Identity CRISIS

Jacksonville is making its pitch for the Amazon HQ2, just like every other city of comparable size and ambition.

Unique to the local pitch is what seems to be a dedication to an alternate reality. The unspoken assumption is that the Jacksonville that currently exists can’t make the sale.

The Jacksonville that gave us Ken Adkins and Roy Bay during the HRO debate, the one that gave us weeks of debate in City Council about the provenance of backing one’s car into one’s own driveway, the one where the murder rate continues to spike year after year, even though every single person running for office does so under the aegis of PUBLIC SAFETY—that place is not in the Amazon pitch video Mayor Lenny Curry spotlighted at a Jax Chamber luncheon.

What is there is a city that, if it existed, would be swell. And maybe it does exist—somewhere else.

The accompanying music in the sales spiel could be from anywhere and nowhere all at once, but bears no resemblance to anything from Dirty Duval. It’s clean drum-machine patter, with a rhythm guitar that sounds like it emerged from the bowels of a synthesizer bank.

Jacksonville itself is “Amazon-centric”—whatever that means—with a “one-of-a-kind urban core campus and transit,” and an “inspired year-round coastal lifestyle.”

The urban core campus, of course, comprises 200 acres of “live, work and play” land at The Shipyards—an assertion that puts a lot of faith in environmental remediation and in Amazon site selectors not having Google Maps with that street view option.

And Jacksonville’s transit system? Theoretically, one could call it “one of a kind.” There are buses, yes, and the Skyway, with conceptual plans for expansion or revamp yet to come. But in terms of things like light rail—a concept many other cities have, and that this city should have embraced while expanding—we don’t have it. And we never will.

An inspired, year-round coastal lifestyle? I live in Avondale, not too far from The Shipyards, and I personally find the traffic to the beach to be too much hassle to bother. Not to mention the existential vistas of Atlantic Boulevard and, especially, Beach Boulevard—a 45-minute dystopian hellscape of jaywalkers and tacky, half-filled strip malls, with parking lots devoid of patrons but replete with vagrants. And speed traps, of course, assuming there isn’t a shoot-’em-up somewhere.

Jacksonville is also described as an “emerging city, inviting your partnership and social impact,” which is just sad—and false.

The idea of an “emerging city” makes no sense—Jacksonville has been here for decades and decades. The contra is true; the identity has actually been quite fixed for some time.

The city branded itself, five decades ago, as the Bold New City of the South. That was a reference to the consolidated model of government, rather than to anything substantial beyond that. In fact, what consolidation did do was to expand the city’s borders and diffuse political power concentrated in the Urban Core toward exurbs and suburbs—thus preserving the stranglehold the good ol’ boys had a few more decades.

If that hadn’t happened, Jacksonville could’ve been Atlanta! (And definitely would not be an ‘emerging city,’ especially at this late date, with bond ratings agencies like Moody’s noting the city’s choking on “high fixed costs,” money committed to things like pensions and bond issuances.)

And who is inviting Amazon’s “social impact”? Is it Empower Jacksonville, the group formed to overturn the watered-down expansion of the HRO this year? Or council candidates like “Earl Testy,” who claim women wouldn’t be sexually harassed if it weren’t for their “libidos”?

The voiceover is peak millennial, with no trace of a traditional Jacksonville accent, since regionalism has been drowned out by bullshit.

“Just like everyone in Jacksonville … your team members will love living here,” it asserts.


Tell that to the Northside dudes getting stopped and frisked for crossing the street.

Tell that to the folks in crumbling apartment complexes and to kids in schools so bad, they’re on the verge of becoming charters.

“Everyone” in this case is a certain subset: the kinds of people who can afford Cowford Chophouse and The River Club, the members of the establishment that fêtes itself endlessly.

The video also refers to the city’s “upstart downtown,” which still has occupancy issues, and issues with old buildings that won’t be renovated anytime soon and—let us not forget—a major employer (CSX) that just shed a good chunk of its jobs.

The Amazon pitch video is fiction. An aspirational model that this city will not reach.