It’s good to be here

Photography by Penn & Finn

Dixieland is a treasure. The community, located in the heart of Lakeland, was the city’s first neighborhood to be developed south of downtown. Dixieland is home to 556 historic buildings, is a picturesque vision of Main Street America, and was once touted by its developers, Henry Carter and C.W. Deen, as “Lakeland’s fashionable suburb.”
Dixieland is an all-inclusive neighborhood where the best aspects of community thrive. Dixieland mixes historic bungalow homes (more than 400 of them, to be precise) with an eccentric and unique shopping district, great food, a family park, an A school, and a diverse community of residents. Take a stroll down Dixieland’s South Florida Avenue, and you’re sure to be struck by nostalgic glee. You can easily envision couples strolling hand in hand, ducking into the proudly air-conditioned Vito’s, the classic Italian eatery that anchored Dixieland for 40 years (1958-1998). Memories of children gleefully skipping into Bomar Trophy Shop to collect proof of the season’s successes flood the mind’s eye. My heart warms thinking of families hurrying into the Dixieland Post Office, on a mission to send their care in the form of thoughtfully wrapped packages to loved ones far away.
In Dixieland, old seamlessly mixes with new. Tradition mingles with vision. Community bubbles up from the sidewalks and seeps out of shop doors. Shopkeepers greet visitors with bright eyes and genuine smiles. Families commune in Dobbins Park for picnics and play dates. From August to May, the sound of children’s laughter fills the air as students walk to and from Dixieland Elementary — one of Lakeland’s last true neighborhood schools. Dixieland boasts a unique and inviting shopping district featuring vintage wares, high-end fashion, home decor, locally crafted art, good eats, cycling necessities, and so much more.
Known to some as Lakeland’s “other downtown,” Dixieland offers an extension of how Lakelanders have come to define downtown. Traditionally, the word downtown refers to “the main business section of a city.” In Lakeland, it’s come to mean the parts of the city that are abuzz with activity as well. Downtown Lakeland boasts nightlife and community events, and is defined by official boundaries for development purposes. However, in the social realm, Dixieland is in fact another downtown hot spot. Its close proximity to Lakeland’s official downtown district only makes it that much more charming and inviting.
I’ve been following the work of Peter Kageyama, an expert in city-making and a passionate supporter of creative community development, for just over a year. In his book, For the Love of Cities, Kageyama discusses the economic impact of citizens’ emotional connections to their cities. Human beings invest, financially and emotionally, in what they love. Lakelanders who love Lakeland invest in Lakeland. Several Lakeland-loving groups have cropped up in the last year. The main topic of discussion? To simply be a source of inspiration and empowerment for Lakelanders to love their city.
Lakeland is a place worth loving, and Dixieland makes the city more loveable.
Our city is bubbling with potential to clear the hurdle between the Lakeland of yesterday and the Lakeland of tomorrow. Desires to grow downtown, create walkable spaces, construct
pet-friendly gathering spots, and encourage entrepreneurship are teeming to life.
Kageyama writes, “In asking ourselves how to change a community, we need to remember that any community is made up of millions of acts, positive and negative, which at a distance become the whole we perceive. Each of us contributes to that whole. Each of us makes or breaks the city in small ways every day as we lead our lives. When we throw our soda can
or cigarette butt onto the street, we diminish our community. Small things, like the grains of sand on a beach, make up the totality of a place… Have you ever thought about who really
makes a community? About who makes the city a place you actually want to live? Of course, the official actors (mayors, planners, nonprofit leaders, educators, community leaders, and others) come to mind… Add to that the list of those who perform the necessary functions of keeping the city safe and smoothly functioning. But that still does not account for what ultimately makes a community. I believe that if you examined who really builds, contributes to, and essentially ‘makes’ a city, you would find that those citizens who have an emotional connection with their city make the difference.”
While exploring Dixieland, you’re likely to stumble across Drica’s Favorites. Owned by the spunky, smiley, and smart Adriana Mellas, the quirky coffee truck boasts an array of delicious delights. Her selection of made-from-scratch pastries and high-end quality coffee drinks combine to make for the perfect early morning pick-me-up or afternoon pit stop.
To find Drica, visit
In Lakeland, Lakelanders make the difference.
It’s Good to Be Here, a public artscape initiated by renowned artist and urban planner, Candy Chang, is a simple expression of love for her city, her New Orleans. New Orleans, we all know, is home to vibrant life and great tragedy, numerous vacant, dilapidated spaces as well as breathtaking architecture. New Orleanians span the income spectrum from the very wealthy to the extremely poor. On a mission to inspire her neighbors to love the city as much as she does, Candy took to the streets of her beloved New Orleans armed with a simple 25” x 10” stencil and a can of spray chalk to mark the words “It’s Good to Be Here” on the sidewalks adjacent to her favorite spots around town. “Public spaces are as profound as we allow them to be and have a lot of potential to help us make sense of the beauty and tragedy of life with the people around us” ( Our spaces, in Dixieland and beyond, have the potential to connect us as a community if we let them.
As I stand on South Florida Avenue in the heart of Dixieland, looking at thriving businesses adjacent to vacant buildings, buzzing traffic, and smiling shopkeepers, I see a community that celebrates history and future, art and business, creativity and commitment. I see possibility. I see Lakeland. And, I think, “It’s good to be here.”
Through the end of August, if you find yourself in Dixieland on a Last Friday you may think you’ve fallen through the rabbit hole. You’ll likely encounter Alice, the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, and a few others from the notable cast of characters. Hosted by the Dixieland Alliance, a partnership between the retail and restaurant establishments of Dixieland, Last Fridays are a fun way to explore Dixieland and get to know your city a little better. Solve these riddles, and find the rabbits at each location to earn a free drink from Patio 850.
Visit Dixieland Relics to find their rabbit, Matilda:
A hole is a hole
A nook is a nook
Matilda’s by someone
Reading a book

Stop into Levy’s Tire and Auto Shop to find their rabbit:
Here at Levy’s you get more for your money
Look for the rabbit
Hiding bee-hind the honey

Swing by Artist Rick Olivo’s studio and look for Walter:
New to Lakeland?
Not sure what to do?
If you’re looking for Walter
He’s hiding in a shoe
Mr. Wigglesworth has taken up residence at Raven’s Relics:
No bones about it
Sweet Alice is best
She lights up a room
How sweetly she’s dressed

Patio 850 has two bunnies, Wilson and Daisy:
Search high and low
On hand and on knee
A rabbit named Wilson
Might be in a tree

Hours love minutes
And minutes love hours
A Bunny named Daisy
Sure does love flowers

July 25
August 29