By day, Mike Field is a mild-mannered credit analyst, crunching numbers and gauging risk for a large mortgage firm he’d rather not name. But in his off hours, when he trades the suit and dress shoes for jeans, a plaid shirt and one of his 26 pair of Nike sneakers, Field becomes the mastermind of one of the best things to hit Jacksonville since ArtWalk began in 2003. The Clark Kent-handsome 33-year-old and Jacksonville native is part of a loose-knit fraternity of people who think Jacksonville can be brought back to life just by making a way for it to happen.
“I’m one of those nerdy people that likes doing stuff to make the city a better place,” he says.
That “stuff” includes the upcoming Jax Food Truckies rally, which will be held in Burrito Gallery’s parking lot on East Adams Street on Saturday, June 9. It’s the second Truckies event that Field has helped organize — the first was held near Bold City Brewery in Riverside in March (neither event was actually held on the streets of the city, since downtown Jacksonville currently prohibits food trucks from public rights-of-way). Field has sold more than 200 advance tickets so far and signed up 10 food trucks that will be serving everything from fresh-tortilla tacos at The Corner Taco, to barbecue from Monroe’s On the Go, to homemade ice cream from 3Moms Ice Cream to sweet potato plank fries from On The Fly.
Field (who, full disclosure, is the boyfriend of Folio Weekly Bite Club host Caron Streibich) is also the man behind a number of other creative initiatives. He helped organize a pub crawl for the online news site MetroJacksonville.com last July, and has orchestrated two “cash mob” events — the first one in April at Chamblin’s Uptown in downtown Jacksonville, the second last month at Green Man Gourmet Grocery in Avondale.
Field isn’t some kind of genius event planner, as he’s quick to note. Rather, he’s importing ideas from other urban areas that have worked. The small-scale happenings are part of a trend given the name Tactical Urbanism, which has its own two-volume handbook of ideas and values (available for download at http://bit.ly/K8txSN). The concepts form the basis of a new, more nimble approach to urban revitalization. While Downtown Vision Inc. issued a report in 2010 saying that downtown Jacksonville was actually better off in 1990 before the city spent more than $1 billion on revitalization projects, Field and his cohorts aim to prove that simple pop-up events can easily and cheaply create the kind of vibrant urban scene that eludes an organization like DVI with its $1.2-million annual budget.
“It’s not going to be a homerun project,” he says, of the efforts to reinvigorate the city’s urban landscape. “It’s going to be small changes, little changes.”
Instead of removing the chess tables and chairs from Hemming Plaza and cutting down the shade trees to make it less hospitable for the homeless and unemployed — one of several recommendations from the City Council’s ad hoc committee on Hemming Plaza — Field says the city simply needs to find ways to bring more people to the public spaces. He suggests regular events in the park, like monthly movies, acoustic music or a weekly Q&A session with the mayor and a city department head. If the city opened Snyder Memorial Church for performances, he says, it would draw crowds. And he strongly supports a Food Truck Friday. “Oooh, I have a bunch of ideas,” Field says. “I want to show the city what it could be like. It could be like ArtWalk every night.”
Field wants his events to be more than just one-off celebrations. With the pub crawl, he notes, part of the goal was to show the Jacksonville Transportation Authority that ridership exists for an evening shuttle among downtown restaurants, nightclubs and bars and the city’s urban historic neighborhoods. With Jax Cash Mob, he wants to build support for small, locally owned businesses. He also hopes to impact lives for the better. Field says that Green Man Gourmet’s co-owner cried when the Cash Mob descended on the grocery on May 19. Co-owner Pete Eldridge says he didn’t cry, but he admits he was deeply moved when 68 customers suddenly came through the door. “It was an excellent, phenomenal experience,” he says, “and I can’t tell you how dumbfounded we were that we were chosen.”
Since the first Jax Food Truckies championship in March, several new food trucks have entered the market. Because of the hype around the rally, there’s increased awareness and increased business, says On The Fly owner Andrew Ferenc, who was crowned champion. “I hope that it’s the beginning of something and that it opens the eyes of Jacksonville,” he says. “I think it’s going to be great. It’s going to bring people to downtown. It just makes sense for Jacksonville to do stuff like this.“
Susan Cooper E
Jax Food Truckies Food Truck Rally is held in Burrito Gallery’s parking lot, 21 E. Adams St., downtown, on June 9 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is a $1 donation to Second Harvest Food Bank. Go to JaxTruckies on Facebook for additional information.