THE CREEPIEST LITTLE TOWN IN FLORIDA (OR ANYWHERE ELSE)

1024px-celebration_floridaThe term “planned community” is a little like the terms “arranged marriage” or “vintage style” – when people hear them, they tend to recoil.  Maybe there’s something discomfiting about the idea that something as organic as a community – or a marriage, or a cool old shirt – could be created intentionally.  And yet, planned communities have a pretty good track record.  LeDroit Park, one of the District’s most coveted and beloved neighborhoods, was a planned community.

Of course, sometimes they go wrong.  Terribly, hilariously wrong.  That’s what happened with the creepiest planned community in America, the ironically-named town of Celebration, Florida.  Technically, it wasn’t planned – it was imagineered.  That’s the term used by the team of designers – ahem, Imagineers – at Disney who built Celebration from the ground up in the early Nineties.  (Built it from the swamp up, actually.  And so many residents woke up to gators in their swimming pools that a rumor started that Celebration had been built on Disney World’s alligator dumping ground.)  Celebration is the embodiment of the Disney aesthetic – surreally artificial, vaguely nostalgic, and poisonously wholesome. Check out this paragraph from the original sales brochure:

There once was a place where neighbours greeted neighbours in the quiet of summer twilight. Where children chased fireflies. And porch swings provided easy refuge from the cares of the day. The movie house showed cartoons on Saturday. The grocery store delivered. And there was one teacher who always knew you had that special something. Remember that place?

Creepy!  But America loved it.  When Disney put on a lottery in 1995 for the first 474 homes in Celebration, over 5000 entered.

800px-022306-celebrationfl09-2It was built by Disney, so no expense was spared.  Celebrity architects were brought in to build the town’s main buildings – everyone from Philip Johnson to Robert A.M. Stern to Graham Gund submitted designs – and a team of Disney people toured cities like Savannah and New Orleans to steal architectural details for Celebration’s cookie-cutter houses. Disney even negotiated an unprecedented agreement with the state of Florida that gave them total control over everything from Celebration’s utilities and schools to its zoning and tax collections.  It’s a private fiefdom disguised as a public town.1024px-022306-celebrationfl11The weird thing is, it should have worked.  Celebration was an early adopter of “village-style” development, an anti-sprawl philosophy that prioritized compact downtowns and walkability.  Houses are grouped into “villages,” with shops and amenities at their center.  But its brazen artificiality is just too unnerving.  All the homes in town are built after one of a half-dozen models, with wide porches, large yards, and come in either white, blue, yellow, pink or tan.  (Of course, it’s Florida, so no one sits on their porches; everyone’s inside, in the air conditioning.)  A foot-thick book of regulations dictates every detail of a resident’s home, down to what plants they’re allowed to plant in their flower beds.  In winter months, artificial snow falls from the sky at the top of every hour.  Connected to Disney World by one of its main streets, the town looks so artificial that many houses have put up signs reading, “This is a real house with real people living here, please do not come in uninvited.”

 

e0bqsso9h4ht04e79hvtBut like most things that seem too good to be true, Celebration was, well, too good to be true.  The mansions of Celebration turned out to be McMansions (insert your own Disney/McDonald’s/never-trust-corporations joke here), hastily built from shabby materials.  In the Florida heat, they quickly began to fall apart.  According to one book, the problem was “shoddy construction … using unskilled workers whose daily work changes to whatever trade is necessary – electrician, gardener, painter.”  I don’t think I could sleep at night, knowing my wiring might have been put in by a random Disney employee they pulled off the Splash Mountain vomit detail.  In 2006, a group of Celebration residents sued the town managers for $20 million in repair funds.abc5neums9x1awp3duqcBut things got even darker.  In one week in 2010, Celebration saw its first murder – a resident was bludgeoned and strangled by a vagrant – and its first police shootout, instigated by a depressed Celebration resident who was upset about losing his job and wife.  For a town that was built to capitalize on America’s suburban flight from crime, these were devastating blows.  Property values, already depressed by the financial crash, entered an extended malaise, and by late 2016, residents still hadn’t gotten repair money from the town.  In the end, the question is: did Celebration fail to embody the American Dream, or embody it all too well?osb_-_celebration_33

 

 

12 thoughts on “THE CREEPIEST LITTLE TOWN IN FLORIDA (OR ANYWHERE ELSE)

  1. Here are the factual inaccuracies with your blog:

    “Disney even negotiated an unprecedented agreement with the state of Florida that gave them total control over everything from Celebration’s utilities and schools to its zoning and tax collections. It’s a private fiefdom disguised as a public town.”

