3. South Park did it (in 2015)
A six year old joke that’s indistinguishable from many current marketing pitches. Courtesy of South Park Studios.
In addition to being a tool of gentrification and displacement, the portmanteau names are rife for mockery, and popular culture has taken note. The stage version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch contains a joke about New York’s rough Meatpacking District becoming the “tony, newly renovated” neighborhood of “MePa.” Back in 2007, How I Met Your Mother had an episode in which a realtor pushes an apartment in the emerging “DoWiSeTrePla” district, which ends up meaning “Downwind from the Sewage Treatment Plant.”
But the most blistering takedown of abbreviated neighborhood names came courtesy of South Park. In 2015, the show released an episode whose plot would strike a chord with anyone who has followed the redevelopment of Jacksonville’s Brooklyn neighborhood or many like it across the country. South Park residents endeavor to gentrify a poor neighborhood into a bougie new development called “SodoSopa,” short for “South of Downtown South Park,” which is full of “independent merchants and unique cafes” that appeal to a wealthy crowd. While SodoSopa invokes the “rustic charm” of the area’s “mixed income crowd,” in reality the lower income residents are totally left out. In the end, SodoSopa is abandoned for another trendy district that attracts a coveted Whole Foods.
The episode and its way-too-on-point fake commercials for SodoSopa have since become common reference points for folks mocking trendy urban branding initiatives and developments. It took only a few hours for it to turn up in The Jaxson forums’ discussion of “NoCo” and “SoBa”, not to mention on social media. In picking bandwagons to jump on, it’s best to avoid the ones that have been skewered mercilessly for more than 6 years.
4. It obscures the connection to the river
One of DIA’s proposed SoBa/Southbank designs incorporating imagery from Kate and Kenny Rouh’s “Mirrored River” mosaic. Courtesy of the Downtown Investment Authority.
But the biggest reason to oppose the DIA’s renaming of the Northbank and the Southbank is that it buries the districts’ association with their single biggest asset, the St. Johns River. In addition to being commonly used names that came about organically, “Northbank” and “Southbank” invoke the two sides of the mighty river that flows between them. “NoCo” and “SoBa” are each several conceptual degrees away from Downtown Jacksonville’s most dominating feature.
Oddly, the DIA’s proposed vision statements for “NoCo” and “SoBa” are full of references to the river and waterfront, including the Northbank and Southbank Riverwalks. One of the proposed SoBa designs includes imagery from the river-themed mosaic titled “Mirrored River” that’s under the river-crossing Main Street Bridge, and is literally only visible from the Southbank Riverwalk. Clearly DIA understands that the connection to the river is important. Why make a special effort to bury it?
What to do about it
While the branding initiative needed work before it got a public debut, it’s not an entirely bad idea. It would be great to have more placemaking across Downtown that recognizes the history and culture of the various districts that make it up. It’s definitely worth another shot, but like many problems in Jacksonville lately, the next attempt should include fewer vision statements and trendy-sounding marketing speak, and more input from community members and experts who know the histories and cultures of the neighborhoods in question. That, and dropping “NoCo” and “SoBa” in a firepit.
Take the survey yourself and let DIA know what you think.
Editorial by Bill Delaney. Contact Bill at email@example.com.