Calling Jacksonville Our Own  

From Landmark to Destination

By Laura Riggs

Creating a persona that people fall in love with at first sight. They help define the region and the culture in ways that attract businesses to invest and travelers to visit. Whether manmade or naturally occurring, landmarks are the foundation for cities to forge an identity. Many of us travel the world to see landmarks. When we visit a city for the first time, landmarks help orient us to the destination and make the city memorable. We tell stories, share photographs, and dream of them long after we have departed. Likewise, most of us recognize a city or place by its landmarks – like the Eiffel Tower of Paris, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, or Beale Street in Memphis.

While the landmark is the star of the show, it merely sets the stage. To tell a more unified story, the qualities of the destination and the landmark must be closely linked. Living conditions, social well-being, and economic profile play equal parts in amplifying the city’s image on the world map. Equally important are a city’s culture, heritage, and sense of place, seen as the foundational elements that can elevate a destination into an icon. Each of these elements has unique attributes and are viewed as the critical infrastructure of a city’s identity. A city without landmarks can hardly be seen because they create the language we use to describe the city. And a city loses some of its architectural integrity when historical buildings are razed for empty lots.

In the early 20th century, Jacksonville had several iconic identifiers. Known as the Harlem of the South, home to the Silent Film industry, Florida’s Gateway City, and the birthplace of Southern Rock – the city has a rich, fascinating history that most citizens don’t know about and was not viewed as critical infrastructure by city leadership. As a result, much of that heritage was demolished to the benefit of haphazard suburban sprawl, and with it, some of our identity was lost. Dr. Wayne Wood, Historian-at-Large for the Jacksonville Historical Society, explains the importance of knowing the story and artistry that goes into designing buildings helps give us insight into our historical figures. “The last 50 years that I’ve been in Jacksonville, the city has changed enormously,” he says.

Jacksonville’s economic profile has improved dramatically in recent years – the cost of living is lower than most other Florida cities, and the job market has grown steadily over the past decade. In 2022, Forbes Magazine ranked the city one of the best places to live in Florida, 2nd only to Tampa. According to the Boston University School of Public Health’s latest Community Well-Being Index, Duval scores high for access to food and healthcare. Still, we need to improve access to parks, green space, and transportation. When you have a city with the largest land mass in the United States, spanning 874 square miles, it can be challenging to get around. 

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Author: Arbus

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