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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3 Responses to Celebration of Disconnectedness

  1. Eli Sokol says:

    I actually did my senior high school IB paper on Walt Disney’s Vision, mainly about Progress City. I am infatuated with the topic and the overall brilliance of Walt Disney. From what I have learned, Celebration was Michael Eisner’s half-a&&ed attempt to appease those who were disheartened about EPCOT Center’s lack of a permanent residential community. Nevertheless, there are many positive elements of urban planning present in celebration, and it is a worthy example of “New Urbanism” city design despite its obvious lack in public transit. However, the EPCOT spirit is not best represented in Celebration but rather WDW as a whole, as the property is emblematic of the optomistic and advanced future Walt envisioned. WDW in general has great public transit: buses, monorail, ferries, even people mover. It is futuristic in energy use: Reedy Creek Improvement District. It has a innovative Trash Disposal system: HUAC. WDW’s high level of efficient functioning to meet the needs of its inhabitants is what I believe to be the most representative of the EPCOT spirit.

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  2. Sean Bossinger says:

    Eli,

    Like you, I believe that Celebration was, at best, a half-baked attempt to try to complete construction of the vision presented by Walt Disney.

    I had never thought about the entire property being emblematic of EPCOT; however, now that you mention it, lack of residences notwithstanding, it does harken back to the spirit in which Disney actually envisioned EPCOT.

    While I edited it out for my final, I had considered writing about the eerie feeling of being on the set of “The Truman Show” while walking around Celebration. Nevertheless, there are some elements of great planning within the community, not all of which are visible: larger conduits for communication wires to be upgraded, fiber-optic infrastructure built in.

    Also, one thing I didn’t discuss was the walkability of the entire community. In order to live there, one doesn’t absolutely require a car, getting around on foot is quite easy.

    Thank you for your comment.

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  3. anonymous2 says:

    I’ve been to Celebration. It’s nice to look at, although it’s way too pristine for my taste. It doesn’t feel real though. It seems like a movie set. Celebration is a bit isolated too. I’d choose Alexandria, VA or Hollywood, FL over Celebration any day.

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