‘Central Floridians for Smart Growth’ Facebook group sparks a movement

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About a year ago, I joined a stuffy-sounding, public Facebook group called “Central Floridians for Smart Growth.” There were a few hundred members at the time, but the site now boasts nearly 2,000. Participants post information about urban planning, growth, sustainability, new buildings, bicycling, transportation, and argument-generating red-light cameras. A nerdy site, to be sure, but the topics discussed affect every person in Orlando, and I for one, have learned an incredible amount.

Founders Sam Gallaher and Chris Carson are more than just nerds — they have backgrounds in urban planning — and the group includes well-informed members from professional planning firms along with city and county government officials.

Gallaher founded the group in 2015 to be “a forum to bring together people around the region to share ideas, discuss the goings-on in our region, and to facilitate more civic engagement.” He observed existing Facebook groups seemed outlets for complaints while offering little in the way of solutions.

The group has been successful at assembling a diverse blend of local news, provocative questions, well-reasoned discussions, and reposted articles from expert publications. Arguments are generally logical, and the search for empirically backed statistics and methods prevails.

Members come from across the political spectrum, from party-line progressives interested in implementing all the latest data-backed trends to libertarian folks who want to minimize government regulations, which produces organic and sustainable development.

One such rule the group agrees Orlando should remove is parking minimums for businesses and apartments. The belief is that the market should decide whether business owners or tenants want parking. Building on downtown surface parking lots leads to higher density, which helps create more walkable neighborhoods, which in turn require less government support and generate more tax revenue per square foot. Creating walkable neighborhoods is one of the ten principles of smart growth which form the basis of the group.

Did you know there are ten principles of smart growth? They are:

  1. Create a range of employment opportunities.
  2. Mix land uses.
  3. Take advantage of compact building design.
  4. Create walkable neighborhoods and a range of housing opportunities and choices.
  5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place.
  6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas.
  7. Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities.
  8. Provide in advance a variety of urban and social infrastructure and transportation choices based on population projections.
  9. Make development decisions sustainable, predictable, fair, and cost-effective.
  10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.

The photos above show how traditional land use development produces far higher value and tax revenue per acre, while the examples below show typical suburban sprawl land uses and the large amount of infrastructure they require. COURTESY OF SAM GALLAHER

“Downtown Orlando residents are already subscribed to the principles of smart growth, whether or not they may know it,” said Gallaher. “These principles are what make downtown Orlando and the surrounding neighborhoods vibrant places that people want to be in.”

Moving forward, Gallaher told me, the group would like to begin having more social gatherings offline as well as hosting events to help bridge the gap between citizens and local leaders and decision-makers.

Gallaher said: “I’d love to see more of our local leaders in the group, including our mayors and commissioners so that, at the least, they’ll be able to see the conversations that people in their community are having, what things people want changed, and what solutions people want to see. Ultimately, getting people more civically engaged is one of our largest goals. Citizens have the power to shape their cities, if they choose to.”

To participate in the conversation, visit facebook.com/groups/1459189157714584/.

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