I traveled to Orlando this week to visit my mother. I had known that the ‘urban development’ squad had severely affected the area, but it did not prepare me for the barren landscape I encountered. Gone were all the small shops and lunch counters. The streets were now 4-6 lane wide auto mobile conveyor belts with no chance that those ferried would slow down and drop out to frequent local shops on their way in to work and return their McMansions on the outskirts of town. This urban renewal planning fiasco slowly choked the life out of the small towns that developed around Orlando proper over the last century. Everywhere you turned there were empty corner lots, decayed structures boarded up with lease signs and no sign of a heartbeat of what once had been a vibrant small community. Over 50 years of politically based decision and bad planning had reduced once vibrant communities such as Eatonville, Winter Park, Maitland to a shell of their former selves.
As I drove (there is no way you could get out and walk) through these communities it was not hard to be overrun with a feeling of tiredness and despair evident the recent attempts to reconstruct what was left of these towns. One word came to mind – Disneyfication – an attempt to reconstruct these run down communities into a cookie cutter facsímile of the Disney pseudo-utopian Celebration City. There is no sense of the lived in by the living in and around the reconstructed streets.
Later, as I sat in my mother’s house I started to think about the contrast between the city I grew up in and the city I am going to see grow up in Abu Dhabi, Masdar City. A gruesome, tortured urbanization compared to a well thought out urban space that reinforces a dense population and community space. A city developed by Sir Norman Foster on the combination of the Arab understanding of physical and social structure wrapped in 21st century construction materials and technology. A place purposely built for human inhabitants to move around and interact free of metalic machines grumbling along concrete superhighways.