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Jacksonville News

New Jax Witty

Articles, reviews, advice, and legitimate research to go along with some back-handed comments. Think of us as Jacksonville's mother-in-law.
  • QR Code Interview Gimmick
    My kids' school created a pamphlet with a QR code that linked to the website, so I figured it could be useful to do the same thing when I bring in my resume to a job interview. Especially since I made a cool online resume that really looks a lot better than the printed kind. Plus, printing all that I've done over the last two decades would be a huge waste of paper (unless it gets me the job).

    I wonder how many people in the average interview will know how  to use the QR code. I didn't have the capability on my phone until last year, and it is kind of a gimmick, especially since you can usually just email links and whatnot. Then again, it's something different, and it might make me stand out a bit, so I'll print off the code along with some other important documents.

    I am sure plenty of people have used a QR code as part of their interviews, but I do think my online resume is pretty darn good, so it's more than a link to my Linkedin page. I suppose a link to a video of me would be even cooler, but that would mean making a video, and it's not like I'm trying to get a job as a videographer. Anyhow, feel free to use this idea as part of your next interview. Just like everyone started using student-written letters of recommendation after I introduced the idea back in 2002.

  • Who's Got My Back in Jacksonville?
    I've seen several political ads recently that focus on people who have the back of the police officers. I suppose that's a thing, but I am not a police officer (or a native of Jacksonville), so I'm kind of wondering who has my back as I settle in here.

    I assume JSO and JFRD have my back because it's their job. And all the military around here have my back in case Canada attacks. But I'm thinking about the everyday having my back kind of thing.

    In Milwaukee, I could count on some people, at least a little bit. Classmates from Milwaukee's John Marshall High School (91, 92, 93, and 94). Or Wilbur Wright Middle School (88, 89, 90). Or French Immersion school or 82nd Street School. Most of the people who might have my back in MKE are now cordial Facebook friends. Sure, our high school football team liked to say we went to war together and we were brothers for life an all that, but we're kind of distant cousins at this point, two decades since I've seen most of those old friends in person. That said, any meatheaded rivalries are now gone at least.

    I donated my time as a teacher at Menomonee Falls High School for 12 years, so there might be a few fellow teachers or former students who have my back. Then again, I didn't get a whole lot of love from many of the MFHS Indians back when I got laid off, so whatevs.

    People at church will have your back, generally, but it takes some time to build relationships. Same goes for fellow parents at your kids' school or new co-workers. Or new neighbors.

    I felt like my fellow baseball teammates in Wisconsin had my back when I played there, but that was also mostly the guys with whom I played for many years. Maybe it just takes a lot of time for people to really have your back, and you have to stay relatively injury-free.

    Family is forever, but I don't have any in jax. I bet that's fairly typical in this area with such a fast population growth in the area. Lots of new people without family, so probably a lot of us trying to figure out who has our backs, besides politicians, of course. Obviously, I have my immediate family, but that's a little different than the idea of someone having my back. Still, it's more than some folks might have.

    My wife's been fortunate enough to find a Meetup group with people who probably have her back. I have not found a good group to join myself, but that's one way to make new friends. Maybe not super close friends, though. I'm not sure. Meetups are hit-or-miss. Just like friendships. 

    I guess I'm glad I'm not in a gang or anything, even though gang members have each others' backs. But the cops and politicians don't have their backs, which is good. I suppose we can all relate to the appeal, especially if you grew up thinking no one had your back.

    I hope all people in Jacksonville find the connections that make them feel safe without having to join a gang, call the police, or vote for someone. That's my goal, anyway.

  • Interest in Curling is an All-Time High
    I saw that the Curling Club of Jacksonville members were working out? on the ice recently, and the news story indicated that an Olympic win in the sport? has led to interest being at an all-time high. So there are literally hundreds of Americans interested in curling. But being from Wisconsin, I know a thing or two about ice-related activities, and I kind of wonder why curling would be taking off nationwide when there are several other ways to have fun on or with the ice.

    Curling is kind of a version of shuffleboard or lawn bowling created for winter months in cold countries/states. People in Jacksonville never have to worry about coming up with something to do on the ice. We've got all kinds of ponds, and lakes but I assume they have not been frozen since the last ice age. Not the movie, the real thing, like 15,000 years ago.

    Assuming that more people are interested in curling than ever before, there must be hundreds of people nationwide doing it. That's cool and all, but people from Jacksonville probably don't understand that ice is really made for other, more interesting endeavors.

    Testing the ice is an age-old activity on Wisconsin lakes and ponds. It takes a steady foot, as you walk gingerly across the ice, trying to determine if it's strong enough to hold your weight. If one foot goes through, you lose, and you have to go back into the cabin to warm up. If your whole body goes in, your friend should slide a boat over to you. When you really want a challenge, you can test the ice on a river.

    Ice fishing is another activity that is loved by people in northern climates. Once the ice is strong enough, you drag a little shack or tent onto the ice, drill a hole, and then go fishing. It involves something called a "tip-up" as well, but I'm no angler, so I'm not all that clear on equipment. Apparently, it's a great way to get away from your wife, since no woman in her right mind wants to freeze in a tiny shack on the ice. Beer can be kept cold outside the tiny building, and I believe a propane heater is often used on the inside. Sure, there's a chance you'll melt all the ice if you fall asleep with the heater on, but that rarely happens.

