• Zachary Blair

Development in Downtown Orlando


I am currently conducting a comparative study of the political economy of violence using various spaces in Central Florirda including historic Winter Park, Hannibal Square, Downtown Orlando, and Parramore. Specifically, I am examining the intersections between environmental violence, racial violence, and anti-LGBTQ+ violence as they are reproduced through and within the context of urban development. Here are some recent snapshots from my fieldwork:

On Friday, November 2, 2018, I spent the day walking through the Parramore neighborhood to witness the development of what will become Orlando's Creative Village. This development project will feature downtown expansions of the University of Central Florida and Valencia Community College, other schools and universities, new apartments, and office space geared towards high-tech, digital media, and creative companies. While developers tout affordable housing and community involvement, the Creative Village's development team includes a majority of for-profit companies, such as Bank of America.

This development project represents a neoliberal spin on how universities have historically operated as mechanisms of gentrification and racial violence. If you want an idea of how this is going to most likely turn out, read here about how Chicago's expansion of the University of Illinois at Chicago displaced poor immigrant and black communities on the Near West Side in the name of urban renewal and revitalization. This similar project did not alleviate poverty in the area, but rather led to the displacement of 8,000 people and 630 businesses. Already, dozens of black-owned businesses have closed as the buildings that housed them have been demolished for new construction projects.

Below is a scene from Division Avenue that shows a 6-foot-tall chain-link fence that encircles a future construction site. It is draped in graffiti-covered canvas panels to hide the empty space where the storefronts of local black-owned businesses once stood.


As I crawled through bushes and sprawled out onto the sidewalks to take photographs from various angles, I was also being observed by those out on the streets. A man hollered at me, "You're taking photos of the ghetto!" as I stopped to take photographs while making my way east on Robinson Street. A security guard working watched me from the steps of the United States District Court House as I photographed the Orlando Union Rescue Mission across the street. From 2002-2003, I had a group of friends who lived in the City View Apartments—one of the first downtown redevelopment projects of the area west of the highway. I remember looking at the cross that adorns the building of the Orlando Rescue Mission from one of their apartment windows while listening to anti-gentrification messages broadcasted throughout the neighborhood via a loudspeaker.

I also took some photos of some of the older homes, public housing projects, and other buildings in the neighborhood, including a number of churches (some of which were no longer operational). Some of these photos can be found below:

Another neoliberal project that is altering the lives and health of residents is the expansion of I-4, the highway that through Orlando from Daytona Beach to Tampa. This privatized transit project, dubbed I-4 Ultimate, will feature tolled express lanes that will give drivers who can pay the ability to bypass traffic. This new interstate, with its extensive collection of downtown on-ramps and off-ramps, completely encircles Griffin Park Homes—Orlando's oldest public housing project, which opened in 1941 and was already sandwiched between the I-4 and Florida State Road 408. Amid construction and increased traffic, residents have experienced air quality issues (read here). Even as the city seeks to demolish Griffin Park Homes, it may take several years before residents can be relocated (read here). Here are some photos of the construction sites in and around Griffin Park Homes:

Here's what else I observed during what was just another day in the field:

#urbandevelopment #gentrification #violence #environment #builtspace #downtown #Orlando #development #Parramore #inequality #segregation #race #politicaleconomy

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© 2016 by Dr. Zachary Blair