, "Go west" for our example of FIXED!

Some few years ago while serving as a City Councilman in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, we experienced a horrifying episode, one that would have sent every public servant in north Florida diving off the Dames Point bridge. This singular event may define the difference in Jacksonville and Oklahoma City.  You’ll recall in the book the Grapes 0f Wrath that these were A tough and hardened people, hard scrabble farmers whose soil is as hard as a rock in the summer and turns into an oatmeal mush in the winter.  And people so used to hardships that even the Amish community uses tractors.  

Oklahoma City in the 1990s was and is a major manufacturing center: automobiles, aircraft, and railroad junction with oil depots, the Air Force and Navy rounding out the economy. OKC was a city whose populace had become so damn negative in tearing down institutions whatever they were, until they became expert at it. This should sound familiar to a people from a city that once led the “City Beautiful Movement.”  

Like an exciting thunderbolt, we learned one day that another major automobile parts manufacturer was considering OKC as a location for a new mega plant. The choice had been narrowed down to just two cities. When their delegation arrived we rolled out the red carpet. We promised them the moon and stars and then a disaster called reality smacked us on our heads.

When the cameras stopped rolling, the president of the corporation escaped the banquets through a hotel door and drove up and down throughout the entire city in a rental car. The following day in front of mass media he informed us, "We will not be coming to Oklahoma City. "Apparently corporations do not want to move to a ignominious, grungy, unmotivated, scatological, pestiferous, corrupt, oily, aimless, indiscriminate, misplanned, uninspired, reasonless place, he explained that he had driven past miles of drill pipe, vacant buildings, crumbling roads, very little transit, skid row bums and literally stood in a ditch and measured litter a foot deep. We were a scene right out of the Dust Bowl. I should know-- as many of my roots can be traced to the drill rigs and the hard scrabble. Indeed, I attended Oklahoma State University.

Within days, emergency meetings were being held because a solution had to be found. Within months, every mayor commissioner and councilman in the metro was packed onto a fleet of tour buses. We painstakingly and slowly cruised throughout the downtown core. Abject failure led to visioning meetings on a huge and serious scale was the result, ultimately giving birth to the ‘MAPS’ (Metropolitan Area Projects). Think of ‘MAPS’ (approved in 1993) as a 7 year forerunner of the Better Jacksonville Plan. But unlike Jacksonville’s plans, the Oklahoma City plan rolls over every 10-12 years with a whole new package of forward thinking plans. MAPS is continually financed by electing to continue and renew the tax.

"The Central Business District General Neighborhood Renewal Plan (design completed 1964) and the Central Business District Project I-A Development Plan (design completed 1966). It was formally adopted in 1965, and implemented in public and private phases throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

The plan called for the demolition of hundreds of antiquated downtown structures in favor of renewed parking, office building, and retail developments, in addition to public projects such as the Myriad Convention Center and the Myriad Botanical Gardens. It was the dominant template for downtown development in Oklahoma City from its inception through the 1970s, supported by Oklahoma City Mayor Patience Latting. The plan generated mixed results and opinion, largely succeeding in re-developing office building and parking infrastructure but failing to attract its anticipated retail and residential development. Public resentment also developed as a result of the destruction of multiple historic structures. As a result, Oklahoma City’s leadership avoided large-scale urban planning for downtown throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, until the passage of the Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) initiative in 1993. Credit Wiki"

These improvements are very visible, tangible progress and the population has no problem in continuing to finance and continue to finance these infrastructure improvements. This is what the Daily Oklahoman had to say:

“Since the passage of the first MAPS in 1993, the landscape of Oklahoma City has experienced an incredible renaissance. Not only does the city have a vibrant canal and river area, the downtown area has become a top visitor spot."

Streetcars are coming, parks improved, and freeways removed replaced by green parkways with rocks and fountains. Historic districts have been restored and highlighted and a huge La Villa sized warehouse district complete with a canal has become San Antonio North.

This article is not intended as an indictment against Jacksonville’s parks department but should serve as a warning to what we have become. In this photo essay I visited two parks. Even worse, the entire essay of photos were taken within the space of 600 feet.

Removal of a quality children’s park for another glorified parking lot, streets without lighting, drainage, sidewalks and administrative lethargy. What do potential blue and white-collar companies see when they visit our city? Just a lower wage version of ignominious, grungy, unmotivated, scatological, pestiferous, corrupt, oily, aimless, indiscriminate, misplanned, uninspired, reasonless place with crumbling road’s, very poor transit, skid row bums and literally litter measured a foot deep. Let’s add to that the one place where we have finally roared past our one-time California rival. We have a ‘murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate’ (2012) that easily trumps Los Angeles. Describe our city in a single word? BROKEN!

Perhaps we could load all of our belongings onboard an old truck and escape to Colombia, been there, done that; I happen to know that so-called ‘3rd World’ is much closer than most Jacksonville residents think.

It is time to either run away or stand up and be counted. If this city has any soul, then it is made up of a part of all of us. I’ll stand my ground and fight wherever there is a fight. Won’t you join me Jacksonville.

"Tom Joad: Well, maybe its like Casy says. A fella ain't got a soul of his own, just a little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to ever’body. I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere, wherever you can look. Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad and I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise, livin’ in the house they build, I’ll be there too."

CREDIT: The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, 1939


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