Currently viewing the tag: "Celebration"
On the Tomorrowland Transit Authority this past week, I passed a model of Walt Disney’s original plan for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). I got to thinking: “I wonder how many people passing this model on a daily basis know that the Walt Disney Company actually tried their own hand at an experimental community, albeit on a smaller scale?”
Celebration sits on roughly 5,000 acres at the southern end of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the same parcel of land on which the Walt Disney World resort is built. While billed as small-town americana, Celebration is actually considered a census-designated place (CDP): It is an unincorporated master-planned community with slightly under 10,000 residents, as of 2004 American Community Survey data.

Walk through the streets of Celebration and you’ll enjoy a very clean, crisp atmosphere. Everything is in its place, all of the shops and homes are freshly painted, lawns are manicured, and yes, those apartments above the shops are real apartments. There’s a small “downtown” core of shops, restaurants, a movie theater, schools… inhabitants of the community are encouraged to use their NEVs (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles… think, golf carts) to get around town. Just about everything has been thought of.

Forget, though, about affordable housing in this “mixed” community: two bedroom, two bathroom condo-style homes go for $400,000. The nearest mainline transit links are the route 55 and 56 Lynx buses that run on US 192, approximately two miles to the north, too far to be walked on a regular basis. These are quite possibly the fundamental explanations for why there are no people milling about the center of the community.

While the Walt Disney World company wasn’t trying to recreate Walt Disney’s vision of EPCOT with the founding of Celebration, they were definitely reaching back to try to recapture the small-town feeling of pre-1950s America. While they made a valiant effort, like so many of these new, master-planned communities, they’ve missed their mark. Without a connection to some sort of mainline transit, and without affordable housing, the Walt Disney Company excluded a huge portion of America that wants to live this quintessentially American dream: living, working, and playing all within walking distance of one’s home.

-Photo courtesy of Picasa Web Photos

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I just completed Bill Bryson’s I’m a Stranger Here Myself and I came across a couple of quotes which are noteworthy:

“…Although the bookshop was no more than seventy or eighty feet away, I discovered that there was no way to get there on foot. There was a traffic outlet for cars, but no provision for pedestrians, and no way to cross on foot without dodging over six lanes of swiftly moving traffic. In the end, I had to get in our car and drive across. There was simply no other way. At the time it seemed ridiculous and exasperating, but afterward I realized that I was probably the only person ever even to have entertained the notion of negotiating that intersection on foot…”

Sound familiar? I can think of dozens of roads and intersections locally which could serve as the exact road Bill is describing. Try crossing Kendall, US-1, or any other stretch or road and you too will notice that pedestrian planning is an afterthought, at most.

“…You find it at Disneyland, where people flock to stroll up and down a Main Street just like the ones they abandoned wholesale in the 1950s. It happens at restored colonial villages like Williamsburg, Virginia and Mystic, Connecticut, where visitors drive long distances and pay good money to savor the sort of compact and tranquil atmosphere that they long ago fled for the accommodating sprawl of suburbs. I can’t begin to account for it, but it appears that in this country these days we really only want something when it isn’t really real…”

I get the feeling Bill Bryson gets “it.” I’ve long noticed the obsession with fakeness in this country. Celebration and Tradition, two newer Florida “towns” immediately come to mind, let alone Disney or any of the various “town centers” popping up across our landscape. More on this subject later, I get the feeling it’s a topic we’ll be addressing more often…

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