The Orlando City Council heard an update early Monday morning on the Downtown Action Plan it requested earlier in the year, shared by the City of Orlando’s Downtown Development Board/Community Redevelopment Agency and project consultants
The workshop featured early-stage strategies and concepts that the CRA hopes will drive “actionable changes to streets, civic spaces, mobility options and neighborhoods” in the .08 square miles of the downtown core/Central Business District as part of a new vision plan requested by City Hall.
According to a press release sent over the weekend, once complete, this Action Plan will, “take downtown from what it is today, to a downtown for the future and a downtown that serves as a true neighborhood.”
“I want it to be a central feature for all generations of Central Floridians, whether you’re a toddler or you’re, uh, in your 80s, there’s something for you to do downtown. Great downtowns don’t just happen. People should be able to come downtown and see welcoming spaces and places for people of all ages”– MAYOR DYER
The plan is meant to build on the city’s Project DTO document which was released in 2015 and is meant to serve as a roadmap for the next evolution of Orlando’s downtown. The Downtown Action Plan effort started in early 2022 and is being referred to as Project DTO 2.0 and is based on the four following pillars.
- Strengthen downtown Orlando’s economic competitiveness in the international and national marketplace.
- Enhance its livability as a safe and welcoming urban city center.
- Intuitively integrate health and wellness into our daily life.
- Ensure sustainability of downtown’s assets for generations to come.
Spokespersons for the consulting agency, Perkins and Will (Website), are working with the City’s direction to make Orlando more friendly for residents and visitors by asking the questions:
- “Can people walk to where they need to go?”
- “Do they feel safe doing it?”
- “Is the environment around them interesting?”
The way to make the answer to all of those questions a resounding, “yes,” according to Perkins and Will, is to focus on our downtown streets, civic spaces, mobility options, and districts – and how these areas each contribute to how downtown functions at the street level.
Project DTO 2.0 planning principles
- downtown should be a place for all people
- downtown should be personified by a vital street system and transit network
- downtown should be exceptional every day
- downtown should be a neighborhood of diverse districts and corridors
- downtown should be the cultural hub of the region
The firm shared their earlier data-driven analysis of downtown via a street-by-street, walkthrough of the downtown core where they cataloged everything from the width of the sidewalks to our tree canopy, declaring that Orlando has strong bones, but that we have lots of room for improvement, including shifting how our streets look to make them safer at every hour of the day, making downtown streets go two ways instead of one, planting more shade trees, and better sidewalk infrastructure.
Downtown Business Districts across the country are pivoting away from single-use office parks and toward more neighborhood-centric spaces, as we told you HERE in January, and the Mayor’s office wants to embrace that change and make downtown resemble more of the Main Streets – making sure that the Main Streets continue to be invested in, but make sure they’re not competing with the downtown.
Arts and Culture seem to be a large player in the future of downtown in the Vision Plan, with calls for the City to lean into smaller-scale programming and not just larger, one-off events. A spokesperson for Perkins and Will shared that Orlando could operate its downtown as an “artificial reef” of sorts, to give local arts groups a home in the downtown, creating a happy place for creatives to come and populate it, saying, “Our placemaking and arts organizations need the resources necessary to expand galleries and maker spaces downtown.”
Another standout from the workshop with City Council included an acknowledgment of the disconnect between where transit currently operates versus where they actually have riders – especially Lymmo, downtown’s free bus circulator. According to the project team, they need to find its clear purpose and who is using it and better integrate it with LYNX to make sure it compliments other routes, while downtown is simultaneously seeing a spike in car use for short trips.
The workshop, which you can view HERE on the City YouTube channel, concluded with a look at the next steps, which include digging further into possible approaches to the opportunities and challenges shared above, before coming up with a final plan next year.
Local developer Craig Ustler spoke with Bungalower about the plan, sharing,
“I think the consultants did a good job given the context. All of us urbanists already know the answers and have known them for years, but if this is what it takes to get some of this stuff formalized as a real plan that is actually implemented, I’m all for it. I do think the “planning” side of it is different than the reality of what DTO is facing right now (and by “right now”, I literally mean tonight). Safety and security (real or period) is an obvious issue, as well as the homeless situation, and just a general lack of cleanliness or feeling comfortable. These immediate issues are harder to address and not solved by a consultant or report. They are the same issues facing all downtowns across the country. There are some “post COVID” macroeconomic realities of downtowns that are very challenging.– CRAIG USTLER