RPD students highlight recent travels to Polk County, Florida

Posted on Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

In March, the Advanced Planning Practice class travelled to Polk County in Central Florida. The objectives of this trip were to provide experiential learning through case study analysis, draw on comparisons between American and Canadian jurisdictions and develop skills for applying this analysis to a local Ontario context. During this field trip, the class experienced a new-urbanist community, a reclaimed phosphate mining site and a sixth generation cattle ranch. Throughout the trip, it became evident that the evolution of planning communities and cities in Central Florida has been greatly influenced by the Disney Corporation. The following offers some highlights of our trip.

Celebration, Florida is a new-urbanist community that was created by the Disney Corporation in 1996. The design of this community is based on a pattern book that was created by Disney and represented the direction he wanted the community to follow. Residents live by a restrictive set of rules and permits are required to make any changes to the exterior of homes and properties.

The StreamSong Resort is a great example of transitioned landscapes over time. This property has evolved from a natural habitat, to a phosphate mining site, to a reclaimed golf resort, and has continued to thrive economically through each change. The project developers are very proud of their work in creating a sustainable development following the site’s previous resource extraction, and their ability to integrate the unique natural environment into this new development.

The Lightsey Ranch is a sixth generation cattle ranch in Central Florida with more than 10,000 head of cattle. Of the 36,200 acre property, 17,800 acres are rented and 18,400 acres are owned. Lightsey crops include 420 acres of irrigated citrus, 300 acres of bahia grass sod, 450 acres of bahia for seed and 2,900 acres of forage. Our Lightsey Ranch hosts expressed the importance of local and family farming to the agriculture sector in Florida. According to Mr. Lightsey, multi-generational farming operations in Florida are unique, as many family farms are unable to continue farming activities due to the burden of estate tax through the process of farm succession.

Incentives for development appear to be the driving force behind much of the county planning efforts. Incentives are used to attract developers to increase economic growth and population density. Planning in the American context is more flexible when compared to the rigid planning policy frameworks in Ontario. Based on our experience with Polk County planners, there appears to be a disconnect between county level and state level planning, contrary to Ontario’s planning hierarchy, where many processes require the collaboration of both levels of government.

This article was written on behalf of the Advanced Planning Practice class at the University of Guelph by Mollie Kuchma & Jessica Martin. Both Kuchma and Martin are student members of OPPI and MSc (Planning) candidates in Rural Planning & Development. This trip was made possible, in part by funding from the OAC Learning Trust Fund for graduate students.

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