Impressions of Celebration, Florida

The second half of my recent Florida vacation was spent in Celebration, Florida.  I’ve always been fascinated by this city, ever since I read about it back in the late 1990s.  My Orlando hosts, Mike and Julie Neal, write The Complete Walt Disney World guidebook and live in Celebration.  I spent one morning just walking around the various homes and main streets, getting a feel for this master planned community.

Developed by the Walt Disney Company almost 20 years ago, Celebration is a town of about 7500 persons. An example of “New Urbanism”, Celebration was modeled after a small town that has everything residents would want and need:   its own schools, golf course, fitness center, hospital, pool, parks and downtown retail/restaurant area.  When it was created, 5000 buyers entered a lottery for a chance to buy one of the first 350 homes for sale.  A totally planned and managed community from just about every aspect of everyday life, Celebration is like a Disney park—frees of litter everything just so, with coordinated colors and architectural styles, extensively landscaped and perfectly plotted homes pleasing to the eye.  Disney hired famous architects to design some of the public buildings:  Phillip Johnson, Michael Graves, and Robert M. Stern.  It is a very pretty town to tour —with everyone abiding by the very strict HOA rules and regulations.  It is reminiscent of another Florida town featured in the movie “The Truman Show” called Seaside.

As I walked through the streets, I saw neighbors chatting, golfers riding on the course, kids tossing a ball in the street island, residents biking along the sidewalks.  I kept thinking, ‘this is just like Brookside, isn’t it?’  Well….not quite.  The goal is the same: homes and shops in a centralized area, parks and paths nearby, foot traffic encouraged. Celebration is too new and controlled. It’s inviting in a perfect way.  This is not a criticism, but a comment.  I can see the strong appeal of living in Celebration, especially now as it’s more affordable because of the housing crash. The stores are mostly locally owned, and it’s small enough so you can easily walk or bike everywhere, get to know the merchants, participate in the neighborhood events.  There is virtually no violent crime here. Yet I doubt you would ever find anything out of place …there would be an instant citation from the homes association.   Keeping the exterior landscape and house coloring to particular types of plants, shrubs, paint shades gives each street a certain amount of pretty blandness.  That same strong codes enforcement control  keeps the property values high and establishes the atmosphere.  It also squashes some individual expressions of homeowners. Is that necessarily a bad thing?

On my walk, I did find one small, subversive expression high up in a second floor window.  There was a naked baby doll, lying on its side; eyes wide open, looking out on the street.  It made me smile.

Celebration offers the best of Brookside in many ways—the walkability, the close-by shops and amenities, the pretty porches and various home sizes.  It is comfortable, beautiful, safe, desirable, and friendly.  But can the heart and soul of a community be master-planned?  I suppose so, if all the residents agree to what the planners have established.  But if you want to color outside the lines, this isn’t the place for you.  I think I  could live in Celebration…I would have the house with the doll peeking out of the window!

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