Tj Host

Wedding Ideas & Inspiration

Celebration Florida: Building Disney’s Perfect Town


People love Walt Disney World. So much so that it’s estimated over 50 million
people visit the resort every year. Some people love it so much that they wish
they could live there. In the 1990’s Disney granted that wish when
they created the town of Celebration Florida. Now it’s impossible to talk about Celebration
Florida without first talking about EPCOT. No, not that Epcot. This EPCOT. You see when Walt Disney first dreamed up
the plans for Disney World, he wasn’t focused on the east coast theme park that would eventually
become The Magic Kingdom. He was focused on EPCOT. The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow
was originally planned to be an actual city of the future that would house 20,000 rotating
residents. He hoped it would serve as a cutting edge
example for other cities around the world to emulate. More importantly, it was meant to embrace
these futuristic technologies while still using a careful design to foster a sense of
community. Walt’s goal was to take the best of what
the past offered, the best of what the future offered, and merge them together. After all, this was the late 1960’s, when
cities across the country were starting to gain especially sketchy reputations. Unfortunately Walt’s dream of EPCOT died
with him, and while the Epcot we would get in 1982 would contain some of the themes and
concepts of his futuristic city, it would ultimately still just be a theme park. However it would only be a few years before
the idea would resurface in another form. In 1984 Michael Eisner and Frank Wells would
join the Disney company as it’s new CEO and COO, and one of their first courses of
action when it came to Walt Disney World was to sit down, look at the entire property,
and come up with a long-term plan to put it to use. That plan included setting aside space for
up to three new theme parks, up to 60,000 new hotel rooms, and a permanent 9,000 acre
nature and wildlife preserve. But even with all of that space set aside,
there was still unused land that they owned south of US 192. So the question became: “What should we
do with that land?” Selling it was an option, but the main drawback
there was that Disney would ultimately have no control over what the new owners would
do with it. Tacky hotels. Competing amusements. It was the very reason Walt had secretly purchased
so much land in Florida to begin with. They could also just do… well, nothing. They could wait and see if it had a use later
on down the line. However due to it being undeveloped pasture,
the fear Disney had was that if they went too long without using it, the state might
be able to use that to build a case to take the land via condemnation through eminent
domain. So Eisner quickly came to the conclusion that
they’d be better off using the land, rather than risk losing it. One idea from the Disney Development Company’s
Peter Rummell was developing the land into housing. But of course this was Disney. While any other company might have just settled
on a regular old housing development, they wanted to go one step further. And while Disney wasn’t otherwise in the
housing industry, they eventually realized that this could be their moment to make good
on Walt’s vision of an idealized community. “Every lesson ever learned from any master planned community in the country or throughout the world was studied in the design and the development of this particular community.” “We’ve dealt with cars in a positive way. We’ve dealt with garbage in a positive way, if you can say that. We’ve dealt with the way you live, the way you can live in a mixed use environment with stores, apartments, and houses and banks and post office all together in a walk-able way. I think we’re showing that you can do a new town and be respectful of the people that live there.” They wanted to build a picturesque American
town. It would contain all of the details and design
that Disney was known for in the parks, but it would be somewhere people could actually
live. It would embrace a concept known as neotraditionalism,
otherwise known as new urbanism. It was a movement that argued that the rise
in suburbs after World War II actually did more to harm our sense of community than it
did to help. Lots of space and big lawns were nice, but
it meant neighbors living further apart from one another. Widespread layouts weren’t a problem with
the explosion of automobile use, but it meant less personal connection with the neighborhood
since you’d always just drive from A to B. Neotraditionalism was the idea of going back to before those times, and scaling everything down. Town centers within walking distance so that going shopping or out to eat didn’t mean driving anywhere. Smaller plots of land with an emphasis on
the front yard rather than the backyard so that neighbors were more inclined to socialize
with one another. The town would ultimately get put on hold
throughout the late 1980’s as the Disney Development Company focused on other projects such as
Disney-MGM Studios, Pleasure Island, and Euro Disney over in France, but in 1990 work would
resume. Some potential names for the town included
Oak Tree and Green Meadows. During a visit by Eisner and his wife, Jane,
the two were showed plans for a shopping center that was tentatively named Celebration Gardens. The two thought the name would work even better