    People on snowmobiles also enjoy speeding across half-frozen lakes. A snowmobile is like a motorcycle made to go on the snow It's natural enemies include barbed wire fencing, trees, alcohol, and lightly-frozen water. If you think it's insane to travel at 100 mph on snow and ice, you are correct.

    Some people like to go ice skating on lakes and ponds, but it really foes get cold in a hurry on a larger lake, and the water doesn't really freeze as uniformly as one might think. There are no zambonis on these lakes, so once the ice gets torn up, it kind of stays that way. I've never seen an actual game of ice hockey on a pond or lake in Wisconsin. That's probably something people do more in Minnesota and Canada.

    When the ice is a little more solid, it's time to drive your pickup on the frozen water. Nothing makes you feel more like a man than driving your 5,000 pound vehicle on water. Doing so gives you the ability to drag an even bigger shack even further onto a lake. And when you run out of beer, you can just drive to the liquor store. Sure, several trucks fall through the ice each year, but that's all part of the challenge.

    Another pastime that occurs on or near frozen bodies of water is playing cribbage. It's a confusing card game with a board and pegs. There are some drinking rules built into the game, but every card game is a drinking game in Wisconsin. The problem with drinking alcohol while playing cribbage is that the game itself involves simple math, and that math gets harder and harder as the night goes on. By the end of the third game, it's like you're playing some kind of calculus game with Pythagoras.

    People also create their own ice up North. Many communities have some kind of ice sculpting competition. Probably like sand sculpting here, except cold. That's kind of the point, though. Everything is cold outside in the winter months back in Wisconsin, so you figure out something to do. It's just that no one I ever knew seemed to want to go curling, and I probably would have turned them down, anyhow.

    It seems that most ice-related activities have a lot to do with drinking and unreasonable risk. Curling doesn't generally involve either of these, so it's not terribly enticing to most ice adventure-seekers. That said, you can do it on the ice in Jacksonville, unlike some of the other activities mentioned above. If you're from somewhere north of here and miss the ice enough, you might take up curling. I won't be doing so myself, but I also won't be ice fishing or flying around at 100 mph on snow.
  • JAXEX Bad Neighbor 2
    The last time I wrote an article about JAXEX being accused of being a bad neighbor, my website broke because I tried to embed the flight map. I am hoping it does not do that again, and it's really kind of mean-spirited of the flight tracking company to NOT allow embedding, and also to have a 10 minute delay.

    When I get angry about an airplane flying over when I'm trying to enjoy a midday cocktail, I don't want to have to wait 10 minutes in order to see which plane it was. In fact, I'll probably never do that, which JAXEX knows.

    I've already covered the noise in my area because of Craig Airport. The folks there were true to their word that the noise abatement system would be replaced, but it's at a time when new flights are being added for rich execs who don't live in my neighborhood.

    Anyhow, if you want to complain, feel free. I am sure your complaint will be tallied, analyzed, and filed for the next decade in order to recommend a new flight path or rules that are actually followed by pilots at some point in the next quarter-century.

    I guess the timing of the new desire to add to the runways coinciding with a new UPS facility going in a few miles down the road is purely coincidence. 
  • Retiree Guide to JAX
    Jacksonville just made the Top 10 in some list of places to retire. The only problem is that the city isn't really in the Top 1000 for people who are actually looking to retire, so maybe it's time New Jax Witty works on putting together a local guide for folks who no longer have to work.


    I'm not some kind of Jacksonville lifer who knows all the ins and outs of life in Northeast Florida. You'll want to identify some of these people, maybe who attend your church of choice, to help with some of the important decisions, like where to get your dog groomed. I'll keep this more basic so that it helps you understand why Jacksonville made the list of top places to retire and whether or not it's right for you. The difference in Jacksonville compared to an expensive retirement community is that you won't have a network of people organizing activities and actively supporting your forever spring break, so you'll have to figure out what works for you and how to achieve retirement bliss on your own.


    This isn't Miami. Three months over 90, and a lot of 80s as highs. Perfect weather in late fall and early spring. A winter that will freeze (just barely) a dozen times or so overnight. Unless you're from California, you'll recognize the curve. It was the same kind of deal when our family moved from Milwaukee to Kansas City. If you can stand three months in the 90s or plan on snowbirding, it's a great climate. If you want to shovel a few times but get fewer months of cold, then try the line from KC over to Virginia. A friend of ours retired to Tennessee from Jax because he wanted all four seasons. I personally like it better here than in Wisconsin for a good portion of the year, especially in winter. And if you're retired with a condo, you won't have to mow your grass in the summer, which is pretty much as bad as the snowblowing I had to do in Milwaukee.


    Northeast Florida is cheaper than Southeast Florida for retiring, at least when it comes to housing. And especially if we’re talking Jacksonville itself as opposed to St. Johns County. You can get a place in Nocatee or World Golf Village, but then you’re paying for all the fanciness without being in The Villages or Miami. Jacksonville’s neighborhoods are diverse enough that you can find whatever it is you want, whether it’s a waterfront property or a large lot for your RV or a condo. That said, it’s still one of the youngest cities in the state (there’s a large military presence), so there will be kids around. If you’re good with living in a normal neighborhood rather than a designated retirement community, then the money you need to buy into Jacksonville is lower than places that advertise themselves as places to retire.


