Yesterday was the day to get my hair cut. I’d been putting it off for about 6 months, so….yeah, it was time. Anyway, I go to my usual guy (he’s been in the same spot for nearly 40 years, so he knows his stuff) and the conversation starts pretty much as it always does, “hey how are things, how’s business, etc.” Invariably we get started on politics (shocker I know) both federal as well as local (an architect and a barber have a lot in common on the local political level believe it or not). Politics eventually leads into development and economic growth in our little corner of the US, and this man asks me the most amazing question – one that has never been asked of me before:
“What do you think our city (downtown) needs in order to turn itself around?”
I nearly swallowed my tongue, I was in such shock. But luckily I had an answer right on the tip of my tongue!
Jacksonville is a unique city, unlike few others, because we are a VERY LARGE city in land mass. MetroJacksonville has lots of demographic information on their website about land mass versus population figures and how the different neighborhoods are broken up, etc. But this is besides the point. Jacksonville is big, sure, but we are still like most other metropolises in that we have a city center (or did) and all neighborhoods radiate out from there.
So how do we get the focus back on our Core? How do we get private business interested in coming to Jacksonville? The simple and complicated answer is density and public transit.
By implementing a dedicated and reliable public transportation system you can transform a city into a Metropolis. Currently, Jacksonville is made up of small neighborhoods, or “islands”, and people tend to stick to their little island because the alternative is to get in their car and drive to another island for whatever reason. This makes for a very fragmented and disconnected city. But if there was a way to connect all of these islands in such a way that made it easy and convenient for people to get from one island to another then the city is no longer fragmented. Suddenly your city is a Metropolis.
Jacksonville has, for too long, focused all energy on the personal automobile as the only mode of transport in, through and around our city. This is not to say that the car is bad and should be done away with – lord knows Americans have a strange love affair with their cars – but there is a better way to move within a city or even from city to city for that matter.
The moral of the story here is that in order to reconnect our city to itself, spur on some real economic development and excitement in the Core and create a real Jacksonville Metropolis, we need to embrace mass public transit in a meaningful and educated way. I won’t labor on about what kind of transit or how the system should work or where the stops should be, etc. I’ll leave that to better men who have been fighting this fight for years. So go check out MetroJacksonville and browse through their rail studies and BRT studies and every other study they’ve done.