Parramore Park Development
In 1971, Walt Disney changed Central Florida forever. Despite steady growth from air conditioning, retirees, people escaping northern winters, citrus farming, and the space boom of the 1960s, Orlando and its surrounding communities had long been bypassed by the glitz and glamour of the Florida Gold Coast. Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach had been attracting tourists and new residents alike on their warm beaches for decades. But when Disney unveiled the new Walt Disney World on what had previously been a vast expanse of orange groves and swamp, Central Florida exploded. In 1970, metropolitan Orlando's population was just over 500,000; today it numbers two million. Orlando continues to be one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States, and many corporations and industries have joined the massive throngs who have permanently relocated to Disney's backyard. With such levels of growth, it almost seems impossible that one small neighborhood, seemingly older than Orlando itself, would look to a park to grant the wishes every other surrounding community seems to have enjoyed from the Magic Kingdom.
Parramore was a shining gem in pre-Disney Orlando for more than six decades. A strong black community thrived between the 1890s and 1960s with schools, theaters, shops, restaurants, hotels, and business services that catered exclusively to Orlando's black community. It was a time when everyone, from the plumber to the physician, lived and invested in the neighborhood and maintained a collective civic pride that could not be found in most other communities. Unfortunately, in the 1950s and 1960s outside forces began to unravel the strong social fabric woven by Parramore residents and business owners. Urban renewal projects designed to eradicate alleged "slums" were instigated. Interstate 4 sliced Parramore off from the rest of central Orlando shortly after Walt Disney World opened. Community pillars crumbled and long-time residents scattered. Drugs, crime, and poverty soon overran the neighborhood. Within the next two decades, Parramore became one of the poorest, most dangerous areas in all of metropolitan Orlando.
In 2000 Mayor Glenda Hood fertilized an already brewing grassroots initiative to resuscitate the Parramore neighborhood. Close proximity of the neighborhood to booming downtown Orlando and soaring land prices on the other side of the freeway prompted developers to consider Parramore as fertile soil for future redevelopment and investment. The City of Orlando and long-time residents welcomed renewed interest in their neighborhood, but there was deep concern about whether there would be an opportunity for development to take a different path so as to avoid a repeat of what residents had experienced after the 1960s. The search for a new approach led to Mayor Hood's participation in the American Planning Association's City Parks Forum.
APA's City Parks Forum provided a Catalyst Grant to Mayor Hood and the City of Orlando to initiate green infrastructure in the Parramore neighborhood. The purpose of green infrastructure for the neighborhood was three-fold: interrupt the monotony of urban hardscape with open water and greenspace; accommodate stormwater runoff from new redevelopment projects that were bringing new activity to the community; and invite future development projects with an open water feature unique to the central city. The new park and water feature would not only invigorate Parramore with a renewed sense of vitality, but they would also bring a fresh awareness of resources and environmental processes to central city residents who may have had little direct experience with the natural world. It is the hope of The City Parks Forum that future investments in green infrastructure will have a positive effect on Parramore and surrounding neighborhoods, and help in the community's return to health and prosperity.
Alan Oyler, Director
Department of Public Works
400 South Orange Ave.
Orlando, FL 32802-4990
Images: Top — Houses. Source: City of Orlando. Bottom — Project Site. Source: City of Orlando.