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Placemaking in Orlando: Highlights from America's top 25 Cities for Nightlife (Forbes)

Orlando received national attention from Project for Public Spaces, the founders of placemaking, in 2019 when the city hired what was the first "Director of Placemaking" and subsequently set ablaze a strong case for cities across the nation to follow suit. The intricate work of creating intentional spaces to meet social needs that foster quality of life has been taking place since the inception of human-kind. Fast forward to the modernization of an entire field based on the work of Jane Jacobs, Bill Whyte, and Fred Kent and the more recent explosion of professionals housed in various non-profit and municipal organizations.

What's is the job of a Director of Placemaking?

Depending on the expertise and style of the practitioner, over all the director's role is to manage the resources and activity around addressing the national issue of public spaces that are mismanaged, underutilized and therefore lacking vibrancy and leading to the neglect of the most important cross sector of civic life; the outdoor spaces we gather and meet in.

City Hall in Orlando, Florida

Next to Florida the states investing the most resources into this work are Michigan and New York. Florida is not too far behind. Home to the controversial Richard Florida and thought-leader Peter Kageyama, who have both contributed to the theory behind this work, the sunshine state is studied based on highly-specialized work in "placekeeping" and "withintrification" (The Jaxson). Additionally, West Palm Beach solidified long-time placemaker and urban planner Sherryl Murriente as their director of the public realm, known for the social capital building aspects of her process referred to as "urban acupuncture," just to name a few.

Most recently, Jacksonville joined in.

Jax has been investing in the work: Jessie Ball duPont Fund hired VP of Placemaking Katie Ensign with a newly formed director position being announced this fall, organizations such as JWJ Park, The Cummer Museum, and the Cathedral District are all incorporating place-based tenants into their strategic plans, and resident groups like TransFormJax have decades of history and advocacy dedicated to advancing this work in the Bold New City of the South. While the methods are universal, each city takes a special approach to distinguishing their character, creating a "sense of place" and determining what to focus on. Orlando is a great case study with a vibrant night life, thriving business sector, and nationally recognized night life scene.

One example: Orlando Main Streets. The program is exemplary, the first citywide Main Street coordinating program in the Southeast and one of only four nationwide.

The Model?

The municipality manages technical support for residents and business owners to design unique districts distinguished by character and experiences. The urban, grassroots program model is also in Baltimore, Washing DC and Boston. Met with Pauline Eaton at Orlando City Hall to go over their model for managing unique business districts in the city.

Orlando City Hall has an office of two that oversees twelve districts, each of which is led by a group of residents, business owners, creators, and volunteers. As a collective, the districts are the economic backbone for the city’s existing neighborhoods and led by a full-time Executive Director leading a team that works collaboratively to create a welcoming business environment, raise programming and beautification dollars, and implement programs.

Mills50 is a great example of a vibrant neighborhood in the city

Measurements of success?

The impact can be thought of as “the ripple effect”. Each district tracks total dollars reinvested into improvements, new businesses, part-time and full-time jobs, and volunteer hours among other metrics.

Additionally, we dove into the history of placemaking in Orlando, NIDs or “neighborhood improvements districts” and their cycle-tracks solution. Orlando is creating bike lanes without impeding on street-space by using a portion of wide sidewalks as the lane. Fun fact, they mix a special ingredient into drying concrete that makes the lane glow.

Downtown Orlando

Downtown Orlando, Next to Public Transit

While in Orlando to speak at the ISCS Conference to advocate for "public spaces as the new anchor tenant" Al Battle sat down to discuss his deep roots in Jacksonville as well as his current role in Ft. Lauderdale. Joining us was Dean Trantalis, Mayor of Ft. Lauderdale, who spoke to the new role of the "night time economy" position housed at City Hall and their strategy to manage the ever evolving street scape and business environment after 5PM. Both officials recognized that our night time needs require special attention following the unprecedented move Detroit followed by New Orleans made to hire a "night time mayor." Three powerful days of connectivity and learning ended with dinner next to the Fair Housing Conference with Urban Planner Bob Cambric who shared his experience in equitable design, work in community advocacy, and more from a long, storied career.

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