Within the U.S. and globally, current megatrends point to expanding sprawls and rising urban populations. As more and more people flock to city environments, municipalities are faced with pressures associated with rapid urbanizations. Such a profound growth in such a short time creates challenges that often exceed resources. And when planning is an essential component, the most valuable resource is often time itself.
Bold Business exclusively interviewed Chris Castro, Orlando’s Director for sustainability at the 2019 Synapse Summit.
Perhaps no other city in the U.S. is aware of these current megatrends in rapid urbanization more than Orlando. For decades, the metropolitan region has struggled to keep pace with its growth. Today, these pressures have escalated, with Orlando’s growth rate more than doubling the nation’s. But while challenges seem formidable, Orlando strives to succeed through innovation and sustainable solutions. As a result, Orlando offers some insights into how other cities might address rapid urbanization pressures in the future.
Major Areas of Challenge Due to Rapid Urbanization
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, rapid urbanization is causing tremendous pressures on cities today. Based on their analysis, more than 40 percent of all urban interstates are congested. Likewise, over six billion gallons of treated water are lost yearly due to leaky pipe systems. And millions of miles are traveled within urban settings over deficient bridge infrastructures. These are major concerns for urban planners, especially when current megatrends show rising urban growth rates.
Unfortunately, these are not the only concerns stemming from rapid urbanization. Rapid urbanization also places incredible pressures on energy supplies as well as clean water and food resources. Waste management is similarly demanding attention based on these current megatrends due to increasing city dwellers. And all the while, cities must ensure economic sustainability in order to thrive and promote prosperity. Balancing these demands in light of rapid urbanization volumes is no easy task.
Specific Challenges and Current Megatrends in Orlando
For Orlando, rapid urbanization pressures are tremendous, to say the least. One notable issue involves the city’s four-county make-up (Orange, Seminole, Osceola, and Lake). Instead of having a single county involved in urban planning and growth, four cooks are in the kitchen. Geographically speaking, small lakes pepper the region that prevent efficient and adequate roadways for quick transportation. The incredible growth of the region overall further complicate these factors. In fact, Orlando has ranked within the top five urban growth areas in the entire nation for the last several years.
While many assume a sizable portion of these newcomers to Orlando are the typical “snowbird”, recent surveys suggest otherwise. The majority of individuals moving into Orlando are of prime working age between 25 and 54 years. And the majority of the rapid urbanization growth is due primarily to out-of-state relocations. These current megatrends, along with the city’s inherently political and geographical constraints, create unique challenges for Orlando in particular.
Orlando’s Efforts to Address Rapid Urbanization Pressures and Pursue Sustainability
Understanding the challenges, Orlando has pursued a number of strategies in trying to address rapid urbanization pressures. Multimodality transit has been a major focus especially with the inability to meet transportation needs through roadways alone. This has resulted in investments in bus systems, railways, as well as cycling infrastructures. And Orlando is actively trying to utilize existing waterways as alternatives as well. These efforts have made Orlando one of five winners in the Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge for smart transportation. In addition, the Department of Transportation has recognized Orlando as an official autonomous vehicle testing ground.
Orlando has also pursued alternatives in securing healthy food resources. Chris Castro, director of Orlando’s sustainability initiatives, founded Fleet Farming, which turns homeowners’ lawns into miniature farms. Fleet Farming utilizes bicycles for delivery transport, and everything is sold within five miles of urban farms. Such initiatives not only produce healthy, organic foods but likewise reduce transportation needs and greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition to these innovations addressing current megatrends in urban growth, Orlando is also striving to create islands of walkable environments. Though more challenging, some areas offer ideal testing areas for such urban experiments. Specifically, the University of Central Florida has a sprawling campus ideal for mixed-use development, bicycle infrastructures, and walkable settings. Similar efforts downtown and in other pockets such as Winter Park, Sanford, and Winter Garden have also been productive. These islands are essential in reducing transit needs while creating more sustainable hyperlocal urban environments.
Rapid Urbanization and the Triple Bottom Line
When it comes to sustainable urban strategies, the goal is to ensure success in three key areas…people, planet and prosperity. This is the triple bottom line that cities must juggle when dealing with current megatrends in rapid urbanization. Orlando certainly has its hands full, but innovations and initiatives to enhance sustainability are working. Identifying ways to utilize clean energy, improve land and water use, and develop more efficient transportation systems are essential. And at the same time, economic opportunities to thrive must be preserved. As urbanization continues to expand across the nation, cities will need to continually reconsider their approaches in achieving these missions.