    If the ocean matters to you, Jacksonville has nice beaches. They are not special, but they exist. You won’t find beaches in Orlando or The Villages. You can buy a trailer home in Central Florida for $10,000 and shoot at bottles in the woods, but you can’t go to the beach without driving half the day. Jacksonville’s only had a handful of hurricanes hit over the years, and retired folks can just drive to safety for the week when one does come around. During the work week, you can meander on the beach all day with only a few other people, since Jacksonville simply is not yet the tourist destination of other cities in Florida. The area along the river isn’t as refined as downtown river walks in other cities, but it’s also not something you’d get a chance to experience in smaller towns.


    Near the aforementioned river walk, you’ll find art and theatreoptions, along with sports and museums. This is a real city with a population nearing 1 million, so there’s some culture to be had. Minor league and way off Broadway, to be sure, but a lot of it is fairly affordable. And it’s better than watching the retirement community pickleball championships. From what I can tell, the top high school football and soccer teams come from this part of the state, so you could always attend one of those games, too. You could even audit a class at one of the local colleges. Because it’s a large metro area, you’ll get decent shopping and dining options when compared to planned retirement communities.


    The biggest problem I have with crime in Jacksonville is that it’s not as relegated to a certain part of town like it was in Milwaukee. The crime rate isn’t really any higher than any other large city, but even the parts of the city that feel like the suburbs experience crime. Granted, the crime on my side of town tends to be unlocked cars getting rummaged through and porch piracy. The point here is that retirees should not have to feel like it’s unsafe in their retirement community. The city is working to improve the crime numbers, mostly to get re-elected, and there are plenty of gated communities, but you still have to venture out to the Walmart parking lot every now and again. In my area of Jacksonville, it seems crime is less east of the 295 towards the Intracoastal and beaches.


    If you’re from a typically-segregated Rust Belt city, you will notice the difference in Jacksonville. If that bothers you, then The Villages in the whitest place in America. More than likely, some of your best friends are Black. I think that’s great. In Jacksonville, you’ll also be able to live right next door to that best best friend of color. If you’d rather just be best friends with that person on Facebook and not next door, then St. Johns or Clay might be better for you.


    We’ve got a Mayo Clinic here. That might be enough for some retirees. Besides that, Baptist Health has been adequate. However, it seems like our doctors have a lot of conflicts, possibly with tee times, so be prepared for rescheduled appointments. That’s not a huge deal for retired folks, I suppose. Jacksonville also spent a lot of money adding ADA sidewalks, even though there’s really no place to walk to in such a vast city.


    The Jim Fortuna Senior Center is in Ed Austin Park, very close to where I live. I probably have to wait a few years to use it, but the Google reviews are good. You also have all kinds of golf courses on this side of town. Some of these golf courses would be for members only, while others allow anyone to play, so check that out. Within 30 minutes of my house: Hidden Hills, Blue Sky, Queen’s Harbour, Atlantic Beach CC, Jacksonville Beach CC, Jacksonville Golf and CC, UNF Golf Complex, Glen Kernan Golf and CC, Windsor Parke, Deerwood, Pablo Creek Club, Marsh Landing CC, and someplace called TPC Sawgrass. If you don’t like golf or places with an extra “u” in harbor or an extra “e” in park, then Jacksonville has real libraries and whatnot. You can also babysit someone’s kid in your condo unit. Since it’s a real city, you can develop community rather than have a program director create it for you. Use Nextdoor or Meetup. There are plenty of real volunteer opportunities in the area that can make a real difference in the lives of your neighbors, too.


    I know The Golden Girls was supposed to be in Miami, and there are plenty of retirees down there, but there are also all kinds of liberals in that area. If you’re a Conservative who likes to spout off at the mouth, Jacksonville is a safer place to do that than any other large city in Florida. In fact, in 2015, Jacksonville ranked as the 5th most conservative city in the nation, behind Colorado Springs, Virginia Beach, Oklahoma City, and Mesa. It’s an especially wonderful city for retired military, since we appreciate both those who serve and who have served. Wear your MAGA hat and slap an American flag sticker on your car. However, you do have to realize that there are still some liberals in Jacksonville, so it’s not a free-for-all.


    Crime is #1. Similarly, there are plenty of scammers in every part of Florida, as it’s kind of a weekend job for most Floridians. The city isn’t walkable at all. The summers are very hot. But it’s 85 degrees in February as I write this, with snow or ice in 42 of the 50 states.


    If you’re looking to retire to an area that has all the amenities you’ve come to expect living near a large city, then in or near Jacksonville is a good choice. Transfer that residency to save on state income taxes. Home prices are rising fast, so it might be time to get in before it’s too late. Here’s a realtor who sometimes reads this blog and can help you (especially vets)--be sure to say New Jax Witty sent you. I also know two realtors from my church who can help if you contact me.
  • A Funny Story From Our First Spelling Bee
    My son participated in his first spelling bee this year, making it to the finals of his school and then filling in for the champ at the Duval County written spelling bee, which he did well enough on to get to be one of the 26 finalists. That's pretty cool, and it's further than I ever got in a spelling bee, even though I was pretty good at spelling. Just not in front of people. The event itself was an interesting experience, and one that's as much a lesson for parents as the kids. Problem is that not all the parents learn the lesson, apparently.

