Jacksonville is big: Covering an area of 874 square miles, it’s the largest city in the Lower 48. Owing to a 1967 consolidation referendum that effectively redrew the city limits at the much larger Duval County line (except for a few municipalities within the county), Jacksonville is also the third most populous city on the East Coast, topped only by New York City and Philadelphia.
Bigger, however, doesn’t always mean better. The consolidation order was approved not in an attempt to improve Jacksonville’s position on ranking lists but to address a number of crises—racial tension, political corruption, industrial pollution—that threatened to sink the city completely, the after-effects of which are still felt today.
To state the obvious, despite its size, Jacksonville has a long way to go before it’s mentioned alongside Philly or the Big Apple on any other metric besides the census. Sprawling in every sense of the word, Jacksonville spreads out for miles and miles beyond its tiny downtown core. Though beautifully bisected by the St. Johns’ River, the downtown area is dominated by banking and insurance interests during the day and left largely vacant during the evening, as those bankers and insurers head home to their suburban enclaves.
Tucked away on the outskirts of this area, however, are a few interesting cultural pockets that are defiantly vibrant, struggling mightily against the waves of chain-store sameness and interstate off-ramps that dominate the growing—but still not entirely mature—city. Nearby Jacksonville Beach is a classic Southern beach town, low-key and a bit grungy; it’s undergoing a decades-long process of revitalization yet somehow managing to keep its identity intact.
Getting to Jacksonville
Jacksonville is served by all major carriers via Jacksonville International Airport (JAX, 2400 Yankee Clipper Dr., Jacksonville, 904/741-4902, www.jia.aero). The airport is approximately 15 miles northeast of downtown.
Jacksonville is located at the intersection of two of the nation’s primary interstates, the east-west I-10, which goes all the way to Los Angeles via the southern United States, and the north-south Maine-to-Miami I-95.
The Amtrak Station (3570 Clifford Lane) is located approximately 8 miles from downtown and is served by the New York–Miami routes.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition