Richard’s last day at the Florida Times-Union was Friday. He’s left Jacksonville and, as we speak, is driving across the southern rim of the United States, skirting the Gulf of Mexico. After a stop in New Orleans to visit a friend he’ll make his way to San Antonio, Texas, where he will be starting a job with the San Antonio Express-News.
Richard enjoyed his job at the Times-Union and gained some great experience there — but the opportunity presented at the Express-News was just too good to pass up. The career of a young journalist tends to be an itinerant one, where moves from one paper to another are common. Already Richard has worked for four dailies, in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, and San Antonio. And his move back to San Antonio is a return trip, because he worked there several years ago as an intern. Richard’s experience shows the value of internships, because the Express-News staff remembered him from his intern days and sought him out for this new position.
So it’s so long to Jacksonville, and hello again to hot and bustling San Antonio, where Richard will be doing special business reporting and investigative reporting.
Richard had another really good article published in the Florida Times-Union this week. This one is about the history of Army Corps of Engineers’ chronic underestimates of costs — and the resulting substantial cost overruns — in prior efforts to deepen the Jacksonville harbor. It’s a significant issue for the people of Jacksonville, because a new river-dredging project is being touted, and local government would be picking up part of the tab.
This kind of story is important, whether you live in Jacksonville or not, because it deals with a very common scenario. Business leaders and politicians pitch a big project, promising that it will create jobs and is needed to keep the community competitive. Politicians like big projects because they create a sense of progress and, not incidentally, the pols get to award contracts for the construction work. Project boosters produce feasibility studies and cost estimates that make the project seem like a bargain and it gets approved — but then when the bills roll in, the costs are far above the estimates and, often, the promised economic benefits either don’t materialize at all or are far below what was forecast.
In this instance, Richard used public records requests to obtain documents that show what prior Jacksonville harbor-deepening projects actually cost, which is typically many multiples of the rosy cost estimates provided before the projects got underway. It’s another good example of Richard’s smart use of access laws to report facts that help to educate the reader and provide some meaningful context to the political promises.
It’s interesting that one of the people Richard interviewed for the story, a professor who studies ports, noted that every large infrastructure project involves cost overruns and delays. We would all do well to keep that reality in mind the next time our local leaders want taxpayers to endorse a new jobs-and-progress project.
We’ve been spending much of our time during this Jacksonville visit just knocking around Richard’s Riverside neighborhood. It’s an older area just south of downtown, with some grand homes — such as this striking place along the river — as well as tidy apartment buildings, Victorian houses that have been converted to doctor and lawyer offices, nice parks, and a neat commercial area called Five Points — as well as the occasional orange tree.
It’s one of those neighborhoods that draws people because it’s got a lot to offer and is entirely walkable, bikeable, and joggable. It’s what a “mixed use” area aspires to be. Why don’t American cities have more neighborhoods like Riverside?
The Cummer Museum is a Jacksonville jewel that Kish and I visited yesterday while Richard was working and Russell was painting. It’s got a very nice collection of traditional and contemporary art, pieces that deal with Florida and its indigenous people, furniture, fine china, and even fashion, which made a ramble through its room a pleasant series of eclectic surprises.
Behind the museum are several gardens that back up to the St. Johns River. There is an orderly English garden, an Italian garden (pictured above), a tea garden, and an upper and lower Olmsted garden. All are beautiful on a sunny day. The capstone of the garden area, however, is a huge, ancient, gnarled oak tree that must be hundreds of years old. Its mossy limbs sprawl out in every direction, touching the ground and some even being partially covered by a layer of ground cover. It’s magnificent, and a picture really can’t do it justice.
We’ve been exploring the Riverside neighborhood where Richard has an apartment, and in the process we’ve stumbled upon some of the many parks in Jacksonville. One of the nicer ones is Memorial Park, which is right on the river and features statuary, impressive fountains, Spanish moss hanging from trees, and squirrels being chased by toddlers.
Richard will be on the business desk and also will be doing some investigative reporting. He lives in an apartment in the Riverside Avondale neighborhood, which Kish says is a charming and historic area. It must be, because it has its own Riverside Avondale Preservation society and website. It’s close to the St. Johns River and has pretty areas on the waterfront, many jogging options, and some good restaurants. And today, when a cold snap means that Columbus will be lucky to hit a high of 43 degrees, Jacksonville’s high temperature is forecast to be 79 degrees and sunny.
It’s always interesting to move to a new place and learn about what is has to offer. We’ll be eagerly following Richard’s reporting and learning about this new place as he does, too.