chapter  9
21 Pages

Abandonment outside the magic kingdom: What went wrong in Orlando?

By the late nineteenth century, the native populations of Central Florida had been largely dispersed by force. White Europeans began to settle in the Orlando area in the 1880s owing to the presence of an Army Fort and later owing to the establishment of the city as the county seat (Shofner 1984). For decades later, population steadily grew as the climate and natural resources proved to be well suited for citrus growing (Mormino 2005). But things began to change in the 1950s when city officials lobbied successfully to build a series of limited access highways directly through Orlando-putting the city squarely at the crossroads of Florida (Fogelson 2001). Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Missile Test Center was built 50 miles east of Orlando at Cape Canaveral bringing a whole bevy of high-tech industries to the city (Shofner 1984). During this Cold War era, Orlando experienced growth and prosperity, but everything would be different once Walt Disney decided to locate his reprise of Disney Land just south of the city of Orlando. The theme park’s opening in 1971 was met with open arms by local officials in the rural counties where the company bought thousands of acres of swampland. The Mayor of Orlando at the time, Carl T. Langford declared that the coming of Disney was “the greatest thing that’s happened since the city got its charter” (Mormino 2005, p. 28). Within just a few years, Disney quickly became the biggest commercial tourist attraction in the world with more than 30 million annual visitors (Fogelson 2001). To house and feed these guests and to run the sprawling 7,000-acre facility, the sleepy Orlando of 1970 was quickly transformed into a modern, booming metropolis. The city shot up in population from 99,006 to 185,951, while the metro area more than tripled between 1970 and 2000 (U.S. Census 2000) (see Table 9.1). Mormino (2005) called Orlando Florida’s “most influential city”—with its world-class tourism industry the place would seem to be the envy of all other cities (p. 26). The problem, as Fogelson (2001) sees it is that Orlando is stuck with too much reliance on tourism and all its faults. Despite the prosperity that came with Disney, the Mouse also brought an economy that is structurally deficient-the vast majority of workers are part-time, low-wage, and have few if any benefits (see Judd and Fainstein 1999). As in Fresno, the Orlando area is home to a permanent underclass of gainfully employed workers who cannot break through to higher-wage positions. Fogelson argues that the political models of path dependency apply in Orlando (see Putnam 1993). The ability of the city of Orlando to adjust its economy beyond tourism and to improve the quality of life and income of its residents is limited by the current path it is on.