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First Coast Connect

Despite Size And Attractions, Jacksonville Still In Search Of Identity

For a city that boasts more than 836,000 residents, access to the Alantic Ocean and the St. Johns River, and an NFL Football team, what do people think of when they hear the name Jacksonville?Many comparable or even smaller metropolitan areas have well-established identities — skyscrapers are to New York as The Blues is to Memphis as Hollywood is to Los Angeles as the "Big Easy" is to New Orleans as deep dish pizza is to Chicago.

According to one local academic, Jacksonville is a town in search of an identity. It’s a search that many are hoping could land the city on the world stage.

Jacksonville University geography professor Ray Oldakowski joined Melissa Ross to talk about Jacksonville's "identity crisis."

"Jacksonville is a city that is constantly looking to improve the quality of life for it's residents," Oldakowski said. "One of the questions that it struggle with in that quest is 'do you need to have a distinct identity?'"

Jacksonville wasn't always searching for identity. Oldakowski said the city has, in the past, been known for being the largest city by area in the country and for having a large concentration of insurance companies.

The question of whether a distinct identity is necessary for a city to be on the world stage has yet to be definitively answered in the case of Jacksonville.

Oldakowski pointed to Portland, Oregon as a city that only until recently didn't have a distinct identity and still is thought of as a great place to live and visit.

In determining what identity Jacksonville might take on, Oldakowski has surveyed city residents several times over the last five years asking what they would tell a visitor who asked what the one thing is they should do before leaving town.

"Every time we've done the survey, no individual answer has received more than 10 percent," he said, mentioning the beach, the Jacksonville Jaguars, golfing, and Jacksonville Landing as just some of the responses.

"A sense of place is just like a personality," Oldakowski said. "You can have a very nice person who doesn't have a distinct personality trait."

"We seem to be a very nice place that doesn't have one distinct characteristic that people associate with."

Some of the suggestions from First Coast Connect listeners included for what the city should be known for were health and fitness, connecting art and business, pirate history, architecture, and the One Spark movement.

"One of the things that you can do to develop an identity is let the local government, residents, and businesses be themselves and do what they want to do best," he said, referring to One Spark.

At least one company is currently seeking to create a landmark that the city could be known for.

Ponte Vedra-based firm Killashee Investments is proposing the construction of a 1,000 foot observation tower and development of a surrounding "town center" neighborhood to include museums and a state-of-the-art aquarium at the city's downtown Shipyards property.

The firm says the project, known as Seaglass Tower, would put the city on the world stage.

What do you think Jacksonville should be known for? Tweet us @WJCTJax or leave us a comment on our Facebook page.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax and Patrick Donges @patrickhdonges.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.
Patrick Donges served as WJCT's Digital Content Editor from August 2013 - August 2014.