For the past week, the city has been dutifully memorializing former Jacksonville Mayor Hans Tanzler as a man of great vision and dedication, and rightly so.
Tanzler, the first mayor to govern the newly consolidated Bold New City of the South, touted the regional merger as a model of efficiency and innovation. A good chunk of Northeast Florida became one enormous sprawl, and earned recognition as the largest city in the country as measured by land mass.
In the beginning, the change seemed worth the effort. Suddenly, we were all in this together, so to speak, and regional planners began designing projects with larger areas of impact in mind. A combined pool of money could more effectively tackle problems.
Perhaps consolidation was exactly what the community needed back then.
And perhaps reconsidering consolidation is exactly what the community needs right now.
Over the past couple of decades, Jacksonville’s core has been plagued with the same kinds of problems common to other big cities. Certainly its crime rate is no secret; the drug trade contributes to astronomical homicide rates and armed robberies are so common, they practically have misdemeanor status.
What do the people of Mandarin think about that? Not much, I’m guessing — because they live in Mandarin, a 20-minute car ride away. Mandarin residents are more worried about overdevelopment. So what do the city’s Eastside residents think about Mandarin’s overdevelopment? Hard to say — they’re too busy recruiting development to their part of town.
We have become a divided county, separated not just geographically but communally. And this has led to a decided refusal by county residents to raise taxes, which is the only way to dig Jacksonville out of its doldrums — its dismal financial outlook and enormous cracking infrastructure.
The reluctance to raise taxes results from an inability to see where the money goes. Individual communities, which have worked so hard to develop their own character and charm, can’t imagine that an increase in taxes will lead to any sort of tangible improvements that affect their everyday lives. Southside residents, for example, rightly suspect that any additional revenue will be used to clean up the Northside, or prop up Downtown. And that has become embittering.
In other words, the consolidation once billed as a way to bring us together has slowly begun to tear us apart.
Think of it this way: If residents of Mandarin were given the option of approving a tax hike dedicated totally toward relieving traffic along San Jose Boulevard, would it pass? You bet. Would the same measure pass muster in Atlantic Beach? For beach residents, San Jose Boulevard might as well be Orlando.
Tanzler was indeed a man of great vision. But maybe his vision didn’t include the crack epidemic or the recession or the housing bust. Certainly he didn’t foresee the factional infighting that now plagues city leadership; it’s not a wild leap to say he would be heartbroken that our current mayor and crop of Council members fail to see the wisdom in uniting for the common good of the city.
Jacksonville residents have two choices now. They can rekindle the spirit of consolidation, and begin to see their city as one big community inhabited by people willing to financially support improvements in all neighborhoods, regardless of whether they’re personally affected. Such a change can only come from leaders who so far haven’t seemed up to the task.
Or they can re-examine the area’s government structure, and consider splitting up their city again.
Both options will require the same kind of vision that Tanzler possessed.
Doing nothing is a choice, I suppose. But listen: How’s that working so far?