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October 7, 2015

Community Portrait

Orlando & Orange County

More than just gathering data, we're trying to capture elements that make each community distinctive.

View from Lake Eola downtown. [Photo: iStockphoto]

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While the economic downturn has clobbered Orlando and Orange County along with everyone else, there’s a sense that the area is poised for a big day in the sun. Even as tourism continues to define Orlando’s public face, the non-tourism economy — spurred on by bioscience, simulation and other high-tech sectors like photonics — should emerge from the mouse’s shadow to become the dominant economic force. A viable downtown already has emerged, expected to be crowned with a $400-million performing arts center by 2012. The University of Central Florida, now the state’s largest, has a solid and growing research capability. Orlando’s business community is smart, innovative and engaged. And the area has a well-established reputation as the chief evangelist for the gospel of regional cooperation. The creation of the Medical City bioscience cluster has given the community a heady sense of confidence in its ability to get things done.

The region will have to guard against both hubris and choking on its own success, however. Orange County grew by about 30% between 1990 and 2000 and by nearly 20% between 2000 and 2007. The question will be whether it becomes an unmanageable sprawl or grows more according to the high-minded principles articulated during a regional visioning process two years ago. Traffic is awful, and Orange County has the highest crime rate per 100,000 residents in the state. Some of the state’s best urban neighborhoods are matched by tacky subdivisions on the fringe. The concentration of jobs in construction, entertainment and tourism means recessions will continue to hit the area harder than most. The failure to begin working on a light rail system nine years ago still haunts the area, which has also been unsuccessful at consummating a state-CSX deal that would convert freight tracks to commuter rail use.

Relatively free of bad habits that old guard, established cities must overcome, Orlando has a chance of establishing itself as a model for successful, modern cities.

Tags: North Central

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