    The spelling bee took place at a local high school, which is probably fairly typical, so if your kid makes it to the final round, that's where it will likely be. Prior to the contests (one written and then this oral one), we were provided with an initial list of words that didn't help much for the written test, though it does seem as if most of these words were used on the finalists. That's an important item to note, as it means the kids have had the opportunity to study at least some of the words being used. My son had seen the word he missed, and he spelled it correctly a couple weeks earlier. I blame myself a bit there, since I went and downloaded a list of words for him to study that had nothing to do with the list being used--just stick with the official company and its list if you're looking to study.

    The high school that hosted the event had a nice-looking auditorium. However, the acoustics were horrendous. Since it's not like a huge crowd shows up for these events, I'd recommend using a library rather than an auditorium. A public library might even provide a nice Duval Schools outreach event. I used to run a talent show for many years for the high school at which I taught, and we used the library very successfully until the event grew too big. But I also made sure that when we transitioned to the auditorium, the acoustics were acceptable, since the talent show was at least partially about reading poetry. The main problem in the spelling bee case was the fact that the microphones were awful, and it was just hard to hear in the nearly-empty auditorium.

    But hold on a second, since it took a good 20 minutes just to get into the actual spelling bee itself. We were introduced to the local celebrity judge panel, all of whom had a full bio read to the audience. We were introduced to the organizers. We were introduced to the principal of the school. We watched as the main organizer was thanked and received a token of appreciation, etc. And then we were introduced to each and every kid. None of that's a big problem, and after the first round, I understand why it was done early on (most families of kids who missed the first word left at that point, including us). This extended introduction provided the opportunity for someone, anyone, to notice how poorly the microphone setup was in order to provide a solution. Instead, we trudged on.

    When the word reader person was introduced as a native of Georgia, I wondered whether my kid (a native of Wisconsin) would be able to understand what she was saying, but it wasn't really about that in the end. I knew it was going to be a struggle when she first grabbed the mic and the audience was treated to just about the worst microphone feedback in the history of bad sound hookups. Here's the science-y reason why from Science ABC:
    To put it in simple words, feedback is a high-pitched sound that comes out of speakers when something about the arrangement or the calibration of the audio system is not suitable for the desired setting.
    Testing a system out before the event is usually a good idea. Based on the number of problems with people hearing the speakers, I'd say the stage crew at this local high school had never worked on a spelling bee before. The person reading the words (who we'd learned earlier loves her pets and walks on the beach) was sitting down in front of the stage, and her positioning might have been in the wrong location relative to the speakers.

    This is how I'd assess the general sound requirements of a spelling bee: the kids need to understand the words coming out of the word giver's mouth. If that means the parents not hearing everything or the students standing right next to the reader, then so be it. Instead, it seemed important for the parents to hear all. It was also apparently important for parents to understand all kinds of rules when it came to them filing a protest, which I thought was just a formality. Apparently not.

    So the deal was that none of the kids could hear this speaker all that well. She had a little bit of an accent. The venue was not the best, but it was fair because everyone had to deal with it. My son claimed after his misspelling that he thought he heard a different word, but that word did not exist nor was it on his list. So he imagined a different word. And he might not have been alone. A few kids confidently spelled their words wrong, while others asked for more details about the word before messing up the spelling. But only one kid was the "rivulet" kid. And only one family failed its kid in that first round.

    Like I said, everyone had the list. Rivulet, or maybe rivulets, was on the list. I remembered it when I heard our word mistress say it. Riv-u-let. The speller, who seemed to be even more socially awkward than the average spelling bee kid, needed it again. And again. Over and over. Definitions, origins, used in a sentence. Pronounced again, etc. He just refused to spell anything because he could not figure out what exactly he was hearing. Again, everyone had the same woman speaking, and everyone had access to the same list of words. But we all had to feel bad for this kid for nearly 10 minutes. I'm not lying; it felt more like 10 hours. Finally, he said the word and spelled it incorrectly. A collective feeling of relief followed from all of the parents who still had kids in the contest. At least that kid would be out of it.

    But wait, the kid who obviously had not studied the list, couldn't figure out the word, refused to give it a shot, nearly started crying in front of the whole room, and failed in a way that no kid wants to fail, got a reprieve. His parents were the only ones who successfully challenged the ruling, rewarding the Rivulet Kid with another chance to embarrass himself. The only kid to advance to the second round without even spelling a word correctly. Obviously, the rule should be that he'd have to spell something correctly. He didn't even spell an actual word. After 10 minutes and a couple dozen repeats of the word, he chose to spell a word that did not exist. If he'd spelled amulet or river inlet or livery, I'd have had some compassion for the kid.

    I have to admit I felt anger that Rivulet Kid's parents protested and won. I even said it out loud, not caring that they sat a few feet away. It was as easy a word as anyone had in the first round. Everyone was dealing with the same audio problems and the same Southern Drawl from the same speaker. Everyone had the same list to study or not study.  But this kid was allowed to continue. The squeaky wheel getting the grease, once again.

