As we shuffle our way into 2022, Bungalower Media is setting some intentions for the new year, and while we’re doing that (and doing some organizational pilates) we are vibrating out some self-care tips for The City Beautiful to keep in their pocket over the next 360-some days.
Setting intentions is the act of stating what you intend to accomplish through your actions, whether for the New Year or day-to-day. It’s a commitment to set forth on the journey you choose each day by focusing on who you are, what you do, and why you do it, and it shouldn’t be limited to people practicing yoga in stretchy pants.
“NO MORE STRIP MALLS”
Cheap land begets cheap construction and is ultimately the herald of urban sprawl. Central Florida’s development landscape is still relatively young compared to the rest of the country and it’s cheaper for companies to build on virgin land than within city limits. This means all of those corridors between Orlando and its neighbors will continue to see more spread-out, random tracts of single-story development.
Urban sprawl isn’t just hard on the eyes, it eats away at precious wildlands and arable land. Urbanization has reduced Florida’s scrub habitat by over 60 percent, leaving fewer and fewer spaces to recharge our aquifer and provide habitat for endangered species like the adorable gopher tortoise. We deserve better.
Things to try:
- More housing: More housing options in the downtown area means less reasons for people to retreat into the suburbs. That means less new development in environmentally sensitive areas.
- Say goodbye to single-use buildings: Single-use zoning limits how many income streams a developer can have on a property and promote cheaper builds.
- Urban Growth Boundaries: Cities like Portland have drawn lines on the map to restrict new development on natural lands and push for more infill development toward the city center.
- Hire a new Placemaking Director: Mayor Dyer shuffled his staff in 2020 and randomly created a new Director of Placemaking and Competitiveness position at City Hall for his former Chief of Staff, Frank Billingsley. Billingsley has since retired from the position without having had the chance to really flex in his role, and we’re hearing the city isn’t necessarily interested in replacing him. While losing the role before ever letting us see it really take off would be a big mistake, it may present the opportunity to evolve it into something like an Office of Public Space Management which could focus on public space issues like access, safety, homelessness, inclusiveness, and infrastructure. But why can’t we have both?
“NO MORE DISPOSABLE DEVELOPMENT”
Developers aren’t building the ways they used to. Some of our most historic and beautiful buildings were created by investors who expected to get their money back over 20-30 years after creating them, meaning they took the time to invest in quality and architectural details that we’re able to enjoy a hundred years later.
Most modern developers are now operating under the assumption/belief that they should be seeing profits as soon as possible and that means creating cheaper buildings with higher rents to satisfy their investors, leaving us with buildings that have shorter life spans and dramatically lower curb appeal.
That environment, coupled with the fact that older buildings are more expensive to renovate and modernize, means we’re seeing more and more of them razed to the ground to free up the real estate for something larger and flashier.
Historic Preservation initiatives can provide incentives to developers in the form of tax credits to help offset those higher costs but often lack strict codes to protect those buildings altogether. The City of Orlando has codes and policies in place to help promote the preservation of historic sites and even signs, but sometimes, like with a historic sign at the former Porter Paints on Colonial Drive, it’s still easier for businesses to just sweep things under a rug (or a vinyl wrapper).
Things to try:
- Provide better incentives: Some cities offer certain types of permit waivers for certified preservation work or even density bonuses if developers work with them to preserve a certain site from demolition. Some have grant and loan programs associated with historic properties or heritage areas.
- Hold tight to the restrictions you have: Restrictions don’t mean bans, but rather they’re meant to help guide the correct types of uses and development the municipality has identified for significant properties. If those restrictions don’t mesh with that developer’s vision, then let them build somewhere else nearby.
“GROWTH DOESN’T HAVE TO BE DIRTY”
Growth isn’t a bad word. Cities can become better as they grow, but it’s all about intention and mindfulness. We can manage growth through a process called “incremental development” which is essentially when you build something piece-by-piece and is exactly how communities were originally built, block by block, and building by building.
Things to try:
- Empower our Main Streets: When they were originally launched in 2008, Orlando’s Main Streets were tasked to help brand and differentiate their respective neighborhoods and to help empower the businesses that called them home. Years later, it’s time to give those offices more money, more autonomy, and the ability to help control and foster development on their own terms with updated comprehensive neighborhood plans. The Main Streets know what their historic assets are and they know what their communities are missing. They should be allowed to actively recruit what businesses should be moving in and they should be doing it while on a real City of Orlando salary.
- Encourage more small-scale developers: Small development is really sexy right now and applies to projects that are typically overlooked by larger developers like infill apartment buildings or live-work properties. Small projects are more flexible and can fill in missing pieces in neighborhoods and help inspire new energy and activities and are a great way for newcomers to dip their toe into the development pool. They can also help ease the burden of missing middle and affordale housing and should be encouraged by local municipalities. Imagine a small scale developer incubator program with private and public investment dollars to go alongside Orlando’s tech hub programs.
“WE ALL DESERVE TO BE CONNECTED”
Getting from A to B in your car is getting increasingly difficult in Orlando. We know it is, because every time we publish an article about new housing development, everyone comments about how much worse traffic is going to get. We also know, because we live here and we know to avoid corridors like Virginia Drive around 5 p.m. because it’s a two-lane road to nowhere.
Most of our historic neighborhoods have been designed with grid road networks that help ease traffic congestion by providing multiple route options to choose from, but in older suburbs and newer subdivisions you’ll find those diverse route options to be much slimmer, both by dated design standards and natural geography; College Park, for instance, is notoriously closed off from other neighborhoods like Ivanhoe Village to the east by Lake Ivanhoe and I-4, and actual gates and walls to the south along Colonial Drive.
The City of Orlando recently seized the opportunity to reconnect Parramore with adjacent Holden Heights with the extension of Hicks Avenue to Anderson Street, following the removal of a series of on-ramps for the 408 and I-4 that had strangled Griffin Park and restricted flow between the two neighborhoods.
But connectivity also means more choices in transportation. Good transport connections can benefit business communities by increasing access to jobs, it can shape healthier places by promoting cycling and reducing air pollution.
Things to try:
- Going car-free: We’re not saying to ban cars throughout the city, but how about in certain neighborhoods like the Central Business District? Oslo and London have done it, why can’t we?
- Think outside the bus lane: Transit ridership is down across the country, which makes it difficult to advocate for funding when the numbers don’t support it, but autonomous vehicles may help make the case, especially in places like downtown Orlando that have dedicated lanes in place to keep buses out of the main thoroughfare. But what if those lanes were used to promote scooter share or bike use instead?
- Supporting transit initiatives: Good transit costs money and a good way to find it is to have a penny tax initiative. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is looking to bring back his push for his penny sales tax idea that was shelved by the pandemic, so consider supporting that when you have a chance. It’s estimated that it could bring in $600 million a year to the county for transportation projects and that’s a lot of bike lanes.
- It’s not “those people” it’s just about “us”: It’s too easy to honk a horn at someone on their bike because their slowing your commute to the office. Don’t treat that person as something “other” just because they’re different. They’re a person, just like you, trying not to make a mess of it during their day. And if they had another route to get to work that was safer they’d probably have taken it so take a breath and relax.