“Density creates vitality” says Australian urban designer Peter Richards. At first reaction, you may wonder how people living on top of each in a crowded downtown could create “vitality”. Since we all live in Downtown, let’s take a closer look.
According to smartcitiesdive.com, “urban density is the number of people living in a particular urban area and is an important aspect of how cities function. Many modern urban planners advocate higher densities because of the widely held theory that cities operate more efficiently when residents live in denser urban surroundings.” So how does this apply to Downtown Orlando? Many new mixed-use developments have been built, are being built, or have been proposed, mostly on empty lots, all helping to increase our density.
What does mixing uses mean and why is that beneficial? Mixing uses simply means that a building will have more than one purpose. It could include office, retail, entertainment, civic, cultural, or residential development. According to CompleteCommunitiesDE. org, “Mixed use is one of the ten principles of Smart Growth, a planning strategy that seeks to foster community design and development that serves the economy, community, public health, and the environment.”
The American Planning Association lists the benefits of mixed-use development as:
• Greater housing variety and density, more affordable housing (smaller units), life-cycle housing (starter homes to larger homes to senior housing)
• Reduced distances between housing, workplaces, retail businesses, and other amenities and destinations
• Better access to fresh, healthy foods (as food retail and farmers markets can be accessed on foot/bike or by transit)
• More compact development, land-use synergy (e.g. residents provide customers for retail which provide amenities for residents)
• Stronger neighborhood character, sense of place
• Walkable, bikeable neighborhoods, increased accessibility via transit, both resulting in reduced transportation costs
Mixed-use buildings help build downtown’s urban density, which theoretically, helps give a critical mass of people to sustain businesses including restaurants, bars, services, and retail. These businesses provide jobs. Nearby offices can source workers locally, which also cuts down on long commutes. For Orlando, providing housing for our exploding population seems to be the biggest priority. Developer Craig Ustler recently told the Orlando Business Journal that in Downtown he believes “we have added 5,000 to 6,000 residents in this latest (growth) cycle, which is significant”. Forbes magazine listed the Orlando Kissimmee-Sanford-FL Metropolitan Statistical Area as the fourth fastest growing city in the US, with about 1000 people moving here every week!
Several new mixed-use high-rise projects have been proposed including the Golden Sparrow (17-25 stories) at 434 N Orange Avenue, GreenTree Development (12-18 stories) west of the Amway Center, and Zoi House up to 41 stories) south of the courthouse.
High-rises completed or under construction include CitiTower (25 stories), SkyHouse Orlando (23 stories), Modera Central (22 stories), Church Street Plaza (28 stories) at 225 S Garland Avenue, and 520 Church St (12 stories). Together, these high-rises will add thousands of housing units, scores of local business opportunities, hundreds of hotel rooms, and thousands of square feet of office space, all contributing to higher density, walkability, and sustainability.
Density can be created through more than just mid-rises and high-rises. Next month, we’ll explore the idea of the “missing middle” of housing, and how the City has planned a transition from high-rises down to the one-story single family homes in Downtown’s surrounding historic districts.