May 07 2013

The Importance of New Urbanism in Orlando, Florida

Florida is a state of dichotomies. Even after a decade of explosive population growth, much of the Sunshine State remains very rural. Coastal cities like Miami are home to the international super-rich, while just blocks away you can find families struggling to make ends meet. And, maybe most surprisingly, Florida – a state known in urban planning textbooks as the epicenter for sprawl and the real estate crash – is home to the nation’s most important New Urbanist developments.

Baldwin Park Orlando Florida New Urbanism

Why is New Urbanism important? While this development theory is constantly adapting and improving, it has been used by planners and architects to counter the current trend of sprawling development by creating environmentally and socially sustainable neighborhoods.

Early developments like Seaside (the city from The Truman Show) and Celebration (originally developed by The Walt Disney Company) have been criticized as being little more than vacation enclaves or manufactured communities. New developments, however, are pushing the envelope to become environmentally friendly, affordable, and, most importantly, real. Here are three examples from Orlando, Florida:

1. Hampton Park, Orlando

Hampton Park looks like your typical southern neighborhood from days gone by with its tree-lined streets where every house has a front porch. What you don’t realize is that a portion of this clever mix of single-family houses, townhomes, apartments, and live-work units is actually set aside for office space, low and moderate-income housing, and apartments for the elderly.

Hampton Park Orlando Florida New Urbanism

2. Baldwin Park, Orlando

For a primer on pre-WWII architectural styles in Florida, visit the mixed-use neighborhood of Baldwin Park. Taking advantage of Lake Baldwin as a terminus for the development’s town center, this project turned over 1,000 acres of abandoned military training facilities into a walkable neighborhood with 450 acres of parks.

3. Avalon Park, Orange County

Avalon Park in southeast Orange County embraces its suburban location by designating over 8,000 acres of its site as a natural preserve that integrates with the protected lands around it.

For more information on these and many more projects, take a look at A Guide to New Urbanism in Florida.

Do you think New Urbanism is an effective strategy to combat sprawl?

Credits: Images copyright of Alex Lenhoff.  Data linked to sources.

Alex Lenhoff

Alex Lenhoff is a graduate of the Masters of Planning in Civic Urbanism program at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. His other degrees include anthropology and foreign languages, which provide him with a diverse, human-centered perspective on urban planning. Alex returned to Orlando after spending a few years traveling through Europe, teaching English, and attending universities in Germany and Spain. He hopes to use his experiences abroad to further the built environment in Florida through efficient design, environmentally friendly practices, and authentic communities. During his time at The Grid, Alex wrote about Orlando’s challenges and successes, while profiling a city coming into its own.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 7th, 2013 at 9:18 am and is filed under Architecture, Environment, Land Use, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


5 Responses to “The Importance of New Urbanism in Orlando, Florida”

  1. Kelli Says:

    I don’t know how many folks think of New Urbanism when they move, but for our family it was a deal breaker. Our family of five was set to move to Tampa, but once we came upon Baldwin Park we knew it would be a better move for our family of five. It had a high Walk Score and two schools located in the neighborhood.
    I enjoy having various amenities within walking distance. I can run on trails for miles, enjoy nature, bike to the store and walk to the Town Center to meet friends for dinner & drinks.
    If you have kids and you enjoy letting them have some freedom you can’t beat living in a New Urbanism community.

  2. Alex Lenhoff Says:

    Thanks for you comment, Kelli! I think you bring up a great point about kids in conventional suburbs vs. new-urbanist or traditional neighborhoods. A lot of articles have been published recently about the need for children and teenagers to have more freedom, which is something subdivision kids without their own cars don’t have.

    And kudos for checking the Walk Score before moving!

  3. Denise Says:

    It will be a strong factor in selecting our home in Orlando in the near future. Walk score, of course, but also living with people of all ages just plain feels right.

    Thanks for promoting it!

  4. Ryan Says:

    Hi Alex,

    I just spent a week in the Orlando area. It was my first trip there and I made a point to visit Celebration… As a practicing planner who has worked mostly in the NorthWest (OR and WA), I was struck by the number of strip malls, factory outlets, condo developments, and highways. Adding Florida’s flat topography, the phrase ‘there’s no there there’ came to mind often. How do planners work within the tourist/vacation home/Disney reality that is Orlando? Larger promotion of Orlando’s downtown, public transit and places of historical significance may help. – Cheers! Ryan

  5. Alex Says:

    Thanks for you comment, Ryan!

    Those two facts — Florida’s flat topography and that most development is post-WWII/car-oriented — definitely creates a lot of challenges when creating denser, walkable neighborhoods.

    One of the reasons New Urbanism is so popular here, I think, is that it’s not overwhelming. It doesn’t *look* that much different from a conventional neighborhood, but obviously *functions* much differently.

    Speaking of historical areas, residents are rediscovering and redeveloping pre-WWII areas, including Downtown’s Thornton Park and the City of Winter Park.

    We’re also about to get the SunRail commuter rail, which has already inspired additional transit lines and dense development around the stations.

    Only time will tell how things will work out, but Orlando is taking the right steps to change its trajectory.

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