A City’s Transformed Places

I’ve always been intrigued by the transformed places in a city, the parks and boulevards that were once something happy or great, or that were once terrible and grimy, and that–through urbanization and population changes and construction and (maybe) gentrification and remodeling–become something wildly different than anyone might have expected many years before.

In Toronto, for instance, I had the chance to visit an area called the Distillery District, the former site of (what else?) one of the largest alcohol production sites in North America. But it had crumbled over time, a major industrial center for the city reduced to abandoned and forgotten-about buildings, one of those dark places you pass on the interstate and wonder how it ever became what it became. Well, sometime in the early 2000s, the Distillery District was transformed yet again: the old brick buildings cleaned up, the streets closed and made into beautiful outdoor patios, complete with fountains. When I visited (in July), there were a half-dozen wedding photo shoots going on around me. There are art galleries, a brewpub, restaurants and wine shops. The city’s past reclaimed, a history lesson even as you eat/drink on your Saturday night.

Here in Orlando, we’ve got the Milk District: an area surrounding the T.G. Lee milk plants that–while still industrial and a little gritty–has become a hipster paradise, with bike shops and bars and sandwich shops in great supply. Orlando isn’t known for its stunning history, but the Milk District is a spot in the city that should be dumpy, but is instead bright with life and energy. The buildings are old and run-down (I love the eatery Beefy King, but its outdoor sign is cracked, pieces missing), but people seem to like it that way. If an Applebees opened, the whole vibe would be ruined.

I wrote a short story called “Fire in a Used-Car Lot” (which was just published this past week at Monkeybicycle) which zeroes in on another Orlando location that has changed…this one, though, isn’t quite so charming. Whereas the street name “Orange Blossom Trail” once implied…well, orange blossoms, and Florida sunshine…now it has crackled into something far less friendly. When you say “OBT” in Orlando, you often don’t even remember what the letters stand for.

Check out my story, and if you’ve got some spare time (or need some great background noise), check out my interview with John King at The Drunken Odyssey. We talk about the city of Orlando, how to depict the city in fiction, and all of the great successes within the 15 Views of Orlando collection. John was a contributor, and he’s got a great program going over at Drunken Odyssey.

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