Orlando Considering if Green is Good for Growth

Orlando is no stranger to expansion.

When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, it brought enormous economic growth to the region. Growth was the precise reason that cartoon and fantasy pioneer Walt Disney had selected Orlando as a location for his new theme park. The Orlando area was a place where the development could grow without fear it would be eclipsed by urban growth as Disneyland, Walt’s first Californian theme park, had been.

Disneyland was just 400 acres; Disney World’s original land purchase included 28,000 acres, later developed into hotels, campgrounds, shopping centers and more.

Disney World’s rapid spreading foreshadowed what Orlando would see in the next several decades. And now, as the city prepares for the expected influx of another 100,000 people in the next quarter century, Orlando is again poised to expand–and, like Walt, city officials are considering how best to boom.

Like many cities, including Montgomery County, Md. and Long Beach, Calif., Orlando is mulling over the costs and benefits of requiring its incoming expansion to include mandatory green building practices, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Proposed changes include limiting water and energy use in new municipal buildings; incentives or requirements for business and residential developers to build with consideration for the environment and increased bike paths and sidewalks to encourage exercise and auto-free transportation.

The cons? Green construction can involve additional costs. Some aspects, such as using recycled material, isn’t cost prohibitive. Others can add significantly to a project’s overall price tag — just ask Le Royal Inc., which the Sentinel reports found seeking even minimal green certification will add $1 million to its $350 million town center development price.

The pros? Green additions can help some buildings recoup construction and maintenance costs. The University of Florida’s Rinker Hall’s energy savings may cancel out the initial investment in 14 years, the Sentinel says.

Deciding whether or not to build green can be a tough decision for individual projects with a budget, let alone for whole towns. But as sustainability becomes more of a pressing issue, and cost recovery becomes more apparent for certain green building practices, expanding communities will likely find the extra cost isn’t as unpopular an option with locals as initially anticipated.

Orlando has formed a task force to research ecological options and their related savings; it’s the first step in a long journey to prove green construction has a place in the city’s future. With the associated costs, it may not be an easy sell.

However, it is significant that a city of Orlando’s size has recognized the importance of examining the issue. The city may rely on tourism for a good chunk of its economy, but it hasn’t forgotten its residents’ longterm needs. More regions are likely to follow. And no matter how the recycled materials and water conservation ideas play out in the coming months,  the environmentally-minded construction community will be watching to see if Orlando truly is the happiest–and the greenest–place on earth.