    Don't get me wrong, I'd rather deal with parents who want their kids to succeed than parents who just want to blame teachers for their kids' failure, but when parents who want their kids to succeed ALSO blame the teachers, that's a disaster. All the other kids who missed their first round words were sad, though (I hope) supported by their families. Those kids were allowed to fail, since we all could have complained about the acoustics. The problem is that we all had to explain to our children why Rivulet Kid was allowed to keep going. I just told my son it was because his parents were jackasses.

    In all, my kid wanted to win, even though he got bounced in the first round. I told him that if he really wants to win next year, it will take some dedication to learning words that no one cares about, like rivulet. However, and this is important, I told him that he would never be getting a protest from us in order to make up for his deficiencies. We don't make excuses to his teachers at school, we don't hound his coaches for more playing time, and we don't try to force people to let him win when he's lost.

  • Church of God the Mother at UNF
    UNF sent out an email regarding at least one of the churches that shows up on campus to talk to students. I don't attend UNF, so I don't actually know much about the situation. But I went to college, and there were sometimes churches represented near the Union, and there were sometimes heated debates. I never got involved myself, and I was only approached one time, so I'm not taking a stand on Christians on Campus or Socialists or Republicans or White Nationalists. So I'm cool with anyone except Nihilists or The Eagles showing up on campus to discuss whatever with Millennials. I'm just wondering about the name "Church of God the Mother."

    It looks like the Church of God the Mother is somehow related to the World Mission Society Church of God. This is a church out of South Korea that believes the following (Wikipedia):

    The church believes in God the Father and God the Mother,[8] claiming to be restoring the truth and practices of the early Church.[2] The church also believes that co-founder Zang Gil-ja is God the Mother, as taught by the founder Ahn Sahng-hong[9].
    The World Mission Society Church of God believes that all of its teachings are based on the Bible, as explained in the numerous books written by Ahn Sahng-hong.
     The lady in the photo is apparently God the Mother. I don't think she's supposed to be a Korean version of Mary, the Mother of God. She's just the co-founder of the church, but I'm not really sure if she's supposed to be part of the Holy Trinity or what. I looked her up, and it looks like she is considered to be God the Mother because she has fulfilled the prophecies of the Bible. Seems legit. And it makes me wonder more about the Kia Soul.

    From my extensive research, it looks like this church was hanging out at Vanderbilt, also trying to lure young women into their ranks. Some people have accused the church of trafficking women, and I saw a Charlie's Angels episode that was kind of like this, but I don't know if that's true.

    The problem with the local news is that it mixed the current church situation with video it obtained of some dude going nuts about homosexuals on campus. That's just traditional campus soapbox rhetoric. People targeting young women and trying to get them to join a church that might go all Moonie on them is kind of a different scenario. Sure, some people would say all churches are cults, but this one really does operate like something out of a Charlie's Angels episode,, at least based on some of the articles I've seen online. But you can't believe everything you read online. Except this blog, of course.

    So if you are a vulnerable young woman on a college campus (or in a Walmart parking lot--another place the church recruits), just do some research before you start praying to God the Mother. Or that God the Father dude, even if he "friends" you. Also, if you have a story about this church you'd like to share, I'd like to add it to this website, so go ahead and send me a message.
  • Arlington Renewal: Reality Check
    I'm all for reviving and renewing Arlington, as long as it's not going to wake up all cranky on us. I have enough experience in urban planning (as a college student and connoisseur) to be able to predict a few major concerns with renewing Arlington, whether or not some hot-shot Miami developer says it's going to happen. And I don't have millions of dollars or years of experience in the neighborhood. Just sense.

    The Good News
    Arlington is close to perfect as a location, transportation-wise, as is the eyesore of a hotel that's potentially being redeveloped. Where I live in East Arlington is pretty great, too. It's all manageable to downtown and a straight shot to the beach. It doesn't freeze as often on this side of town, which is a bonus, but we're still in-town, pretty much.

    The Rest of the News isn't Good
    Sticking something fancy somewhere it doesn't fit is not a good idea. Changing the purpose of one building or one mall won't do it. Forcing businesses to change signage isn't the answer. I think the technical urban planning term is putting lipstick on a pig, even though the landscape architects and planners who want to cash paychecks will keep telling you it's using design to change people and place.

    Here are some examples from my past that can speak to what Arlington is considering now:

    Capitol Court
    Case in point, when I was an urban planning student at UW-Milwaukee, one of the big projects in town was the rehabilitation of Capitol Court. It was one of the original shopping malls, back when that area of town was vibrant and expanding in the 60s. Sounds familiar, maybe. Anyhow, I grew up going to the mall. I saw ET at the theater there. Then the neighborhood turned pretty bad. People were afraid to go to the mall. It was mostly empty by the mid-90s. Then it became a planning project. Human-scale was big. Landscaping. Open areas. Seating. A Wal-Mart. Mixed use. These planners and architects actually stood in front of my class saying that their designs would be able to change how the people felt about the space, leading those people to appreciate it and behave less like felons while shopping. It probably sounded great to my classmates, but I grew up near Capitol Court, so I knew better.