    -Incorrect. The town of Celebration is an unincorporated part of Osceola County. It has a Community Development District for the upkeep of the town. The Osceola Public School System operates two schools inside the town. Property taxes are part of Osceola County as well. The only “tax” that goes to Celebration is assessments- like many communities. Zoning does not go through the “town” of Celebration, or Disney, either. The only involvement that Disney (Or their development team) are the contractual obligations they must fulfill until the 5th phase of development is complete.

    “Celebration was an early adopter of “village-style” development, an anti-sprawl philosophy that prioritized compact downtowns and walkability.”

    – Incorrect. Celebration was a town designed around the architectural movement of neourbanism. Village style town design is different. Although they use some similar facets, they do not have synonymous design parameters.

    “According to one book, the problem was “shoddy construction … using unskilled workers whose daily work changes to whatever trade is necessary – electrician, gardener, painter.” I don’t think I could sleep at night, knowing my wiring might have been put in by a random Disney employee they pulled off the Splash Mountain vomit detail.”

    -The homes were designed and constructed by various home builders- one of largest being David Weekly Homes. All work was done by licensed contractors. No Disney employees were used in the physical construction of the homes or town.

    But things got even darker. In one week in 2010, Celebration saw its first murder – a resident was bludgeoned and strangled by a vagrant – and its first police shootout, instigated by a depressed Celebration resident who was upset about losing his job and wife. For a town that was built to capitalize on America’s suburban flight from crime, these were devastating blows.

    -Celebration has a lower crime rate than most non gated communities- especially violent crime- than those in Orlando, Florida, or US as a whole.

    Property values, already depressed by the financial crash, entered an extended malaise

    -Celebration property values, when compared to the rest of the area, especially communities like Reunion, FL held up reasonably well during the mortgage crisis. The real estate market continues to thrive in Celebration, the driving forces being the schools, safety, and overall aesthetic of the town. Average home prices are around 100K more than comparable in the area.

    Sloppy homework and poor writing at best.
    This certainly does not show off your good side as a hip real estate brokerage or an innovative marketing company.

    I know you have it in you to be better.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have lived in Celebration for nine years and I love it. The best part of Celebration is the wonderful and caring people. This article paints an untrue picture of our town.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I absolutely love living in Celebration. It is not creepy at all. Everyone is really friendly and it is beautiful. The current problems are for people living in condo’s, not houses. It is sad this article is so negative. So many people that live here think it is the best place in the world to live and that they are truly blessed. Where else do you have beautiful walking trail, a selection of community pools to use, community events and the ability to see multiple displays of fireworks every single night of the year. Plus it is located so close to Disney, Universal and Sea World so I am able to go to free concerts all of the time with my annual passes. What is not to love about this beautiful town!

    Like

  4. I have lived in Celebration for almost 10 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else. It has a true community feel that I’ve never had anywhere else. Our town is far from perfect but it’s a place full of wonderful people. I love raising my kids here.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. If you don’t live in Celebration you would probably never know. But this is so not true. Celebration is a great place to live with great people. And yes, it has its own problems since it is a real city with real people living on it. But from all the places in the world that I have visited or lived at, Celebration is one of the best. Don’t buy anything you hear – and it goes to anyone reading this article or to its writer! Make better choices when trying to talk about something you don’t know much.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I grew up in Celebration, left during college and took some to live abroad with my husband, and moved back to become a teacher here. While sometimes the community feels like a bubble, I grew up being able to play outside and walk our dog late at night without fear. My sister and I grew up with a single mom, but had and entire community lending a hand and keeping an eye on us when needed. Celebration is a whacky little town- sure, but it isn’t the surrealist nightmare you have painted it as.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This article is so funny and so sad at the same time! Its so funny because it is so inaccurate. It’s so sad because some people try to tear down beautiful things, just because they are beautiful. Hurting people sometimes try to hurt others and clearly this is the case with this sad and inaccurate article about an amazing town. Wow. Rediculousness.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This article is horribly inaccurate. It’s obvious the author has never been to Celebration. I am trying to decide if they have written this because they are jealous that they can’t live here or if they were hired by Lexin Capital to devalue the town. Either way, it’s a shame.

    Liked by 1 person

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