The best of us?

What do our own choices for what we think is best about our city say about Orlando?

In Orlando Magazine's 2012 Best of Orlando poll (on newsstands now), readers voted on a variety of local superlatives. The categories alone reveal much about the readers of Orlando Magazine – Best Private School, Best Plastic Surgeon – but who am I to judge? There is, however, one category in which readers' judgments should be judged, maybe examined. In the category of "Person Who Most Exemplifies Orlando," readers chose Dwight Howard (third place), Mayor Buddy Dyer (second place) and Mickey Mouse (first place). I'm not sure what's most disconcerting: the fact that one of the winners is fictitious, that two-thirds don't live in the city limits or that all of the choices could not be more on point.

Dwight Howard: The Orlando Magic's superstar center. An athletic genius with the temperament of a petulant child. Someone who is fleeing the city for a larger pond. The latter is an issue that has plagued Orlando in more than just sports. Dwight's flight reflects the general sentiment that Orlando is a stepping-stone, a set of training wheels to be removed before inevitably moving on to a bigger city. This attitude is changing, but there are still plenty of people here who would rather complain about a lack of (insert almost any noun) than seize the opportunity to create it themselves. Similarly, Howard had the opportunity to use his skill and superstar status to build a championship team and a winning culture. Instead, he leaves us with a vast archive of tweets about the perennial excellence of Waffle House.

Mayor Buddy Dyer: A sober, logical choice. Mayor Dyer probably has as many fans as he does detractors, but it's hard to claim he doesn't care about the city. He may care in a way that conflicts with your brand of caring, but when it comes down to it, the idea of a sitting mayor exemplifying his or her city is not far-fetched.

Mickey Mouse: It is undeniable that Disney has shaped and influenced Orlando, yet it's surprising to find its cartoon spokes-rodent on a current list of exemplary influences. Disney is its own city. Day-to-day interaction with tourists is not commonplace for most Orlandoans, especially those who live or work within the city limits. I understand the greater Orlando area is much larger than the city proper, and those voices should count in polls like these, but I find it hard to believe that Mickey is really on that many peoples' minds. Still, don't blame the Disneyphiles. Instead, take this as a warning that, sure, Orlando has come a long way to divorce itself from that distant mouse – who could give a flying elephant about whether Orlando forges its own identity – but not far enough yet.

If you agree with the premise that the readers of Orlando Magazine can – regardless of how much you might loathe their choice of, say, Starbucks as "Best Place for Coffee" – accurately speak to the prevalence of what we don't like about our city, then what we can glean from these disturbing superlatives is that we have more work to do. It is likely that you, dear reader, want something more from this city, too. And though you and I may have very different ideas about the kind of work that needs to be done to keep us happy and living here, the fact that we're both bothered by polls asking for the "Best Big Box Retailer" should be enough to forge an instant camaraderie. You and I share the unique position of living in a young city with great potential, and that very youthfulness affords us the opportunity – much more than in a city like New York, Chicago, LA, etc. – to be recognized and largely supported for creating something we believe will improve the fabric of our city. In other words, the smaller the pond, the bigger the splash; and there are plenty of people already splashing around, bringing Orlandoans good food, art, photography, music, literature and delightful randomness. But don't let your next thought be, What else can Orlando do for me? Rather, you should think, What I can do for my Orlando?

Ryan Rivas is a writer who lives in Orlando. He also serves as editor and publisher for local independent publishing house Burrow Press.


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