Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What is Celebration, Anyway?

Visitors on their way to Florida via I-4 might have seen a sign or two leading to “Celebration.” This festively named city is located near Walt Disney World, and you might have even heard one or two interesting things about it. You might have heard, for example, that it’s an ultra-private city masterminded by Walt Disney as the perfect community. You might have also heard that it’s inhabited exclusively by Walt Disney World executives and employees. You may have even been told that Celebration features audioanimatronic wildlife (robotic birds and bees). Rumors about this city run the gamut, but while people are quick to gush all the juicy secrets about Celebration, no one is telling the real story.

Believe it or not, it’s really just a regular town.

What makes Celebration special, and what has sparked its illustrious reputation as a Disney-fied city, is that it was developed by the Walt Disney Company. In the early 1990s, the Disney Development Company established the Celebration Company to spearhead its development within 4,900 acres of land in the southern portion of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. This land eventually became Celebration in 1994, a $2.5 billion master-planned community designed in an early 20th century-architectural style.

Many say that Celebration was designed to be a realization of one of Walt Disney’s plans. Before his death, Disney had created an ambitious concept for a city – the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. In this city of the future, there would be no home ownership and no unemployment. People would zip to home and work on underground roads, and weather would never be an issue, because the city would be underneath a climate-controlled dome. This is obviously a far cry from what Celebration is today, an idealized small town where in fact, there are only homeowners. Disney’s prototype of a dream city actually morphed into Epcot, which you’ll notice is the abbreviation of Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

Since Celebration was run by The Celebration Company early on, there were some unusual decisions made that were geared more toward Disney profits rather than town prosperity. For example, the downtown area was developed with several collectible stores, but no gas stations. Today, however, Celebration is now a part of Kissimmee and Osceola County as a non-incorporated city. The Celebration Company only owns a few commercial parcels on Celebration Boulevard. And though some employees of Walt Disney World do live in Celebration, there are certainly plenty of non-Disney employees living in the town.

Celebration has also caught a rep for its housing rules; homeowners are required to maintain the upkeep of their homes, and window treatments must be neutral colors (not all white, contrary to popular belief). What maybe causes people to talk about Celebration so much, however, is the fact that the town truly is beautiful. The bank, post office, movie theater, town hall, and other downtown buildings were all designed by renowned architects. The streets are clean, and the crime rate is low. And though residents don’t zip around on underground roads, they do frequently use Segway scooters and small electric cars called “NEVs” (Neighborhood Electric Vehicle).

To anyone coming from a less wholesome place in the country, Celebration might not seem real. It might seem like some kind of animatronic Disney production. But in actuality, Celebration is really just a nice place to live. A place that maybe at one point or another, got a little Disney fairy dust sprinkled on it.


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