Jackson is at times a divided city, segregated along hard racial, economic and educational lines. Just consider the conversation that often takes place when the subject of the Jackson Zoo comes up in casual conversation.
"We used to go to the zoo all the time when I was little," someone is sure to wax nostalgically. "I don't go anymore because the neighborhood has just gotten so ... bad."
It's a familiar trope that has picked up steam in recent weeks as rumors swirl that the zoo may be considering a move to property on Lakeland Drive that LeFleur's Bluff State Park partly occupies.
The zoo, located on West Capitol Street, is running a deficit of $675,000 amid a drop in attendance over the past seven years. The conventional wisdom says the zoo struggles because too few people are willing to brave the zoo's rough-and-tumble west Jackson neighborhood simply to look at a tiger.
But conventional wisdom is often faulty.
In the spirit of this week's Jackpedia issue, here are a few facts about the zoo's west Jackson neighborhood, pulled from city-data.com, which aggregates zip-code information from the U.S. Census Bureau and Internal Revenue Service.
Unlike much of Jackson, the neighborhood is racially split—with 595 white and 592 black residents, data show. Median household income near the zoo is $45,777 per year, which exceeds the state average of $37,696. The average home near the zoo is valued at $159,420, which is well above the state average of $99,800. In the zoo's neighborhood, 12.7 percent of people live below the poverty level; the state's poverty rate is 21.8 percent. The people who live by the zoo are also more charitable, giving 8.5 percent of their adjusted gross income to charity compared to the state average of 5.7 percent.
They sound like good folks.
Another strain in the zoo debate emerged this week when Kenneth Stokes, a Hinds County supervisor who lives close to the zoo, objected to the park's moving across town based on the fact that some people do not feel comfortable going to Lakeland Drive.
That is likely true. Some Jackson residents probably are uncomfortable visiting LeFleur's Bluff State Park and golf course, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science or the Mississippi Agriculture & Forestry Museum because they are in "white" areas. We suspect that is similar to the fear keeping some people from visiting the zoo.
There's a lot to discover in Jackson. We should all step outside our comfort zones and explore a new Jackson neighborhood, learn its history and get to know people who live there. Maybe if we all visited a part of Jackson that made us uncomfortable, we'd feel more comfortable around each other.