Orlando - the City Beautiful

I live in Orlando, Florida, where the city slogan was “The City Beautiful” for a long time. Orlando’s City Council adopted the motto in 1908 and held onto that slogan for 98 years. The phrase frequently appears in documentation, city signs, and as a greeting when you arrive at the airport.

Orlando developed Lake Eola from a sinkhole that appeared in the 1870s.

Changing a city slogan after nearly a century would seem like a branding nightmare. Still, in 2006 Coral Gables applied for a Federal Trademark to use the same motto. The two cities fought it out, with both agreeing to use it. You’d think the problem was solved, right?

Replacing Orlando’s City Motto

Orlando has struggled to find another perfect slogan since 2006. I remember the non-descriptive “Oh, Orlando!” in the mid-2000s. Maybe they were trying to summon up that moment of ecstasy when someone arrives from the cold climate and is greeted by our hot, humid weather. It never entirely caught on.

Palm trees are must in the City Beautiful
Palm trees are required in our tropic landscapes.
Streets are landscapes and modeled to be pedestrian and bike friendly
Downtown’s Orange Avenue is pedestrian and bike friendly.

That same year (2006), the City budgeted $68 million over two years to promote “Orlando: Built for families. Made for memories.” It didn’t test well with visitors who found it boring.

Other failed mottos included “City of Light” which honestly belongs to Paris, France. “City Phenomenal” was an attempt to resurrect the motto of Orlando in 1876 when all railroad tracks met here joining the Henry Flagler eastern and Henry Plant western railroads.

Fast forward to 2022, and the City is opening up to tourism again after the pandemic. The tourism industry leaders, Visit Orlando and Orlando Economic Partnership, proposed yet another branding campaign –“Unbelievably Real.” Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, was quoted online as saying, “Unbelievably Real combines what is both fantastical and authentic about our unique destination to tell a holistic  story.” 

Forgive my sarcasm, but when traveling to Orlando for vacation, isn’t “Unbelievably Real” what you’re trying to leave behind?

Identifying as the City Beautiful

As far as I can tell, Orlando always wrestled with its identity. I moved here from Chicago–America’s “Second City.” Los Angeles replaced Chicago as the 2nd largest City in the country. Still, Chicago didn’t change its slogan. Detroit, where I grew up, was the Motor City and Motown. The auto manufacturers retain headquarters in Michigan, but most cars are built elsewhere, and yet, you guessed it, Detroit is STILL the Motor City.

Being known as home to the world’s most famous theme park overshadowed many great things about Orlando. Orlando has thriving professional sports with the Orlando Magic, Orlando City Soccer Club, and the Orlando Solar Bears hockey team. This city has a creative center, a robust theater community, and a professional opera, symphony, and ballet.

Mayor Buddy Dyer planting a free tree as part of the One Person – One Tree campaign. (I don’t think this is his house.)

Orlando did grow into its slogan over the years. The area has more than 100 lakes and is one of the best bass fishing locations in the world. Gardeners know this area as Zone 9B — it’s suitable for most tropical plants. We get 236 days of sunshine each year. Our average temperature is 72 degrees, and although July can be scorching hot, you might get a freezing night in January.

Our city leaders pushed a “one person – one-tree” campaign for years. The result is beautiful tree-lined streets and parks. Today you can take a “tree tour” of town via a car and see centuries-old oaks and pines.

While my town’s famous slogan may be history, we are still a beautiful city.

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