As a non-Jax native, my grasp of Jacksonville and all its neighborhoods is pretty limited. I’d always figured that this city was a scary metropolis with nothing cool to offer. But Springfield is definitely cool. Silly little me had no idea that the back porch of downtown Jacksonville opened up to an entire neighborhood that lay nestled behind Main Street. But Springfield isn’t quietly nestled; it’s poised on the edge of bursting, and one of the tips of this iceberg is Bill Hoff, president of Springfield Preservation and Revitalization.
When I first emailed Bill to arrange a meeting, he was swift and enthusiastic in his response. We had plans to meet up somewhere neat, but then Florida reminded us that we live, after all, in her state, which meant rain and gloom and meeting at Bill’s house instead. I wasn’t disappointed, ‘cause his house is pretty neat, too. (Before I continue, I must add that Penny, Bill’s dog, was an excellent addition to this interview. However, Penny was unavailable for comment, due to an overwhelming amount of petting that she didn’t know how to process. But I digress.)
Bill grew up in Riverside, a neighborhood we are all intimately familiar with. At the time that Bill was growing up, he found that Riverside was much like Springfield is today: ready to burst with development. After attending Florida State University, Bill returned to his roots. He settled in Springfield, seeking the transitional and transformational neighborhood that was reminiscent of Riverside. “Springfield has its own unique character,” he said when I asked Why Springfield? “It was developed along a grid pattern that isn’t as common in other neighborhoods, which nurtures walkablility. Springfield has the small yards, houses close together, and old neighborhoods with old architecture. It also has the largest swing in diversity, particularly socio-economic diversity. In Springfield we’ve got hippies living next to yuppies living next to retired folks. There’s a place for literally anyone.”
That was something my minuscule mind never fathomed—that Springfield was for more than just the hippies or hipsters or however we refer to them nowadays. To me, Springfield was only home to the type of people who drink black coffee and wear glasses (even if they don’t need them), but an aim of Bill and SPAR is to eliminate the idea that Springfield is exclusive. “Come one, come all,” said Bill. Thanks for the invite! Don’t mind if I do.
The ultimate goal of SPAR is to facilitate improving the quality of life in the historic district through social events, neighborhood improvements, community cleanups, and basically anything else you can think of. “We try to do a little bit of everything,” Bill told me. From July 4th events to plain old neighborhood gatherings, SPAR strives to foster that sense of community, even if you take cream and sugar and have 20/20 vision.
I asked if he felt a sense of separation from the other neighborhoods of Jacksonville, to which he vehemently opposed. “Partnerships make everything work. We really depend on each other.” He stressed the idea that partnership isn’t something that should only impact Springfield, but should affect the entire city at large. That sense of unity is the strongest feeling I got from the interview, and it’s really encouraged me to stop viewing Jacksonville as a multi-citied area that occasionally communicates, but rather one body with many parts that like to help each other out.
The next ten years are looking bright for Springfield. “We’re going to see a more organic growth, revitalization, and development pattern moving forward,” he said, one hand resting atop Penny. “The days of the housing boom might be over, but that’s okay because that’s not sustainable. New houses are going to be built, the neighborhood will become denser, and there’s going to be some growth on Main Street.” Main Street is integral to the vitality of Springfield, as downtown and Springfield are more interconnected than I ever guessed. Clearly I need to stop assuming that I know everything about Jacksonville, and instead take the time to figure this city out. Thanks to the efforts of organizations like SPAR and Somewhere in the City, I don’t have to go it alone!
The board of SPAR could use your help in preserving the history of Springfield! You should explore their website or their Facebook for more information. And then you should volunteer. You might get to meet Penny if you do! But I can’t promise you anything, except that you will definitely help make Jacksonville a better place for all.
Photography by Morgan Burden