EDITOR'S NOTE

Jacksonville Is Great. Let's Make It Better

A New Year's resolution from your new editor

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Got something Billman should know? Hit him up at jbillman@folioweekly.com or on Twitter at @jeffreybillman.

The Saturday before Christmas, as day turned to night and the unseasonably warm evening air was infused with the slightest chill, I was in 5 Points, having drinks at Birdie's with some new friends and acquaintances, talking about this place I'd only a week earlier begun to call home. Here, I felt in my element. This neighborhood, like all great neighborhoods, was distinctive, and yet it was also of a piece with my favorite haunts in Philadelphia and Orlando, two cities where I'd spent my entire adult life.

Here I found craft beers and aged whiskeys, boutiques and Sun-Ray Cinema, restaurants and antique shops, smart and interesting people — a far cry from the images of mega churches and Confederate flags and gun shops and endless suburban sprawl the word "Jacksonville" so often conjures to outsiders. (Those things, by the way, all exist in spades within 5 miles of my Westside house.)

There was so much more here than meets the eye, I was told. Music, art, events like One Spark, innovators, creators, a burgeoning community just waiting for a champion. And as the night dragged on and beer turned to bourbon to fantastic late-night eats at Chomp Chomp Downtown, I got this tingling sense that Northeast Florida is on the cusp of something special, something amazing, something revolutionary. And I wanted to be part of it, to facilitate it, to champion it.

Or maybe I was just inebriated.

The truth is, it's impossible to figure out a place of this size and complexity and diversity — to really get inside its skin and walk around for a while — in a day or a week or a month. I'm not even going to try. But what I have seen is a city at the crossroads of old and new, of the future and the past, of tradition and modernity.

You also don't have to live here long to notice the challenges: poverty, crime, education, a woeful public transportation system, a lack of any meaningful sense of urban planning. And we still — until July — have a school named after the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, which is, let's be honest, embarrassing as hell.

And so in the few weeks I've lived in Jacksonville, amid the mad scramble of wrapping my brain around a new job and hoping each day that Google Maps doesn't deposit me in a ditch somewhere, my thoughts have started to coalesce around this singular mission statement — given the time of year, let's call it a resolution:

Jacksonville is great. Let's make it better.

The publication I am now privileged to lead has a long, storied history — a dedication to, as the adage says, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. This too is my goal: to tell the stories that are overlooked, to investigate without fear or favor, to challenge the powers that be, to hold a mirror up to this city's ugliest parts (every city has them).

At the same time, we will be the biggest champions of the best parts of Northeast Florida: of the artists and musicians and writers and bartenders and food truck owners and film geeks and techies and rabble-rousers and general miscreants who make cities vibrant and compelling.

Through it all, I want this magazine to be a fun, engaging read week in and week out — incisive, challenging, literary, smart, opinionated, unapologetic, like the bastard child of an erudite library and the seediest bar. Like what we have to say or not, remember that our pages are always the start, not the end, of a conversation about moving this region forward.

There are, to my mind, few places in this country more in need of strong alternative media. My New Year's Resolution is to give you just that.

In the meantime, I have a steep learning curve ahead of me, and I welcome your suggestions: places I should eat and drink, people I should know, spots I can take my dogs to, artists and musicians I should pay attention to, stories that are being ignored elsewhere. I invite you to connect with me — with anything you think I should know, or just to introduce yourself.

Jacksonville is great. Let's make it better.

Tags: Jacksonville, 5 Points, Sun-Ray Cinema, Folio Weekly, editor
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