Maitland, Florida, is a small city of about 15,000 residents. Located just north of Orlando, it is home to a network of museums, a popular independent movie theater that plays host to the annual Florida Film Festival, and beautiful parks. Despite the city’s amenities, one albatross remains: the lack of a cohesive, walkable center of activity. Now, with three potential projects in the pipeline for downtown Maitland, the City Center officials have been planning for since the 1990s may finally come to fruition.
For almost two decades, placemaking has been one of the community’s top priorities. Between 1998 and 2003, community workshops and designs by planners have solidified a vision for the city’s Town Square, complete with an in-depth set of design standards. From these efforts has sprung the city’s first new anchor: an urban city hall with an adjacent fire station.
With three development proposals planned for Maitland, creating a new city center is now closer to a reality than ever before. To optimize these new developments, city officials and designers will need to create a cohesive community gathering place.
Placemaking through Living Streets
For over a decade, Canin Associates has selected a University of Miami student to research an urban design topic each summer. In 2012, Gabriel Williams worked with Canin Associates staff and faculty advisor Jaime Correa to design downtown Maitland’s Independence Lane as a “Living Street” envisioning a striking and lively new center for the community. A Woonerf, the Dutch term for Living Street, is a shared street that prioritizes pedestrians while still allowing cyclists and drivers. Shared space, traffic calming, and very low speeds make these living streets beneficial to both placemaking and pedestrian safety.
In Woonerfs (or, more correctly, woonerven), automobile pathways are integrated to create a calm and safe residential environment, focusing on plantings, benches, and bike racks. Rather than having separate sidewalks, the entire width of Independence Lane would be designed to allow free pedestrian movement. The plan also shows this shared street continuing extended to connect to points further north and south.
With the former city hall slated for demolition, the team saw a perfect opportunity to place a public park on the city-owned land. Mixed-use buildings in an urban configuration could contain continuous ground floor retail overlooking the new park.
Tying together the existing urban fabric in a retrofit can be a challenge. To achieve stylistic and spatial cohesion, placemakers must juggle an existing arrangement of asymmetrical volumes, setbacks, and construction techniques. An urban plaza and a new contemporary building are designed to reconcile the elegant and classical proportions of the city hall with the modern geometry of the neighboring bank.
Today, with a fresh opportunity to take another leap towards an active city center, the City of Maitland has the chance to refocus on the importance of placemaking and master planning. Only if people truly feel welcome will this new district become successful.