Ten Most Sprawl-Threatened Medium Cities
Number One: Orlando
For the last quarter
century, Orlando has been synonymous with one of the biggest entertainment industries in
the world: Disney. For families across the country and around the world, Orlando and its
custodial industry is a must-visit. Perhaps no city in America, and maybe even around the
world, markets itself more as the answer to family-friendly growth than Orlando.
Orlando has paid a price for its success - unfettered sprawl. Surrounding the world famous
Disney World entertainment resort are all the signs of poorly planned suburban development
- strip malls, traffic congestion, low-density housing.
The population of the area, both in the city and surrounding counties, has been on a
steady climb upward for years. The population of metropolitan Orlando jumped 54 percent
between 1980 and 1990, and another 28 percent between 1990 and 1996. The land area of
Orlando has also ballooned over the years: 68 percent between 1990 and 1996 alone.
"The region's low-wage, tourism-driven economy has created a real estate
environment where cheap land is far more important than commuting time. To get the prices
they seek, developers have to move farther out every year ("Habitat Ripe for 'Tour de
Sprawl')," Christine Shenot, The Orlando Sentinel, 6/27/98. This trend is driving
Orlando's housing density down precipitously, meaning driving times get longer, more land
is swallowed up by development and quality of life disintegrates.
But Orlando's growth
in recent years has not just lowered the quality of life for the people who live there. It
has placed in danger central Florida's unique environment, which has long provided habitat
for a number of rare species. Between 1982 and 1992, the amount of open space lost to
development increased a dramatic 57 percent.
In June, the local Sierra Club hosted a
"Tour de Sprawl" 30 miles outside downtown Orlando at a 560-acre rural area
called the Lake Wales Ridge. This undeveloped area represents the front line in the war
between conservationists and developers. Nearby, two new subdivisions are transforming the
area. Stopping new development in Lake Wales Ridge, home to a number of endangered and
threatened species, including the Florida scrub jay and the gopher tortoise, has become a
top priority for local grassroots conservationists.
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