I’ve been passionate about Jacksonville for as long as I can remember. I was raised in Arlington, an old neighborhood with a unique and historical beauty. The architecture you find there is stunning, with a great many examples of mid-century modern structures forming the heart of the area. Growing up surrounded by all of those beautiful buildings, I believe, made me love Jacksonville, and developed in me a passion and appreciation for our city’s story; as well as the diverse architecture that makes us who we are. 

In January of last year, the city of Jacksonville demolished the old City Hall Annex and courthouse on Bay St. A year later, the city bulldozed the final remnants of the Jacksonville Landing, a perfectly usable, architecturally distinctive building with unobstructed waterfront views. A month later, a historically important, 111-year-old firehouse on Riverside Drive met a similar fate. 

With the recent (and ongoing) demolition of so many historic buildings in Jacksonville, I (and many others) feel the integrity of our home is under attack, and we have the responsibility to get involved. I’m speaking out with the city’s best interest in mind; not personal profit margins, but as a resident who wants to feel proud and excited about where I live.

This is why I started #mappingjax along with Joe Karably. Our mission is to support the revitalization of Downtown Jacksonville for the benefit of all citizens by encouraging proven urban-revitalization strategies (to name just a few): the preservation of existing architecture; smart planning and development; street-level activation; mobility and connectivity; and historic preservation.

At the core of #mappingjax is a focus on the arts, historic preservation, and small business development. By connecting and partnering organizations in these areas and allowing them to work together in tandem, we hope to create a collective of partners and ambassadors for the city. We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but instead to take successful examples from other history-embracing cities and put those techniques to work for ours. We intend to create content and messages to inspire our people to love ourselves (and our city) more. Through that process, we hope to bring awareness and conservation to a more active position within the community. 

More than that, #mappingjax is a love letter to my city. I really believe in Jacksonville. And I believe we could benefit from loving ourselves and our home more. 

I love Jacksonville; I can’t overstate this: I really love Jacksonville. This is an incredible city with so much to offer and I really want more and more people to agree. I wish to see more passion about the place we live in and see residents appreciating and embracing the unique flavor, charm, and potential our city has. I have such pride for my hometown, and it has led me down my path to advocate for its care and growth during this time of development.

The historic fire station in the Downtown-Jax adjacent Brooklyn was recently demolished despite community support for its preservation. || Photo: Michael Dunlap

I have lived here my entire life and have seen countless changes–some improvements and many heartbreaking demolitions. Growth does not need to come at the expense of history. Bridging the gap between old and new preserves our story while allowing for creative innovation. We should be looking at solutions that allow us to showcase important aspects of the city’s unique past that are treasured by its people and re-utilized in exciting new ways.

We dream of a city that values its art and its history. We dream of a community that celebrates its diverse history and turns it into a place that’s unique and desirable. We dream of Jacksonville taking its seat next to its southern partners Charleston, Savannah, and Atlanta; enjoying its own phoenix story. This is what our #mappingjax team hopes for the future of Jacksonville: it’s not only our home, it’s our legacy.

Steve Williams is the CEO of Harbinger Sign and the Director/Owner at Florida Mining, a contemporary museum style gallery located in the south part of Jacksonville. Williams is a long time arts advocate, businessman, a painter, and gallerist.

To learn more about #mappingjax visit mappingjax.com or the #mappingjax facebook page.

This essay originally ran in Void Magazine’s March 2020 issue.