I have to admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of Orlando. Like the majority of people in Orlando, I came here for school and ended up staying after graduation. Locals around my age are extremely rare. With a thriving economy, a huge University and loads to do it’s no wonder it draws people from all around though.
I have always just assumed that in time I’ll leave Orlando for somewhere, just about anywhere else. But after a recent trip to Detroit, I’ve started to realize just how good we have it. Still, the city is missing many traits that make larger cities feel more local and quaint.
For instance, fast public transportation in the city is non-existent. There’s the occasional trolly system if you live in tourist areas. Otherwise, you’re limited to the bus system. Orlando isn’t exactly a grid city, so traveling long distances is hit or miss. My 10.4 mile, 20-minute commute would be about 2 hours with 1 bus change – although that change would be at Universal Studios, so it’s not all bad.
Having a slightly longer commute isn’t awful but since every time you’d want to go anywhere in Orlando you’d also have that limitation (if you dropped your car) it’s not realistic to be car-free here.
There are other niceties of other cities that you have to look a little harder for here. I can’t say there’s a local farmers market, or any renowned museums or cultural centers, although we do get the occasional tour stop at our performing arts center.
Instead of favoring the arts, for the most part, Orlando favors the dollar and tourism. Since both my jobs since leaving college revolved around people traveling to Orlando, this isn’t a bad thing, and at least it’s a start.
After seeing Detroit, a city even chain stores shy away from, I noticed how important it is to have some form of meeting place.
So what does Orlando offer? Well, as Dan Benjamin mentioned in his keynote at Acts_as_conference, Orlando has the 16th biggest tech sector in the United States. Orlando is also often in the top 10 tech cities in the country. It’s no wonder we have thriving Creative, .NET, Java, Ruby, PHP and Adobe user groups as well as a second Bar Camp coming up.
As far as technical communities in the southeast, I’d put Orlando at the top of the list. That’s not to say the city as a whole might be the top choice, but for the total community, it’s big and getting bigger.
There are a few places out of the corporate eye, although far fewer than other metropolitan areas of our size. Good parks are few, although there are plenty of grass fields calling themselves parks. The Enzian is an old-style movie theater that serves food and wine and plays all kinds of films as well as orchestrating the Florida Film Festival here in Orlando.
Of course, there are tons of local restaurants like anywhere, although with Darden Restaurants based here, they have a lot of competition. Still, we have a huge amount of food to choose from. Within 10 minutes of my work, you can grab Venezuelan, Ethiopian, and Sushi at 7 different places and Indian at 5+ with another few hundred places to choose from.
It’s no wonder the Wheel of Lunch has so many options. If you’re looking for a tech city Orlando meets the bill, there’s no question about that. It’s no tech utopia or cultural center, and it has no notable history behind it. Even still it has its beautiful parts, and if you’re looking for a spread-out city and don’t mind driving it’s not a bad choice.
I’m interested in what others from here in Orlando think though. Just about everyone I talk to wants to leave eventually, myself included. I don’t consider it torture to stay though, and I’m not counting the days until I’m able to leave. How about you, are you going to stay in Orlando? Or would you consider moving here?