for the town, so it was the name Disney went with. Later on it would be further simplified to
just ‘Celebration’. In 1991 the project was announced to the public. Celebration was planned to ultimately house
20,000 residents across 4,400 acres. It would have a cozy town center complete
with shopping, dining, and a movie theater. It’s original main selling point was going
to be an continued education institute for adults that would cover all sorts of subjects
and be called The Disney Institute. Eventually that idea would spin off into its
own standalone project, so instead the town would substitute it with a cutting edge K-12
school that would embrace new and experimental forms of education. The houses themselves, starting at $125,000,
would vary between six different pre-suburban architectural styles, including colonial revival,
classical, french country, coastal, Mediterranean, and Victorian. Disney’s design guidelines were that no
house could share the style of either of its neighboring houses, and with the exception
of white, no two houses next to each other could share the same color either. The lots were built with an emphasis on front
yards and the garages were set in the back along a back alley so that cars wouldn’t
be parked out on the street and so that garbage collection would occur away from the public
eye. In short, while homeowners had a choice from
a range of options, Disney maintained a sense of overall control when it came to how Celebration
would look from the outside, which is no real surprise considering how much control they
exercise with the detail in their parks. Now while Disney focused on making the town
look like the small quaint communities of yesteryear, they wanted the homes themselves
to feature some new technology. All of the houses in the town would be wired
with a fiber optic connection and Disney even toyed around with the idea of a computerized
media system that would allow residents to select, pay for, and watch movies without
having to leave the house and go to a video store. But before the company could start building
any part of this perfect Walt Disney World town they first had to do one thing: remove
it from Walt Disney World. “EPCOT will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and new systems.” Back when the resort was first created, legislation
was passed that grouped Disney’s land into their own governing jurisdiction called the
Reedy Creek Improvement District. It essentially gave Disney the freedom to
create and manage their own emergency services and utilities, and more importantly to set
their own building codes. This allowed them to build out the resort
as they saw fit without having to constantly turn to the county for permission, and it
was a crucial element to Walt’s dream of EPCOT. The board that controlled Reedy Creek was
made up of individuals that Disney allowed to live on their property who, in turn, voted
with Disney. This would have worked with EPCOT because
the original plans called for all the residents to rent their homes and apartments from Disney rather than own them. Without owning land in the district, they’d
have no voting powers with the board. However if Celebration came along and Disney
found themselves sharing the district with 20,000 new permanent residents, they’d suddenly
risk losing control over Reedy Creek and potentially the freedoms that came with it. So in December of 1993 Disney would work with
the county to de-annex the land that Celebration would sit within, so that it would fall back
to being unincorporated Osceola County land instead of Reedy Creek land. By 1994 interest in the town was plentiful. Despite all of the aesthetic restrictions
that came with buying a home, and all of the usual homeowners association rules and fees,
and even the fact that prices were non-negotiable, which was unusual with buying a house. there was still more than enough people looking
to move into Disney’s backyard. So much so, that rather than opening up sales
of the homes the way most developments would, Disney held a lottery to select the buyers
for the first 350 homes and the tenants of the first 120 apartments. The visitor center that was built to promote
and pitch the community would start to see as many as 15,000 people a month. It would still be a year until the first
residents would be able to move in, and there wasn’t so much as a sample house to show potential buyers what they were getting, but it didn’t matter. Disney carried with it a name and a legacy
that people were willing to trust, even blindly. By July 18th of 1996, the very first residents
would be ready to move into Celebration, Florida. By that point 99% of the 350 homes were sold,
every single apartment was occupied, with a waiting list that was growing, and 50% of
the following 95 homes that would make up the next part of the town were already sold
as well. Everything was going great. The town was the picturesque slice of Americana
it promised to be. Neighbors got to know each other, Disney would
hold events for the community, and it all happened a stone’s throw away from the most
magical place on earth. However that perfect veneer wasn’t going
to last for long. Join me next week as I explore the troubles
that began to arise in Celebration, Florida, the criticisms that plagued it, both from
within and outside the community, and the eventual fate of the town which would include
Disney stepping away and selling it off.

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