A Unique City's Brand

by Geri Throne / February 26, 2022

Winter Park residents know they live in a special place. But what makes this city truly distinct? And what should it look like in a decade or two?

The Voice asked city commission candidates those questions to get a sense of how they define the city’s core identity now and what they want it to be like in the future.

The questions were inspired by the city’s current conversation with the Chamber of Commerce and economic development board about branding the city. City brands are more than just a logo or a slogan. Experts say they require focus and a vision for the future. The biggest challenge for those answering the questions was narrowing the city’s many attributes – its tree canopy, neighborhoods, chain of lakes, business district, arts, Rollins College, its parks – into a focused vision.

Two commission seats are on the March 8 ballot: Anjali Vaya and Kris Cruzada face each other for Seat 3 and Elijah Noel is running against incumbent Todd Weaver for Seat 4.

SEAT 3

For Cruzada, the city’s core identity centers around the resiliency of its neighborhoods, as well as its relatively low density and tree canopy. The city’s founders in the late 1800s established neighborhoods as key to the city’s future, he said. Winter Park’s many amenities promote an interconnectedness. “We’re a neighborhood community.” he said. Besides attracting visitors, he’d like a brand to reach people who grew up here to persuade them to return, as he did with his family 15 years ago.

In an ideal future, Cruzada said, Winter Park’s traffic would move better because people will have moved away from gas-fueled cars. Residents would have more walkable corridors along narrower highways and use other forms of transportation. “There would be more interconnectedness.” The city would be more diverse and would be an international destination.

For Vaya, a local business owner, the heart of the city’s identity is its charm, character and unique businesses. “It has small-scale businesses you just don’t see anywhere else.” A brand needs a strong economic plan as its foundation, she said, and that requires good data. She would first want to survey both residents and businesses to find out what they want for the city in the next five years. The city needs to be very specific about what businesses it needs to attract, she said. “We have to make sure we have an economic plan that makes everyone happy.”

In the future, Vaya envisions enhancements to the city’s small-scale quality. She sees more pedestrian and bicycle paths connecting the city’s main assets, such as its parks, library and downtown. “Winter Park is small enough to make that happen.” She’d like to see a transit system connected to SunRail, perhaps to include additional Lynx bus connections and shuttles funded by private-public partnerships.

SEAT 4

Todd Weaver describes the city as “a premier urban village.” Winter Park is distinctive, he said, because of its long history of shaded brick streets and well-cared-for lakes, combined with the many cultural elements that have been added through the years. “I think Winter Park already has a very unique brand.” The way to retain that image is to avoid building larger and larger buildings as other Orlando suburbs have, said Weaver, who sees no need to attract more tourists.

In the future, Weaver would like to see the city’s housing stock increase with the addition of medium density residential zones in areas where roads and infrastructure could handle it. He envisions a more stable tree canopy, a more diverse business base and fewer cars on the road. The city also would be taking more steps to protect the environment, including using reclaimed water for irrigation.

Weaver’s opponent, Elijah Noel, declined to talk to the Voice for this article unless questions were submitted in writing in advance.

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    By: Anne Mooney

    Anne Mooney has assumed the editorship of the Winter Park Voice from founding editor Tom Childers.

    Mooney got her start in New York as a freelance line editor for book publishers, among them Simon & Schuster and the Clarkson Potter division of Crown Books. From New York, she and her husband and their year-old toddler moved to Washington, D.C., where the two ran a newswire service for Harper’s magazine. “We called it Network News,” said Mooney, “because it was a network of the Harper’s writers, whose work we edited into newspaper style and format and sold to papers in the top U.S. and Canadian markets. We were sort of like a tiny UPI.”

    The newswire ceased operation with the death of Mooney’s first husband, but Mooney continued to write and edit, doing freelance work for Williams Sonoma cookbooks and for local publications in D.C.

    In 2005, Mooney moved to Winter Park, where she worked as a personal chef and wrote a regular food column for a south Florida magazine. She took an active interest in Winter Park politics and was there when the Winter Park Voice was founded. She wrote occasional pieces for the Voice, including the Childers bio that this piece replaces.

    The Winter Park Voice is one of a large number of “hyper-local” publications that have sprung up across the U.S. in response to the decline of the major daily newspapers and the resulting deficit of local news coverage. The Voice’sbeat is Winter Park City Hall, and its purpose is to help the residents of our city better understand the political forces that shape our daily lives.

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