Consolidation of the City of Jacksonville with Duval County in 1968 matched, mostly, the city’s limits with the county’s borders. It is arguably the First Big Thing that makes Jacksonville distinctive: it is the largest city in the contiguous United States by area.
As the city gets ready to commemorate the 50th anniversary of consolidation, it’s no small matter that its practical promises and implications are filtered through the lenses of politics, diversity and access. And who you talk to about it matters. If you live in Golfair or Moncrief, do you identify with your city in the same way say, someone from Jacksonville Beach or Avondale does?
Aside from its expansiveness, what is Jacksonville’s civic identify? Other cities already lay claim to be the Weirdest, the Music City, the Gateway to the West. There’s even a Big Apple. Who are we, and what helps define and identify us as a singular civic entity?
We’ve worked at trying to understand this for so long that we know if there is an answer, it’s not easy, glib or catchy. We also know that part of understanding what is truly distinctive about Jacksonville is captured in the history and make-up of our neighborhoods.
To help foster a public conversation around what consolidation means, The Museum of Science & History will offer a new signature exhibit, Neighborhoods, which opened on September 1 and runs through August 2019.
Putting together an exhibit called Neighborhoods about Jacksonville is no simple task. Depending on who you talk to there are upwards of 500 neighborhoods (Wikipedia) or maybe there are just 197 (www.areavibes.com/jacksonville-fl/neighborhoods/). However, you slice it up, that’s a lot of neighborhoods. However many neighborhoods there really are, you know yours is unique.
I recently sat down with Paul Bourcier, the Museum’s Curator, to talk about the exhibit, how it is presented and why it’s important.
The overarching goals of Neighborhoods are: to help people understand more about the city by understanding their own neighborhoods, strengthening connections to them, encouraging exploration of other neighborhoods, and becoming active agents for fostering healthy, vital neighborhoods.
To accomplish this Neighborhoods is organized both through historical and contemporary perspectives.
Historically, it’s important to remember that human beings have inhabited the area for over 12,000 years. Give or take.
The story of the city begins much more recently with settlements along the St. Johns Riverbank in the early 1800s. Neighborhoods begins its exploration in earnest with a look at the communities that were more solidly framed around the fringes of a downtown that was established in 1822. Post-Civil War neighborhoods, railroad neighborhoods, streetcar neighborhoods, boom era subdivisions of the 1920s, and post-World War II FHA subdivisions help tell the rest of this part of the story.
The contemporary take on Jacksonville’s neighborhoods focuses on community and character. Bourcier says that, “Rather than make statements, the Museum seeks public input, data and documentation on what makes a healthy, vibrant and sustainable community.” This part of the exhibit is organized around basic services; law enforcement and emergency services; public works; planning; and parks, recreation and community services.
To do this, Neighborhoods is supported by both low and high-tech interactives. There are Jaxsaw jig-saw puzzles of neighborhoods that identify local places, architecture and destinations inside of specific communities. There are color-coded sticky-dots to help you identify and characterize your own neighborhood. There are digital scrapbooks on touch screens that allow you to see how your neighborhood looks from aerial and street views with just a scroll and a swipe. And there are social media campaigns (#MOSHneighborhoods) where you can contribute photographs and stories about your neighborhood.
Content has been supplied by a host of community diverse partners like LISC, the New Town Success Zone, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, Arlington 2020, the Eastside Community Coalition, Operation New Hope and the City itself.
More importantly, there is contact information about how to start a neighborhood association and who to turn to for support.
In all of this, the Museum hopes to empower people to share their stories, listen to others, foster civic engagement and empower community stewardship. “The idea,” says Bourcier, “is that stronger neighborhoods make a stronger city.”