    It took a little more time, and it probably looked nicer in its demise, but the Midtown Center could not really rise from the ashes of Capitol Court. Lowes, Walmart, Sears, Penneys, etc. Every anchor closed, and just a lot of open and empty space. The jobs, if that was part of the plan, are gone. Facades, archways, parking lot paths, green spaces, and trees, all make it look too good to be true, which is totally accurate. The problem with Capitol Court wasn't the design: it's like the Town Center, but on a smaller scale. The problem was the neighbors. The people who lived there weren't going to go from low-income and high-crime residents to suburban soccer moms just because the local shopping center planted some trees and slapped a new name on the building.

    Marquette University, facing a similar problem to Capitol Court, took a different approach. An approach that was ridiculed by some members of my mentors at UW-Milwaukee, even as it was admittedly somewhat effective. The school needed to keep enrollment up, but real or perceived crime in the surrounding neighborhoods kept students away. What could the college possibly do? Buy the surrounding neighborhoods, that's what. Marquette made no attempt to fix poverty with economic redevelopment, and it wasn't looking to use urban design to change attitudes of poverty-stricken people. No, it just bought up block upon block of buildings and kicked those folks out so that Heather and Ashley could have an apartment in a safer neighborhood next to the school.

    Brewers Hill
    Another way an area in Milwaukee turned itself around to the exclusion of the residents was in Brewers Hill. Basically, young professionals working downtown realized that they could get sweet deals on awesome old houses and fix them up, in a neighborhood just next to downtown that wasn't known for being totally safe. Enough of these people bought the houses that the area started changing, and people who'd lived there for decades weren't even able to afford the newly-assessed property taxes. It's like the reverse of what was often called White Flight or blockbusting in the North. New paint, landscaping, and a Prius in every garage. And a short commute to downtown.

    So what do these cautionary tales tell us about Arlington? First off, it's too big of an area to just buy up the whole thing, so it makes sense to focus on parts, which is what the local government has done. However, from what I've read, it seems that the plan is to force the businesses to make the changes that will trickle down to the surrounding neighborhoods. The problem is that it's all about the people who live and show up at those businesses. If there are payday stores, pawn shops, dollar stores, and internet cafes in an area, I personally am not going to get out and shop. But it doesn't make sense to have a Rolex store next to Section 8 apartments and dilapidated townhouses.

    Renewing Arlington starts with the residents. If we decide as a community that we live in an area that's worth renewing, then we need to treat our own homes and neighbors with respect. And we need to expect it out of our neighbors, which means taking action if there's an apartment complex that contributes to the real or perceived run-down feel. Sometimes, renewal is in the form of low or no-interest loans to resident homeowners for general maintenance, but it might also involve running out the slumlords. It might be about community policing, too. In many respects, however, it comes down to pride. It's easier to just use up your house and then build a new one down in St. Johns County, but that's a lot harder to do if you know and like your neighbors, and appreciate the convenient location.

    My own neighborhood in Milwaukee was terribly overpriced. That's because people wanted to live there, even if they could get a larger house on the northwest side of town, and even if the houses on the near north side had a lot more character. People took pride in their homes, and the neighborhood was safe, so location is what sold the homes. Easy access to the freeway and downtown were added value. Where I lived in Milwaukee has a lot of similarities to Arlington, except that area was never allowed to fall apart. Still, not all hope is lost if the smallish, oldish Arlington homes are seen as being in the best location near downtown and the beaches. 

    New business development does play a role in fixing Arlington, as does the maintaining of current business. However, putting a few bushes outside the adult entertainment club or store, while ironic, isn't going to fix the problem of having businesses that cater to the people who live here. You're not going to see any pawn shops in Ponte Vedra because they'd go out of business or be run out of town. And that's not because rich people never need to pawn stuff to pay for their mansions; it's because their mansions aren't worth as much if there's a pawn shop down the road.

    Planning Points

    My old neighborhood in Lenexa was just outside of Kansas City, not even as close as Arlington is to Jacksonville. It saw the opportunity along the 435 and 35 for being a great place for national headquarters and distribution centers. That worked well for the town, and it's frankly more sightly than used tire and rent-a-rim shops. Doing that, however, is all about infrastructure, making sure trucks can get in and out easily. By contrast, the 295 corridor in Arlington seems to have been established as new single-family homes, along with typical urban-sprawl big-box retailers nearby. Sure, that works as long as everyone who lives there works downtown, but Arlington should also push for more than retail chains alongside vast subdivisions.

    We get excited about the new Wawa or Starbucks, but I'd get a lot more excited about a legitimate business park. Honestly, many businesses can operate outside of the main downtown areas, and once St. Johns County realizes this, we'll see more and more CEOs pushing for their commutes to be shorter. All of Jacksonville's inner-ring suburbs should be trying to establish working-wage jobs in the area before those jobs leave the county altogether. Where was Arlington's proposal for the new JEA headquarters? Does Arlington even propose anything on its own, or is it all just part of some trickle-down development system that favors downtown and sprawl rather than redevelopment?

    I looked at a crime map of Arlington, and one trend was clear: one of the most concentrated area of assaults and robberies stems from right around University and Merrill. Even though JU is right down the road from us, I have not even considered it for my kids, and that's why. If that's not a simple concept for the highly-educated staff at JU, then I feel bad for them. UNF, almost no crime, so that's the direction I'll be leaning when my kids ask me which local college is best. JU certainly has a stake in cleaning its neighborhood up, just like Marquette did in Milwaukee.

