The City of Orlando revealed the Mercy Drive Vision Plan in December 2017 with great fanfare. It was a thirty-eight-page document with renderings of what Mercy Drive could look like. You could smell the hope as the plan was revealed to the residents of the community.
Excitement filled the room at the Northwest Community Center. Residents lined the walls since the center ran out of seats. Heads turned to see who was there. You could hear the whispers of anticipation as the community joined with each other believing that their neighborhood was finally getting some attention. The moment finally came that Mercy Drive's future was unveiled. The oohs and aahs were heard throughout the room. The "vision" was beyond what the residents expected from the City.
The City developed its vision on the “Community Engagement Approach” In fact, the wording went further with this: “The many community voices were distilled into a succinct but compelling vision statement, as follows:
A safe, attractive, and connected community with quality homes and apartments that empowers neighbors of all ages to learn, build, and create together”.
The design concept & building programs were the very thing that were needed and yet, while standing there, I couldn't help but feel uneasy as I wondered if this is really going to happen. The vision plan presented "recommendations" to "summarize the community's vision for the future and the various implementation projects and programs needed to make this a reality:
New housing opportunities
Connections to nature
New activity center
Home repair classes & construction job training
Tool lending library
All of these recommendations were made in December 2017. Now I know some would say, "But the pandemic put a crimp in the city’s plans!" To that I say, "Really?!" In two years, we only received 37 trees lining the Mercy Drive Corridor. That is not a "crimp" - that’s total avoidance of the promises made.
The worst aspect of the City's failure is the statement that “The many community voices were distilled into a succinct but compelling vision statement”. I don’t know, maybe the city thought our "voice" had to be purified before the community could have a say in what our neighborhood should look like or could determine who would move into the two affordable apartments earmarked for the Mercy Drive Corridor. The Mayor, city leaders and business community partners made promises to cover the fact that the Downtown Development would displace a lot of people from the Parramore Community. They asserted that the Mercy Drive Community would be just one of the areas where ‘affordable housing’ would be built or renovated’ to house the displaced people.
It's understandable that the City's future would be determined by its ability to compete with venues that surround Downtown but it's also understandable that inclusion would generate enthusiasm in the community's potential involvement. Inclusion would create a real sense that we are all in this together.
In the play Hamilton, there’s a scene where Aaron Burr hears that Hamilton made deal in order to get his treasury plan passed in Congress, Burr asks the question “ Who was in the room when it happened?” Many in our community want to know "who was in the room" when our future was being determined behind closed doors. So, I ask this question: Will the community ever be in the room?
There is a benefit to the City when it involves its residents and they are in the room. It gathers the forces of creativity that build diversity, encourage learning and foster collaboration of all - not just a few. The residents, when involved, create a whirlwind of intellectual activity. That is the hope - that the community will begin to transform its behavior to produce a benefit to all. There is a cohesiveness that generates a sense of ownership and pride in and for the community when its residents take part in its development to transform their environment. There is a stirring that work must be done to change the trajectory of the community future.
The time is now for planning how the community will come out of this pandemic. The time is now for building with the City to create a pathway to transformation. Hard decisions will have to be made but these choices will be acceptable if the residents are in the room when these decisions are made. The City should invite the community to participate in creating a plan that benefits its residents, and not just invite the powers that be.
We are one community in one city. Let’s work together so we may all sit back and say, "Look at what we've done..."