Creating the (im)perfect city – the story of Orlando

December 12, 2007 | By | Reply More

In March, 2007, National Geographic published a story about a perfectly planned city that didn’t quite turn out perfectly.   It’s a story of a powerful commercial enterprise designing a community from scratch under a figurehead government, combined with input from mega-churches.  It’s the story of Orlando.  It’s also a story that illustrates many of the problems faced by any planned economy.

Everything happening to America today is happening here, and it’s far removed from the cookie-cutter suburbanization of life a generation ago. The Orlando region has become Exhibit A for the ascendant power of our cities’ exurbs: blobby coalescences of look-alike, overnight, amoeba-like concentrations of population far from city centers. These huge, sprawling communities are where more and more Americans choose to be, the place where job growth is fastest, home building is briskest, and malls and megachurches are multiplying as newcomers keep on coming. Who are all these people? They’re you, they’re me, and increasingly, they are nothing like the blue-eyed “Dick and Jane” of mythical suburban America.

Orlando’s explosion is visible in every shopping mall and traffic jam.

What are some of the problems?

Today Orlando is a cauldron of all the communal characteristics Disney sought to control. In its Parramore district, you can stock up on crack, meth, and angel dust. According to the Morgan Quitno research firm, in 2006 it joined such cities as Detroit and St. Louis to become one of the 25 most dangerous cities in America. The result is armed guards at the gates of “communities” where entry is solely by invitation. The Orlando area also has one of the highest pedestrian death rates among the largest metro regions in the country. Four decades after Disney’s fateful flyover, Orlando is a place of enormous vitality, diversity, ugliness, discord, inventiveness, possibility, and disappointed hopes, where no clown in a character costume can tell people how to live, let alone where to park.

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About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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