    Another trend that is impossible to miss is that crime is centered around apartment complexes that, when you view them on Google Streetview, look like apartment complexes where crime would take place. I know, it's sad that people maybe moved to Arlington to escape crime in another part of town, but if the crime kind of follows those people, then it's our problem now. If I was an alderman for part or all of Arlington, I'd look at the crime near these apartments, but I'd also look to see where the victims and perpetrators live. Forcing the rental company to fix some leaks won't make the crime go away, and neither will extra police presence near the crimes (we've been mapping crime for decades, so there's already more presence there). What makes it go away is lack of access, meaning the places where the victims and criminals live no longer exist in Arlington. Someone out there is crying that these people need to live somewhere, but Arlington would be better off raising a sales tax to help build these new apartments in some other part of Jacksonville. Or even a property tax surcharge. I'm serious, if people who live here knew all the stats, many of them would jump on board. Even if some of the crime is committed by someone who crosses a bridge to get to Arlington, it's generally to visit someone who lives here before going on the crime spree.

    Home Ownership
    Arlington suffers from a rental problem, and not just in the apartments. I understand that the military personnel are going to rent, and they're good tenants, from what I understand. I know some renters in my neighborhood who do a good job taking care of their places. However, nothing makes someone care about property values more than actual home ownership. Some kind of Own Arlington initiative could play a large role in turning the community around. Again, it might take low-interest loans or a unique rent-to-own arrangement, but if we can get a larger percentage of our residents to own their properties, then they will care more about the signs at the local mini-mall and the crime near the local apartment complex.

    The Arlington Expressway seems to be a 70s solution to road widening, and I have to wonder if it's considered best practices in planning today (or ever really was). The insane on and off-ramps, one way and sometimes two-way frontage roads, and obvious disrepair along it all mean that a redevelopment of an old hotel into an apartment complex will result in another money pit waiting to happen. Someone, somewhere must have come up with a better way to handle this stretch of road by now.

    Since the 295 is up for road work and toll-installation, it's a good time to consider elements that can help in creating the proper infrastructure for Arlington's future. For example, there's a lot of underutilized commercial land along St. Johns Bluff near the airport that has easy access to the 295 and the small airport. More forest along Monument, as well. These areas need to be looked at as real business opportunities rather than more retail malls or apartment complexes. Places that might pay wages that will allow people to purchase homes in the area.

    Arlington First
    Do you think the folks over in Avondale consider Arlington when they want something done in their area? Does downtown worry about us? St. Johns? Of course not. People in Avondale live in wonderfully overpriced homes because they've maintained a nice neighborhood near downtown. In fact, most of us in Arlington are just as close to downtown (time-wise). But those folks need to spend twice as long on the road to get to the beaches. The people down in St. Johns need nice, wide expressways to get to downtown in a hurry, but that should not concern us in Arlington. In fact, if we could ensure our roads stay fast and safe, people might decide that 45 minutes from Nocatee to downtown is too much executive time in the German touring sedan, opting to return to Arlington. This has happened in the Milwaukee area with a suburb named Wauwatosa. It's become fashionable to move back to Tosa from the outer-ring suburbs because people realized they could have a small-town feel in a house with character, decent schools, and a real downtown within five miles of the lakefront and downtown Milwaukee. Wauwatosa didn't worry about how Milwaukee or West Allis or Brookfield or Wales felt about drawing young professionals to its thriving downtown.

    Arlington was once the place to go. You could move out of the older Jacksonville homes elsewhere, closer to the beaches, with open spaces all around, and a nifty new mall. Now it's mostly developed and partially decaying, but it's not hopeless by any means. Arlington is just a hard sell to get someone to buy a 1,500 square foot cinder block home in the heart of an area where crime stats are peppered with batteries and property crime. People see Clay and St. Johns with less crime and higher property value. Plus, those areas don't have a dead mall and sketchy retail stores. Mainly, Arlington hasn't made a play to stay relevant as a place people want to embrace as a long-term home. There isn't a discernible downtown or riverwalk, and there aren't people riding their bikes on miles of off-street trails. No farmers market or free concerts. Still, we have a good base of quality housing in a great location, so it can still happen. When it does, we will have the advantage over the new sprawl going in too far from the city. The investment has to come from the people who want to live here, however, and that does not seem to be a trendy way of planning development in Northeast Florida.  
  • Grammar Police Issue Warrant for Pablo Creek Library
    I don't expect a whole lot out of the general public when it comes to grammar. I kind of think that the English language is generally a stupid language. We could do so much better, but we're not going to change to Esperanto in the near future, so we just have to deal with it. Like I said, I can understand when someone at the local gas station calls it the Ladie's Room or Lady's Room or Mens' Room. I can look past it when someone in marketing says, "A winner must claim there prize immediately." Errors, all of them, but those are just normal, everyday people. I'm an English teacher, so I see all the mistakes; I just don't tend to give them much thought. However, when I see some questionable grammar at the local public library, that's when it's time to put on the old badge.

    Technically, I'm not even the best with identifying the rules for all of the grammatical mistakes I encounter. I just know they're wrong, and the heading for the Pablo Creek Library Valentine's Day display is wrong in so many ways. Let's count.


