As displayed in this issue, Jacksonville has many great attributes. There are restaurants, small businesses, festivals, and so much more creating fanatical citizens in our community. Unfortunately, not all is glitter and gold in the river city. So, not to discourage, but possibly encourage action, we came up with a list of What’s NOT #1 in the 904.
Walkability/Bike Safety – In a recent report, the National Complete Streets Coalition and AARP ranked Jacksonville the third most dangerous in the nation for number of preventable pedestrian deaths. The two main causes for this is poor planning on road design and lack of education on pedestrian and cyclist rights.
Economic inequality/Poverty rate – Poverty levels for almost every one of the top 100 metropolitan cities has increased and Jacksonville ranks 32nd on that list. Jacksonville has around 184,000 poor residents, an increase of 56 percent from 2000. Advocates encourage businesses and citizens to provide job training, education and life coaching to reduce these numbers. According to their site, the Sulzbacher Center provides over 1,200 meals a day to the hungry, and that’s just one of many shelters in Northeast Florida.
Public Transportation – In research for this list, public transportation was the most-stated problem. There is unfortunately a Skyway, though very loved, that is practically useless outside of major events like One Spark and the Super Bowl because it doesn’t really go anywhere. Anyone who rides a bus can tell you it takes an absurd amount of time to reach your destination. If you want to go out for a night downtown but live at the beach? Forget about it. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has worked to make improvements in recent years with expansion of the Riverside Night Trolley and now possibly the Downtown Night Trolley but still has a long way to go in efficiently connecting this city.
Urban Sprawl – Urban sprawl refers to the expansion of population away from urban centers into remote and rural areas. Areas like the Town Center should have been built in the city’s urban core, filling empty spots, before spreading out. Urban sprawl sees homes being built further away from everyday needs such as grocery stores. This leads to more reliance on automobiles for transportation and causes more harm to the environment. Regulations for new development has been debated in Northeast Florida in recent years.
Crime – Crime is an issue in most major cities and the crime in Jacksonville is mostly targeted but perception is major. Overall crime in Jacksonville is actually down in recent years but we are still above average nationwide. Compared to other nearby cities, Jacksonville Beach and Green Cove Springs have a higher crime rate per citizen than Jacksonville.
Attitude/Misconceptions/Unity – Growing up in Northeast Florida, the talk was often about leaving Jacksonville as soon as 18 and graduation rolled around. “There’s nothing to do here,” and, “Jacksonville sucks,” were phrases spouted much too often. On the contrary, you are much more likely to succeed in Jacksonville than in other major cities. Why go somewhere to be a small part of something when you can stay in Jacksonville and build it? City pride has grown but still isn’t where it should be. A few misconceptions that should be immediately debunked:
- Jacksonville, for the most part, doesn’t have a parking problem, people have a walking problem. You can’t always park right in front of your destination.
- Downtown Jacksonville is not safe? Wrong. It is in fact, statistically, the safest neighborhood in the city.
- There’s no work in Jacksonville? Actually, we were ranked as one of the top five cities to find a job in the latest Forbes’ ranking.
Schools – Though Duval County Public Schools has a handful of the best schools in the country (Stanton, Paxon, Douglas Anderson) the system is overall very poor. There are 192 public schools in the county that serve around 125,000 students. Minority populations make up 61 percent of the total enrollment and the student-to-teacher ratio is 17:1, both higher than the state average. For comparison, when it comes to reading proficiency for third graders on the FCAT, only 51 percent of those in Duval County were considered to be, while in St. Johns County, 76 percent were and 66 percent in Clay County. The St. Johns County school district is one of the best in the state and with emerging communities like Nocatee, Jacksonville continues to see families and teachers head south for a better education.
HIV/Aids Rates – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Census Bureau, Jacksonville has the third largest population of citizens living with HIV and Aids in the nation.
Health Department Records for Duval County show:
- 3,348 people are living with Aids
- 2,574 people are living with HIV
- Men account for 76 percent of new infections
St. Johns River – Our greatest asset as a city is the mighty St. Johns River. It is a prize that city planners and leaders across the nation drool over but it is also one of our greatest downfalls as a city. The city has not worked hard enough to break myths about the beauty. According to Jim Alabiso of Jumping Fish, an advocacy group for the river based in Athletics, the city should provide more education. That includes Information about tides, when to get in, and where to get in. He also says we should be investing money in water sports. That means more Kayak launches and possibly a Jacksonville Landing redesign that includes a community river park.
HRO – An updated Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) would prevent discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, and expression in employment, housing and public accommodations. What this means is someone can go to a restaurant or hotel and be refused service because of their sexual orientation or identity. In August of 2012, the Jacksonville City Council decided that not all citizens in our community were equal and voted the bill down with a vote of 10-9. The passing of an inclusive and comprehensive HRO is important because it sends a message to the country, where most major cities have passed it, that Jacksonville is a welcoming place. It has been rumored that several major companies have overlooked our city as a potential home because we lack the inclusive HRO. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), among Fortune 500 companies, 88 percent have sexual orientation non-discrimination policies and 57 percent have gender identity non-discrimination policies.
Leadership – Most of the deficiencies listed here can be traced back to Jacksonville’s leadership. Though there have been some genuine community trustees in leadership over the years, the city has mostly been plagued with a constant stream of “Good ol’ boy” politics. Our size and our population make us an incredibly diverse place, yet our leadership does not reflect that. Instead we are run by a group of privileged individuals that happily prevent progress.
It should be noted that most major cities struggle with many of these issues but that does not mean we should be complacent and settle for where we are. Many of these issues are caused by another on the list and many have simple solutions. We can and will do better.