Published in EU Jacksonville’s January 2015 Edition
UNITY PLAZA UPDATE By: Jen Jones
Above: Jacksonville, Florida, circa 1910. “Main Street north from Bay.” 8×10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company.
Unity Plaza has a major dog in the fight when it comes to shoring up our city’s collective understanding of what makes Jacksonville nationally important and truly amazing. It is the author’s fervent belief a critical element cauterizing our evolution and maintaining our national lag behind has been our own non-understanding of our roots and the thousands of gifts this geographic location has proffered up and provided our great nation throughout its unique history.
Enter in the UP Community Spotlight Series presented by Metro Jacksonville and several other sponsoring organizations. On a bi-weekly rotation throughout each year, the MJ and UP teams as well as professors and talent from Jacksonville University, University of North Florida and Florida State College Jacksonville, executive directors from our five county area historic archives and community spokespersons will stand in the Unity Plaza Amphitheater and deliver our own spectacular history through verbal tales, prose, dance and music. Unity Plaza plans to “spotlight” our community neighborhood by neighborhood – sharing the secrets of the Sugar Hill gang who moved on to create the Harlem Renaissance, why Durkeeville still has paved streets from the Civil War, life in a rebel encampment in Brooklyn and so much more. This will be a no holds barred community engagement experience where the truer, wrier and more salacious the better and where through hearing from both elders, historians and performers our foundation will come alive in ways never-before-imagined, manifesting greater understanding and appreciation for our urban core and its 836 square miles surrounding.
Take into account the neighborhood of Springfield, Jacksonville’s first aristocratic suburb located to the immediate north of downtown. Established in 1869, it experienced its greatest growth from the early 1880s through the 1920s. Then, slowly, began its long decent into decay from which it is still trying to rear its architecturally important head. Michelle Tappouni, long-time Springfield resident and advocate as well as Property Development Manager for Ability Housing and candidate for City Council Group 5 At Large, states “Historic Springfield is a diverse neighborhood of people and places with a rich cultural history we are working hard to share. Many exciting opportunities exist with collaboration among residents, business partners and various organizations. Projects leading the way include revitalization of our commercial corridor, plans for Hogan’s Creek and our parks, new artistic events, housing renovations and new construction. We all look forward to continuing our vibrant community traditions and discovering new ones into 2015 and beyond.”
A resident initiated public outcry for a deeply rooted understanding of this neighborhood led to the Springfield Historic District being listed in the National Register of Historic Places, as the area contains some of the city’s finest examples of 19th and early 20th century architecture, as well as the development of S.P.A.R. to continue protecting Springfield’s historic authenticity and its site assets. Deeper understanding of the neighborhood led to a cultural revolution within its streets including PorchFest 2014, Farmer’s Markets and Antique Car Runs – all delivered by residents who “get” the specific beauty of Springfield and are called to illuminate it.
Metro Jacksonville and Unity Plaza plan to rev-up the engines of other neighborhoods to follow in the footsteps of Springfield and encourage those areas to begin their own advocate-led cultural revolutions. We look forward with great optimism to delivering this enlightening and fun programming on the Unity Plaza stage later this year because where there is greater knowledge a collective voice is bred, increased pride, love for and deeper understanding of our fellow community members occurs and with all of this — greater civic power and the ability to shine from within will catch the nation’s attention and increase our economic viability through commerce, corporate relocation and tourism. Bringing deeper education of our community’s history is key to feeding the cultural evolution beginning to take place in Jacksonville. As Laurence Olivier states in The Jazz Singer, “You don’t know where you are going unless you know where you have been”.
To receive the Unity Plaza newsletter and final countdown to its opening, please email Executive Director Jennifer Jones direct: firstname.lastname@example.org.