The Fatal Flaw of Celebration, FL

Architect Richard Reep argues that the fatal flaw of Celebration and other New Urbanist-style developments around Florida is the lack of jobs within walking distance.

"By regulating the specific architectural form of a new development, the New Urbanists proposed to improve the blandness, placelessness, and lack of character that is the lot of most contemporary suburbs. Celebration, sponsored by Disney, opened to white-hot press acclaim nationwide. Phase 2 was opened ahead of schedule due to demand for new homes. Market values of homes rose quickly beyond the norm for Central Florida. Developers took notice.

Soon, other spawn of Celebration began to show up in Central Florida, and today we have several New Urbanist communities that aspire to the same level of success. Baldwin Park, funded by Chicago's Pritzker family, is a smaller scale version of Celebration located in the City of Orlando and convenient to downtown. Avalon Park, in the southeast corner of Orange County, is accessed from the perimeter highway that is turning Orlando into a mini-Atlanta. Horizon West, the youngest of these, is due west of Downtown Orlando, and offers another New Urbanist antidote to subdivisions, adhering to the same formula of "live, work, and play." All of these, including Celebration, are coping with the housing crisis, foreclosure crisis, and various other current market conditions just like the rest of us.

Sadly the "live, work, and play" slogan, which comes from New Urbanist literature, does not bear out in reality. The notion is fine enough: that people can reduce commutes by living and working in the same community. During the supposedly halcyon days of pre-auto, early 20th century America, this was the reality for many Americans. One's life could occur within a small, walkable radius, reinforcing itself and reinforcing the social bonds of a community.

But the early 21st Century is very different than the early 20th and New Urbanist attempts to travel backwards in time have met with limited success. To work near where you live, there needs to be employment down the street. None of these communities have employment opportunities – jobs – down the street from the residences. The dwellers of all these communities get in their cars and drive to their jobs off-campus. New Urbanism thus becomes an after-6pm-and-weekend lifestyle choice, not a new way of life."

Full Story: New Urbanism’s Economic Achilles Heel



Author overstates case

Celebration has a substantial workplace development with an office park and a medical facility. If Richard Reep were to make the point that the workplace portion of Celebration is poorly connected to its residential neighborhoods and town center, I would agree with him.
Reep overstates his case in several respects. The first is in treating Celebration as a proxy for all New Urbanism. Baldwin Park, for example, is only a few miles from downtown Orlando and its significant employment base. Even if commuters have to drive, it is not that far. New Urbanism has generated several hundred mid- to high-density infill and transit-oriented developments, so it’s not accurate to treat the trend with such a broad brush. New urbanist goals cannot be achieved by a single development or even a handful of developments — they can only be realized by reform on a broad scale.
The author errs by arguing that Celebration actually makes residents more auto dependent. At least three studies show that developments like Celebration —walkable, mixed-use projects on greenfield sites with little or no mass transit and limited workplace development — reduce vehicle miles traveled by 20 percent compared to conventional suburbia. That’s nothing to sneer at. Higher-density new urban developments that are better connected to transit and jobs reduce vehicle miles traveled by close to 50 percent, and sometimes even 75 percent. Reep ought to be encouraged by these findings and give credit where credit is due.

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