    1. IT'S IN ALL CAPS.
    Not a big deal, really, but it feels a little harsh for a holiday about love.

    2. It's comparing more than one book (books) to one box of chocolates.
    I might go with, "A book is like a box of chocolates," or "Books are like boxes of chocolates." Or maybe even say that a library full of books is like a box of chocolates. Also, the point of the display is that the books are about love, and those books also have descriptions on the back cover. Also, most boxes of chocolates tell you what you'll be eating, so you only don't know what you're going to get if you don't real the label.

    3. It lacks punctuation.
    I'd go with a colon or a dash after "chocolates." A colon tells the reader, "and that is." Without punctuation (and foreknowledge of the Forrest Gump quote), the sentence reads as, "Books are like a box of chocolates you never know." That's a perfectly legitimate sentence, and it makes sense if you don't read the books on the rack. Some people would be tempted to use a semi-colon, but that would be wrong, as would a comma (it creates a comma splice). I guess you could use parentheses around the definition. Oh, there should also be a period at the end, I suppose.

    4. It's a misquote. Maybe the most misquoted misquote of our time. Besides "Play it again, Sam."
    Since the sentence is from a movie, and most of us know that, I'd probably go with the more colloquial "gonna" instead of "going to." Technically, Forrest also says that his momma always said life was like a box of chocolates, but this part of the expression has been misquoted for years, since we want to change it to the present tense. I suppose that's because we think it's a valuable lesson somehow (which it isn't).

    5. There's a misplaced apostrophe.
    It's "you're," as in you are. Not "your'e," as in your he? Which isn't even correct, either, and it's not a contraction we use. Or it ain't one.  It's just wrong.

    6. The context is odd.
    This one's debatable, but Forrest does say the following: "I'm not a smart man, but I know what love is." The problem is that love, to Forrest, is basically unrequited and fairly unhealthy by our standards. He's more like a loyal puppy dog than a hero of a typical love story. And based on his own childhood, I wonder how he could know what love is. But the actual quote of life being like a box of chocolates is a lot like saying we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Kind of dumb and naive, like our English language.
  • Gunshots, Babies Crying, and Screaming - Jacksonville
    It's my first mayoral race here in Jacksonville, but I assume it will be a fun one. Two candidates who don't like one another. Anna Brosche's attack ad seems to be a metaphor for her distaste for Lenny Curry, but a lot of people also called the ad itself distasteful. If it was for a local ice cream shop, I'd totally agree, but when we're talking politics, then you can use the gunshots, crying babies, and screaming without crossing the line. Fear is the top emotion for local news, home security sales, and political ads.

    Imagine a news teaser like this: "Next at 11, a local teen is accused of meeting people online in order to help clean up the lawn for the elderly couple next door." Or, "Police officers pulled a man over and issued him a warning for speeding." We might say that's the kind of news we want, but we also wouldn't watch the news if there wasn't video footage of cars running into parked buildings or disturbing police body camera footage just before someone was gunned down. Or gangs. Fear and anger are always top stories, with maybe a few :15 community interest stories thrown in. And we eat it up.

    When we moved in, a home security guy showed up and asked whether I preferred to save a few dollars a month or put my family in danger. That was our welcome wagon to Jacksonville, besides some coupons the home improvement stores sent through the post office. He seemed surprised when I said I'd prefer to put my family in danger because I live life on the edge. Sure, he was expecting me to say I'd think about it, that I absolutely must sign an immediate contract for free installation, or that we just didn't have the money right now. A lot of the Youtube channels for security systems have feel-good ads, but the ones they run on TV tend to be more like the ones in the embedded video, stoking fear.

    So Anna Brosche used fear when attacking Lenny Curry. I looked back at Lenny's ads from the last election (that were available on Youtube), and it seems as if he didn't use attack ads. I really have no way of knowing if that's accurate, since I didn't live here. Maybe people were moved by the whole "keeping our streets safe" positive message.
    Anna wants to attack the platform for Curry's #1 Priority in the last election. Based on statistics, the "streets" aren't safer. Actually, it could be an excellent scientific study here, as our city has hired more police officers AND had a booming economy WITHOUT the streets getting safer. Those are always the arguments--from the right: we need more cops; from the left: we need more jobs. So what gives? I am sure it's frustrating for Curry. The formula is supposed to work.

    Of course, scare tactics or not, Brosche probably does not have a better formula than more police officers and more jobs. I know she opposed the sale of JEA, the money from UAE, and Confederate monuments, but I just can't find a plan for fixing the crime issue. In fact, if I was running, I don't know if I'd challenge someone on crime who has tried so hard to fix it. There's a chance she might win, and then she'll have the same #1 Priority.

    If I was Anna, I'd focus on the seemingly shady JEA deal. And being the first female mayor at a time when women are winning elections. Really, anything other than crime, since that's not something that just stops when you take office.

    An interesting side note is that one of our past mayors was named J.E.T. before jets were invented. And another mayor "transitioned" while in office (he began as a Democrat and left as a Republican). Oh, and racism: for a few years, the city charter was changed so that Jacksonville's own citizens couldn't elect the mayor because they'd elected a Republican. Instead, the city council (members appointed by the governor) elected the mayor. Could you imagine not having a direct say in your mayor, let alone your city council? But we do have a say, which is why Anna Brosche wants to scare up some support.

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