Concerning New Urbanist Development In Orlando, FL's West Side
I have resided near Downtown Orlando, Florida for the vast majority of the 33 years of my life. I have witnessed this area go through many changes in this time. The main corridor through Downtown Orlando is called Orange Avenue. If driving or walking along Orange Avenue, one will see many highrise office buildings, the bottom stories most of which are occupied by bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and cafes. During the day one will mostly see suit and tie wearing businessmen hustling around the sidewalks, and at night a bustling nightclub/bar scene with mostly young people imbibing alcoholic beverages while listening to really loud music which can be heard throughout the district.
But take a walk over the railroad tracks to the West side of town and things are much different. This is the historically African-American community of Orlando, Florida known as the Parramore District. This district is generally impoverished, with old dilapidated houses, crumbling apartment buildings, and a homeless shelter. The remnants of the historically segregated South are clearly visible not only by the income disparity, but also by the fact that there is still a road called Division Street, which historically seperated the white and black communities in Downtown Orlando. Needless to say, race relations have never really been outstanding in the area of Division Street.
At the age of about 21, I decided to try and take a different path with my own life while residing in the area of Downtown Orlando. Rather than going out to the bars and nightclubs drinking every night like most of the rest of my peers in the area, I decided to try and do something positive with race relations and income desparity in the West Downtown Orlando/Parramore District instead. So I got involved with a church ministry on West Church Street in Downtown Orlando by the name of Faith Deliverance Temple. I was the only non-black participant at the time. The people there were actually very respectful of me and received me with open arms. They almost immediately handed me the microphone like as if they had been waiting for me to arrive at their church, which was actually a surprise to me personally. Soon after, they asked me if I would get involved in the children's ministry. I said yes of course, and then began a very interesting, enlightening, as well as extremely frustrating journey in the African American communities of Central Florida.
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This was all just prior to and during the time of the 9/11/01 attacks on the US, the anthrax letters, and so forth. It was a very tense time for all Americans, as well as the church where I was ministering in the Parramore District of West Downtown Orlando, Florida. During this time, the church had found there to be a lot of holes in the official story that was given by the Bush Administration about 9/11, and at the same time found ourselves embroiled in a debate over proposed development in the area of our curch. There had never been a time in the history of that church that it was more important for it to exist so that members of the community had a place to gather to console eachother about the tragedy that was unfolding before us, and at the same time developers were telling us that they had plans to demolish the building.
A very hard and emotional position and struggle to be in indeed. At the time, it was slated for the new Amway Arena to be constructed a few blocks from the church, as well as several other major projects nearby. Of course, being ministers for the local community, it is our role to be suspicious about people, businesses, and developers new to the community, and the reasons and intentions for them being there. That is what we do. There was one fellow in particular that we all had suspicions about- the new owner of the Church Street Station complex a few blocks away- a music producer and development magnate named Lou Perlman. We witnessed the demolition of much of the historic Church Street district, as well as the construction of the new 55W condominium which still does not appear to be a successful or profitable venture. Our suspicions of this man Lou Perlman were finally confirmed when he was arrested for being at the head of a pyramid scheme in which he was imbezzling money from youths and minors. Being that I was a minister to youths and minors in the district at the time, of course then I had to take personal issue with this fact.
Since that time we have heard many plans proposed to us in this Parramore District community. We've heard about the plans to extend the Church Street Station District West down Church Street to the next major corridor called Orange Blossom Trail. We've heard of the plans to develop the land of the old Orlando Arena in the Parramore District into a New Urbanist community called Artist's Village. So, being that I am a member and minister in this community of proposed development, I feel it important to give a few thoughts and insights into this subject.
First of all, what the church wants is to stay where it is at. Any proposal to demolish the Church will not gain the favor of the local residents of the community. Yes, the Parramore district would like to see improvements to the community, especially through New Urbanist development. However, there is a proper way to proceed with this. To extend the Church Street Station District to the West down West Church Street including New Urbanist mixed-use development within is a possibility; if the church is allowed to participate in the planning process for their community. What the church would like to see is not the demolition of the Temple, but rathher a new and improved Temple in the same location as the current Temple. We do not want to witness the continued gentrification of the Parramore community, but rather the inclusion of the residents in the improvements, construction, and overall betterment of the community.
As far as the plans to develop the New Urbanist community called Artist's Village on the plat of land that the old Orlando Arena used to sit upon- the main problem that I foresee with this proposed New Urbanist project is that it will not be walkable. Yes, maybe within the boundaries of the community one might be able to walk to a store or restaurant, but I feel that the planners and developers are missing the point. This particular New Urbanist community would be self-contained and completely cut off from the larger community outside of it. For example- residents of the proposed community probably will not be walking to and from Orange Avenue, Church Street Station, and the urban core Downtown District, especially at night. In order to get to the urban core Downtown District from the proposed New Urbanist community, one would have to walk right past the homeless shelter district and through some of the most crime-ridden streets in Downtown Orlando. I feel that this is not a workable proposal for a family-oriented walkable community just for this reason alone. The very first time a resident of the proposed project were to have a violent crime committed against them, it would probably mean the demise of the whole proposed project and a total loss for the investors involved.
I believe that if the New Urbanist mixed-use development were to be concentrated nearer to the urban core Downtown District, that this would connect the whole larger Downtown Orlando community into a series of more or less interconnected walkable communities that are actually safe to walk in. What I am proposing here is that the New Urbanist development to be concentrated in the area of the current homeless shelter in the Parramore District, as well as West Church Street, and that a new state-of-the-art homeless shelter be constructed a little further West from the urban core of the Downtown District as it now stands (even possibly on the plat of land that the old Orlando Arena sat upon, where the currently proposed New Urbanist development is located). By developing and constructing in this way, it would allow for the residents of the New Urbanist mixed-use community to have the ability to walk safely to the urban core district of Orange Ave. and Church Street Station, and at the same time eliviate much of the "blight" associated with homelessness and the homeless shelter in the urban core Downtown Orlando district. If we can better conditions for the homeless population of Downtown Orlando, and include the residents of the Parramore District in the betterment of their own community, while having a new and improved church/temple in it's current location (as well as most other churches) I believe that this proposed plan could and would be a win/win for everyone involved.
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