Destiny, Florida: "A prototype for future cities," hails the website
-- even though "America's first eco-sustainable city" died before it could even be approved for development.
You wouldn't know by taking a look at the still-standing website, which boasts Destiny's "commitment to change the world" and speaks of the planned city as self-contained and focused on preservation and sustainability. It hosts the logos of "proud team members," such as Arup, Saunders Real Estate, Coldwell Banker Commercial, and others; in addition to the name and bio of its founder Anthony V. Pugliese, III; and Fred DeLuca, cofounder of Subway Restaurants, who invested $111 million in the project. And there's even a form you can fill out on the site if you want to live at Destiny: "Do you like spending weekends in the great outdoors? It's at your doorstep," claims the site. "Convenience, ease, conservation and a reduction in our carbon footprints... It's easy to be green at Destiny."
Except... well, it's not, really. Because Destiny's fate was sealed early on. Indeed, according to memos from Florida's Department of Community Affairs (now part of the Department of Economic Opportunity [DEO]), Destiny was on its way out a month before it was even announced in May 2009 as one of 16 founding projects of the Clinton Climate Initiative's Climate Positive Development Program.
It's no surprise that this project got the attention of the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI): An eco-city in Osceola County (Central Florida), built on 41,300-acres, whereby 300,000 people would live in the next two to four decades, would have been an exciting win for the US. And as Pugliese told Penton Media in June 2009, the sky is the limit when you're starting from scratch: "We have a clean slate so we can dream and design what we want from the very beginning," he said.
But plans for Destiny had essentially been squashed by then. As Larry Krause, public information coordinator at Osceola County, told me via email, "The project, Destiny, never received any land development entitlement approvals." Rather, Osceola County's plan amendment, outlining a policy framework to develop a city within the county's rural areas, was officially rejected by the state in April 2009, according to a memorandum Future Cities obtained from Florida's DEO.
In an email to Future Cities, Jessica K. Sims, press secretary at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, noted that after meeting with Pugliese and touring the site for Destiny, and reviewing the proposed amendment, the agency formerly known as the Florida Department of Community Affairs expressed concerns. Among them were "possible urban sprawl, energy inefficient land use patterns, the endangerment of natural resources, and the undermining of agriculture."
Not the kinds of qualities you'd expect in America's first eco-city.
Indeed, a 23-page document from Florida's Department of Community Affairs stating numerous objections and recommendations to Osceola County's plan amendment (which would have allowed for the development of Destiny, if approved), demonstrated just how flawed the proposed eco-city was in reality, stating vague projections and claims. As one objection from the memo states:
Although the data and analysis state that the New City will support multi-modal transportation alternatives, and the scenario analysis assumes the New City will have transit, the policies do not actually require it. Urban sprawl may not be discouraged without clearer and more specific standards.
As written, this policy is vague regarding the actual size of the New City... the policy fails to provide adequate guidelines and standards for the location, suitability, contiguity, and compactness of the developable area, which could result in a scattered, energy inefficient, and sprawling pattern of development in areas which are environmentally unsuitable.
In a letter accompanying the state's objections and recommendations, Mike McDaniel, chief of the Office of Comprehensive Planning, encouraged discussions to continue, stating, "This is the beginning and not the end of the process."
Except... it was.
"When we were told by the State they would not approve the amendment, the County decided to rescind it. The Destiny developers also chose not to go forward, but you'd need to check with them as to why," said Osceola County's Krause. (Numerous emails and phone calls to Pugliese and others on the Destiny team were unanswered by the time this blog was published. The Clinton Climate Initiative neglected to respond to inquiry as well.)
While Destiny's Pugliese could have gone elsewhere with his plans, it seems a legal plot twist was the final nail in Destiny's coffin: A series of finger-pointing lawsuits between Pugliese and investor Fred DeLuca concluded last October when Pugliese and his business manager Joseph Reamer were charged with money laundering and fraud for using a portion of DeLuca's investment to pay for personal and business projects unrelated to Destiny.
While the Destiny website still stands as a beacon of hubris and hope for this first-of-its-kind city in America, in reality it's a fantastic example of how easy it is for new cities to fail. Could Destiny's destiny have been different if the developers selected a site with more relaxed laws surrounding new developments? Perhaps, but then again, as more new cities become ghost towns worldwide, it's essential to work out kinks during the planning phase, and squash projects that don't serve the needs of communities and the environment before breaking ground.
Let the true story behind Destiny serve as a warning that empty buzzwords, and empty promises, are not the things future cities are made of.
— Nicole Ferraro, , Editor in Chief, UBM's Future Cities