As inquisitive and well-prepared types, they asked a couple of good questions about life here on the peninsula. I thought it might be useful to lay out some of our views on our adopted hometown and capture them here on the blog. If keeping this journal has taught me anything, it's that folks from all over pop in (occasionally, they even find something useful!)...
I'll answer these in order.
- The plant is located off 295 near New Kings Road; good neighborhoods nearby? I wish I had better information for you on this, but I don't know nearly as much as I should about that side of the St. Johns River. We live about 15 miles away in the Mill Cove area. That said, I think it would be an easy commute from my favorite Jacksonville neighborhoods: San Marco (and here), Riverside and Five Points. In a city so dependent on cars, I think the key is to find a walkable area for when you're at home that still allows for a reasonable commute (mine is 12 miles but takes only about fifteen minutes, thanks to 9A).
- We'd like to rent a home with a pool, but didn't see many on Craigslist. Are they uncommon? I wouldn't think so. We checked out two homes with pools when we were in the market for our current home (out of maybe nine or ten in total), and there are loads of pools in the Hidden Hills area (near Fort Caroline--a great exurban neighborhood). My sample size is small, but I'd think it wouldn't be a problem.
- Would you consider Jacksonville to be a dog-friendly city? We take Lyla to the swings at Ed Austin Regional Park four or five times a week and the place is simply filled with dogs. There's a leash law there, but it's not always observed, and that's fine. I don't see any conflict. There are a number of dog parks, including one at the beach.
- I've read that it's not a bike friendly city--would you agree? In a word, yes. I biked to work my first year here and was honked at and yelled at a number of times. Even worse, the city considers Southside Boulevard a bike route, and there's literally six inches of "space" on the road for bikers. That said, I enjoy mountain biking at Hannah Park and the Baldwin Trail often (not to mention Fort Clinch, which is a nice day trip to Amelia Island). I bike here, but not to work. And besides, my preferred method of travel is by kayak...
- Is it a runner-friendly town? This is a first-tier running town. From the Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon and 26.2 With Donna (The Race to End Breast Cancer) to the Tour de Pain and the Gate River Run, Jacksonville has an active, avid and thriving running community.
- I've noticed the group runs start earlier than we're used to. Is that to beat the heat? It is. One of my best friends at the college is heavily invested in leading the group runs (Chris Twiggs is a talented runner and danged good guy), and they start early for just that reason. I ran the Celebration 5K last Fourth of July and I've never been hotter. It started at 7:30. You get used to it, or you run on the beach, where there's always a breeze and it's ten degrees cooler. That said, I run all the time in the heat of the day in the middle of August.
- Any good community centers to join? We love the First Coast YMCA. Love it. From hoops to swimming to yoga to family activities and everything in between, we've really enjoyed it. The best facility is the Brooks Family YMCA. This is a top notch organization.
- We try to eat locally and organically. Is there a grocery other than Whole Foods that caters to those requests? The Fresh Market serves the beaches. Native Sun serves the Southside. Plus, there's a wide network of farmer's markets, from the Green Market at Neptune Beach to the great RAM--one of the best urban markets in America.
- Are there any community supported agriculture programs? There are. One of the city's better neighborhoods, Springfield, is home to the Springfield Community Garden. There are similar gardens in Avondale, Riverside and Five Points (and probably loads of other places as well).
- Are there mostly chains, or a healthy number of quality local places to eat as well? While there are loads of chains (mostly barbecue), we've discovered some great places to eat as well. Our favorite in the area is Cap's. Sooooo good! But we also like Lemongrass, Blue Bamboo, Mojo Southern Blues Kitchen, and The Surf. We've heard great things about Chew, Salt, Singleton's and Clarke's Fish Camp. Believe me, I get full...
- The city seems sprawling. How is the traffic? It is a maze of sprawl. It's the largest city in the country by landmass. Still, where we live the traffic is fine. Like I said, my commute is easy. Jeanne's commute to Forrest High School is a little rough in the afternoons, but it all depends on where you live and which primary roads you take. Unless you live within five miles of your workplace, I'm not recommending living much further south than Baymeadows Road. That's just me, and many of my colleagues live at the beach or in St. Johns County. But hey, why not try the Belle Rive neighborhood if you're down there around Baymeadows? That's a nice part of town...
- Walkable neighborhoods? San Marco, Riverside, Avondale, Five Points, Springfield (when the construction is done) and any and all of the beaches (Jacksonville is my favorite--a little younger vibe).
- What is the political climate like? It's like Florida's weather--hard to forecast. Obama actually won Duval County, which was surprising. And there are many pockets of progressive politics, but make no mistake about it: this area is largely conservative. The Southern Baptist Church owns a huge amount of property in the city center, and religious views play a strong role in local politics. As an Oregon democrat, I get the chance to talk politics all the time down here! Regardless of political philosophy, the people here are kind and willing to agree to disagree. Stubborn, but kind...
- Do you go to the beach often? We live less than six miles from the beach. Jeanne and Lyla and I go together about once or twice a week right now. It'll be daily in the summer. I go an additional time or two to jog. I'll be running on Bay Street tomorrow afternoon!
- Are the beaches nice to use or super crowded and touristy? The beaches communities are as laid back as you could ever imagine. Sure, spring break is a zoo, but that's Florida. The beaches are spacious and covered with fine sand. The beaches are fantastic, and I'd recommend you look to live somewhere on this side of the river for that reason. It's a harder frequent trip from San Marco.
- How has it been to meet people down there? We've both made great friends here. We could both probably make a greater effort to accumulate more (we just made one though; she recently turned one!). Hey, if you guys come to Jacksonville you'll be three friends ahead of the curve. Seriously, it doesn't have a downtown like Portland. I love my neighborhood bar and I've met some folks to play golf with, but it's not like heading down to the Rialto...
- Is it hard to meet young people there, or do I overestimate the retiree crowd? There are lots of retirees and snowbirds. But not nearly as many as I expected. Working at a college the way I do, it seems to me the place is bursting with young people. The beaches, in particular, are very vibrant.
I love living here.
I enjoy fishing from local piers and the top of my kayak (I go out about once a week) and going to the beaches and the Riverside Arts Market and the zoo and the Cummer Museum and MOSH and the Spanish Pond with my wife and daughter. I enjoy playing golf in 70-degree weather on Christmas Day. I love the wildlife and the access to fresh seafood and sitting in the yard reading a book with a cold margarita. I like the Caribbean influence on the population and the food and I like going on dates with Jeanne to places like the San Marco Theatre.
I like driving to spring training baseball and going to Jacksonville Jaguars games and visiting Tampa Bay and St. Augustine and Amelia Island. It's nice to visit Georgia and South Carolina. It's located very near great hospitals and top-notch universities (UF, Jacksonville University and UNF, among many others).
I've been blessed to meet great people here--folks who will always be in my life.
On the other side, I wish there was more tolerance in this town. From sexuality to race to religion, this place could stand to acquire some more empathy. I wish there were more walkable neighborhoods, and a greater attention to environmental conservation. These are values Jeanne and I have consciously tried to impart in the students we work with, but it's an uphill battle.
I'd like to have Mt. Hood here as well.
I miss my family and friends from the West Coast more than any other aspect. I know we'll return to Oregon at some point, and I'm excited for it, but this is my home right now and I do sincerely appreciate it.
Like anything, home is what you make of it. This place has become ours...