Gentrification: A perspective from a long time resident
This article by Dr. Tim Gilmore of jaxpsychogeo.com explores the redevelopment of Jacksonville's Brooklyn neighborhood from the perspective of long time resident Les Paul Garner.
Les Paul Garner’s little yellow-trimmed red brick house sits directly across Jackson Street from three and four story luxury apartments. In his early 50s now, Paul moved into the house when he was five. He grew up playing football between this house and the houses that once stood on the land the apartments now occupy. Some of his earliest memories are of running through a line of his friends with the ball, shirtless and exhilarated and sweating in the summer heat, and learning to ride his bike around the corner on Oak Street. In the midst of the apartments’ development in 2014, workers parked earthmovers and tractor tread cranes in his front yard and cracked the sidewalk in front of his house.
Paul’s is the last house of the old black neighborhood of Brooklyn for several blocks between Park Street and Riverside Avenue. It was one of Brooklyn’s newest in 1968 when Paul’s parents moved from a two story house nearby on Oak Street where spreads the parking lot for the luxurious 220 Riverside. Just under 1,000 square feet, the Garners’ concrete block house was their own in the community to which they’d long belonged. Paul still remembers that first house too. He recalls playing with his sister under the carport in the midst of pouring rain. He smiles and nods slowly, his eyes seeing far away.
The tall sprawling apartment complex across the street is one of several such new developments in Brooklyn, the neighborhood former slaves and Buffalo Soldiers—the nickname for black troops fighting against the Confederacy in the Civil War—began to call their first home in the 1870s.
The apartments call themselves The Brooklyn Riverside, but Les says Jacksonville never cared about Brooklyn before and jokes, “If this is Riverside, where’s our burgundy signs?” He’s referring to the street signs that mark the neighborhood and designated historic district of Riverside Avondale to the south and west.
Still, Paul likes that he can eat calzones now on Riverside Avenue, though he wishes the restaurants in the new Brooklyn shopping plazas offered more fried food. He says hello to the residents of the new apartments who walk their American Kennel Club-certified dogs down Jackson Street. They keep to themselves.
He smiles a big gracious bear-like grin, wearing a maroon cotton-wool jacket and knit cap in the cold, and says, “But you know, I keep thinking about what I’ll do. I’d like to set up here on the corner and barbecue some ribs and fry some fish and offer anybody who comes by some delicious food for free.”