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Last Tuesday, there was an election. Audits of our readership — which have proved you, the reader, civically informed, at the very least — show that you are well aware of that.

Folio Weekly comes out every Wednesday and our production schedule is such that this issue — arriving on newsstands eight days after the city of Jacksonville held municipal elections — is our first opportunity (at least in print) to offer news, insight, opinion (of course) on what went down at the polls.

Eight days is an eternity. Rendered so not just by the new reality of the news cycle, but by the impact of social media.

In his new book, The Road to Character, The New York Times columnist David Brooks describes himself (and his occupation) in less than flattering terms when he writes
he is someone who gets “paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am, to appear smarter than I really am, to appear better and more authoritative than I really am.”

On Tuesday night, though I did follow the coverage, after the results of the city elections were announced, I purposely stayed away from social media. I wanted to think clearly about what had occurred and that meant avoiding commentary from traditional news outlets — which occupies a fair amount of real estate on my myriad feeds — as well as the spectrum of analysis, elucidations, rants, and vitriol which has become de rigueur for a population confident enough to volley their opinions across as many digital platforms as they can post to at once. I was avoiding, in the self-deprecating words of Brooks, any interaction with “the narcissistic blowhards” of the new frontier.

When I finally had a chance to take a look at my Facebook feed, it was just as I’d suspected. Aside from links to various articles explaining away their candidate’s defeat (or hyping their candidate’s victory), everyone had already shared their own personal theories — some of them as lengthy as a New York Times op-ed — about how and why things turned out the way they did.

By now, what is left to say that hasn’t
been said?

One thing I didn’t see was a great deal of interest in outside perspective.

Lofty, branded claims about the city’s national relevance and ascendency abound these days. Bold New City of the South gets tossed around quite a bit. Best-kept Secret is not as soaring, but it’s tinged with just the right amount of xenophobia to insinuate it’s a place others might want to discover. Rarely is there any context to these claims. That is to say, a justifiable follow-up would be, Compared to what?

I came across a story in The Washington Post carrying the headline “Republican in Jacksonville Wins Rare Big-City Mayor’s Race” (you see where this is going?) that gave some much-needed context, placing the city within a small, interesting peer group. Right next to bold new cities like Mesa, Arizona and Fresno, California, Jacksonville is once again included on the endangered species list of large cities with Republican mayors. As The Post article points out, there are just two cities larger than Jacksonville — San Diego and Indianapolis — with Republican mayors.

So what?

While big cities are home to a diversity of folks with a broad spectrum of political values, it is clear the shared association to progressive ideals — and the value they place on the intentional (see: public support) advancement of science, technology, economic development and social organization — among their respective populations plays a huge role in moving these cities forward. 

Places like Asheville and Austin, where public support of the arts has helped to invite in a robust creative class of transplants, enjoy thriving tourist economies. Portland and Seattle’s investments in public transportation and ped-friendly initiatives have helped them bypass San Francisco and L.A. as the darlings of the West. Even Deep South metropolises New Orleans and Charleston are embracing technology and the creative economy with calculated abandon.

These are all diverse and relatively inclusive places.

In the end, progressive ideals didn’t stick in this election because there was no one really touting them. In the first elections, Bill Bishop’s relative support of a comprehensive-ish HRO earned him the votes of those who might embrace a progressive if they knew what they were looking for, while Alvin Brown was able to raise the progressive flag only to half-staff, feigning interest in a minimum wage increase.

But supporters of Mayor Brown threw the word momentum around quite a bit. This was a not-so-subtle manipulation of citizens’ (especially the 20something urbanites) desires to live in a city that was advancing, or progressing, if you will. The Downtown Investment Authority — the nine-member body tasked with using Community Redevelopment Area resources to initiate economic growth in and around the city’s urban core — knows full well the impact a thriving Downtown can have on advancing a city economically and seems to share those desires.

Due in large part to Mayor Brown, the DIA will continue to operate somewhat autonomously, with a goal of putting Jacksonville on the map:

Retail enhancement in around Downtown. A pedestrian-friendly transformation of much of the urban core’s throughways. The Landing proposals, which call for a visual focal point that can serve to brand the city.

And Khan’s Shipyards? Well, judging from what my predecessor called those slick-as-shit renderings, it’ll take a miracle on par with Noah’s Ark (ironically, one of the proposals considered in Iguana Investment’s project’s stead) to get that thing done.

The DIA has the funding to do very little of this. But, under Brown, they had a wink and a nod to move forward and his administration’s ability to create such momentum was a departure from decades of conservative governing.

So will a return to Republican mayoral rule halt that momentum?

Judging by the election results, Jacksonville may not be bold enough to embrace such progress.

About EU Jacksonville

october, 2021

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